Ash Wednesday

Miserere mei, Deus: secundum magnam misericordiam tuam.

Et secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum, dele iniquitatem meam.

Amplius lava me ab iniquitate mea: et a peccato meo munda me.

 

The voices gently rise to the stone vaults and fill the 12th-century church, one of London's oldest.  The congregation forms a queue.  Slowly, everybody advances towards the altar steps.  

 

Quoniam iniquitatem meam ego cognosco: et peccatum meum contra me est semper.

Tibi soli peccavi, et malum coram te feci: ut justificeris in sermonibus tuis, et vincas cum judicaris.

Ecce enim in iniquitatibus conceptus sum: et in peccatis concepit me mater mea.

Ecce enim veritatem dilexisti: incerta et occulta sapientiae tuae manifestasti mihi.

 

The rector's expression is stern, menacing almost.  I think I am supposed to look down in humility.  Instead, I stare straight into his eyes, searching for an echo to my thought.  "Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return,"  he says as his thumb traces a black cross of ash on my forehead.

 

I am thinking of the phoenix.  Of what happens after the return to dust.

 

Asperges me hysopo, et mundabor: lavabis me, et super nivem dealbabor.

Auditui meo dabis gaudium et laetitiam: et exsultabunt ossa humiliata.

Averte faciem tuam a peccatis meis: et omnes iniquitates meas dele.

Cor mundum crea in me, Deus: et spiritum rectum innova in visceribus meis.

Ne proiicias me a facie tua: et spiritum sanctum tuum ne auferas a me.

 

The soprano pierces through the semi-darkness, and lingers high up before fluttering downwards, graceful, having made her plea for us all.

 

I return to the wooden pew, kneel, close my eyes and breathe in the frankincense.  Yesterday, Shrove Tuesday, I ate pancakes.  I realise that I haven't decided on what I will give up for Lent.  I remember those friends who will probably give up chocolate, or alcohol, or both.  Not eating chocolate is easy for me, and, since I hardly drink, renouncing alcohol would hardly constitute a sacrifice.  Now cheese, on the other hand... Could I manage a whole forty days without cheese?

 

The futility of my thoughts suddenly makes me sad.

 

Redde mihi laetitiam salutaris tui: et spiritu principali confirma me.

Docebo iniquos vias tuas: et impii ad te convertentur.

Libera me de sanguinibus, Deus, Deus salutis meae: et exsultabit lingua mea justitiam tuam.

Domine, labia mea aperies: et os meum annuntiabit laudem tuam.

What's the point of giving something up that you know you will go back to on Easter Sunday? Doesn't knowing a privation is temporary make it too easy? Easy and pointless? Isn't the true purpose of Lent to cleanse your soul for Easter? Will my soul really be purer without cheese or olives or whatever other anodyne habit I decide to break? 

 

For Lent, why don't we give up something less tangible and yet destructive to us and to others? Something we would work on eradicating from our minds and washing from our souls?

 

Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.

Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.

Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

How about we pledge to give up resentment?

We could train ourselves, little by little, to replace resentment with responsibility and forgiveness.  Turn the other cheek.  No, not to ask for another slap, but to remove whoever has struck us from our field of vision, from our thoughts, from our world.  To set ourselves free.

When someone upsets us, we could indulge in making up a story about something that just might have happened to this person that would explain his or her unpleasant attitude.  It doesn't have to be true, only plausible.  And the self-storytelling might make us feel better.

 

How about we give up gossiping? 

We could try never speaking of a third person except to praise at least one aspect of him or her.  Is there nothing good to say about him or her? There must be something, however small.  We could avoid divulging personal information about others.  Instead of using what we know about them as social currency, we could cherish it as a secret treasure.

 

How about giving up sadness?

We could choose an image, a tune or a thought that makes us smile and summon it whenever we feel the clouds gathering in our minds.

 

How about giving up fear?

We could try to imagine that we are safe.  Just making believe at first, until it becomes reality.  After all, we can't make it real if we don't imagine it first.  And if we can imagine it, then perhaps we can create it.

 

Quoniam si voluisses sacrificium, dedissem utique: holocaustis non delectaberis.

Sacrificium Deo spiritus contribulatus: cor contritum, et humiliatum, Deus, non despicies.

Benigne fac, Domine, in bona voluntate tua Sion: ut aedificentur muri Ierusalem.

Tunc acceptabis sacrificium justitiae, oblationes, et holocausta: tunc imponent super altare tuum vitulos.

 

How about we monitor the words that leave our lips and give up using them irresponsibly?

We could replace "Filthy weather, today" with the more accurate "It's cold" or "It's very wet" or "It's very grey".

When someone asks us how we are, we could discard "Not too bad" in favour of "Very well, thank you".  It may not be true at the time, but people mostly don't ask because they really want to know.  And "well" might make us feel better.

 

How about we give up believing we can't and, at least for a while, try to imagine we can?

 

How about we give up the familiar comfort of darkness? There is a lot of darkness, I know.

Just one candle.  It's surprising how much light just one little flame gives.

 

ScribeDoll

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A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play

At Rise:    A man is doing something. An alien enters and watches him.

Alien:       Why are you doing that?

Man:        Needs doing.

Alien:       How do you know?

Man:        It’s my work.

Alien:       What is work?

Man:        What needs doing.

Alien:       I’m asking you.

Man:        I’m telling you.

Alien:       What is my work?

Man:        Asking questions.

Alien:       That is my work!

Man:        You’re good at your job.

                (Long pause)

Alien:       I am a visitor to your planet.

                (Long pause)

Man         Aren’t we all.

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A Writers' Social

The Scene: A bar.

The Players: Novelists, children's writers, academics, translators, journalists, biographers, and other assorted literary intellectuals.

*

"Hi! Nice to see you! Which way did you come?"

"Oh, it was bloody awful.  I drove down the [name of motorway] but there was so much traffic.  I guess because of the football... I didn't realise [name of team] were playing at home."

"I know, I know, it's awful.  The other day it took me hours to get into town.  They were digging the road, you know the one..."

*

"Did you find that wallpaper you were after?"

"Yes! But then when I tried a sample it didn't look right with the curtains.  You know my curtains with the lilies.  So I really don't know what to do now.  I'm losing my sleep over it."

*

"Where are you from?"

"–"

"Is your accent French?"

"–"

"What is it I hear?"

"I can't possibly tell you what it is you h–"

"Are you South African?"

"No, Armenian."

"Oh, how interesting! Armenian... that's like Sephardic, isn't it?"

"–"

"Or am I thinking Coptic? What is it I'm thinking?"

"I've absolutely no idea what you're –"

"Armenian... Is it like... It's on  the tip of my tongue..."

*

"It took me hours to find somewhere to park! [Name of city] is getting worse and worse!

"Where did you park, in the end?"

"You know the Arts Centre? Well, there's that street right on the side of it... What's it called? St-Something Lane..."

"Oh, yes.  You should try behind the cinema, next time.  I generally find a space there..."

*

"Will you have another?"

"Oooh, I shouldn't... Well, all right, I'll have another red.  A bit rough but it's alcohol, it does the trick.  Aren't you finishing your drink?"

"I don't like it."

"What is it, whisky? Are you going to just leave it? Such a waste.  Do you mind if I have it?"

*

"Oh, and you know, I saw him the other day.  His wife's left him."

"Oh, no! I hadn't heard..." 

"Just walked out.  To be honest, between you and me, I've always thought she was a bit difficult."

"We must ask him over for supper.  Poor thing.  He's having to fend for himself now so can't concentrate on his book."

"Oh, poor man."

*

"And I saw their daughter the other day – I don't think you've met her, have you?"

"No.  I knew they had a daughter." 

 "Nice girl but had a drug problem in her teens.  Her husband's got this promotion at work so they've bought this house in Yorkshire.  They're knocking down half the walls and rebuilding it."

*

"How's your back?"

"Still really bad.  Living on Ibuprofen."

"That's not very good for you."

"I know! Painkillers aren't good for you in general, are they? The GP's put me on this new painkiller.  Let's hope it works.  My neighbour says she was on it.  Apparently, it really helped except that she then got so addicted..."

"Have you considered acupuncture?"

"Oh, they say it's brilliant.  Yes, I must get around to it.  It's on my list but there's always so much to do, there just aren't enough hours in the day! You know what it's like... The other day, I had to drive into town to sort out my watch.  The battery died after only three months.  That took half the morning.  And then I had to rush to get a birthday present for..."

 

Scribe Doll

 

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I am Anchored in the River

 

I was born only a few short miles from the Father of Waters. The Mississippi River is a constant presence in my psyche and my memories; always changing, always flowing, never exactly the same. It scoured and flooded our history. It was a demarcation line – so wide that there was us and there was them. You could barely make out a figure on the opposite shore. Were they really there? There were so many stories.

 

   

It could be beautiful, or it could be fearsome. I remember joyful summer days on the deck of the huge excursion boat watching the shoreline and the city glide past. The big ship’s engines vibrated as it made its way through the strong current. The river's cliffs were made of red brick. Tow boats pushed barges up the river. There once were old warehouses that held cotton and furs – and a licorice factory. The old bridge made of granite and iron was built to last 1,000 years and it just might.

   

I lived as a boy near the confluence – where two great rivers flowed together. This is where Lewis and Clark, and a dog named Seaman, began the trip of discovery. This is where we ventured out, across the winter ice, to explore an island in the river. The island was big and wild, positioned where the Missouri River made a long, last bend toward its destiny. I remember the trees…massive trunks soaring skyward with piles of driftwood from ancient floods braced against their feet. There were Snakes.

   

Still later I lived in sight of the Missouri River, named after a local tribe… the People of the Big Canoes. This was near the farthest reach of French settlement in the old colonial days. The river stretched clear to the Rocky Mountains. Some of the river’s water comes from John Colter's Yellowstone and the old pathfinder was buried near here, on the south bank, not far from the edge of civilization in 1813. The sand glitters with promises of Colter's mountains: grains of Granite, Jasper, and Rosy Quartz.

   

Now I live on a hill sloping to the Rio Grande del Norte, called so by the early Spanish. The same river is called Rio Bravo in Mexico. My Keresan Pueblo Indian neighbors say “mets’ichi chena”, maybe the oldest name, meaning Big River – Rio Grande in  Spanish. The Rio Grande is a trickle by comparison to the rivers of my youth, but it is the lifeblood of the desert. Looking across the valley there is a broad forest of ancient cottonwoods following the river south toward the sea. We would not be here without the river.

   

The Navajo call the river “Tó Baʼáadi”, meaning Female River; the southward direction is given a female distinction among the Navajo. So, I have lived alongside the Female River as well as the Father of Waters. The current flows in my veins and I am anchored in the river.

   

 

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Flipping the Omelet

Very few people who have eaten my cooking realize that I am an expert cook. My topic today is flipping the omelet.

(Disclaimer: my omelets don't look like this)

Never flip an omelet from the center.

Always flip from the side.

If you are right-handed, flip from the left side.

If you are left-handed, flip from the right.

Never flip from out to in.

Flip in to out if you must.

Never flip from back to front or front to back.

It just confuses the omelet

Not to mention the cook.

These instructions apply to many areas of life, especially if butter is involved.

 

(From the archives)

 

 

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Latest Comments

Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
19 February 2018
High praise! Thank you.
Katherine Gregor A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
18 February 2018
Beckett would be envious.
Stephen Evans A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
05 February 2018
I just realized that the last two posts were plays. How true to the spirit of The Green Room!
Rosy Cole A Visitor to your Planet: A One-Minute Play
04 February 2018
Interesting dynamic. Reflects the popular conception of 'democracy'. (Look at it this way, the US is...
Ken Hartke Flipping the Omelet
01 February 2018
One word: Fritatta

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