Month: June 2012

Tiptoeing Out

Last few days in the Cauldron. All paperwork cleared. I hope. The last thing I need is some bureaucrat telling me at the airport that I should have queued for hours at the Traffic Department to wait while a gentleman in an office stops watching the golf for a few moments to reach into his drawer for a stamp the size of the Papal Seal and dutifully initials it – reasons and purposes not specified. I confess to a frisson of anxiety, hoping to tiptoe out. At least I don’t share the same fate as the unfortunates who have been caught for ‘residency violations’…

“The number of residency violators dropped from 104,000 by the end of April 2012 to 95,000,” said a security source who made the statistics available to a local daily. On the other hand, the source questioned the effectiveness of the unscheduled security campaigns that has so far covered areas such as Khaitan, Amghara and Jleeb Al-Shuyoukh, in tackling the problem with no parallel efforts being carried out to stop residency traffickers.”

Italics mine.

One imagines men with batons stampeding through cramped apartment blocks where eight to a room means three hours sleep per person before being trucked out into the middle of nowhere to toil for ten hours in the heat.

It’s also fortunate that I have left the teaching profession – perhaps for good. Cheating in exams is – let’s say – widespread. There exists a pervasive mentality that it’s quite OK to try to buck the system – perhaps ethically similar to getting a good deal in the bazaar – but this story, unvarnished with critical editorial, made its way into the paper the other day.

“Police are on the hunt for a high school student who physically assaulted a teacher that caught him cheating during his final exam. The … student waited outside after being barred from appearing for the exam. The suspect reportedly attacked the teacher and fled the scene.”

Not many people swim in the sea. After Mishref – the smell lingered for months – I am among them and being of the male gender am untroubled by recent legislation, namely  bikinis for ladies are not permitted on public beaches. A spokesman for the Moral Awareness Department – interesting acronym – commented:

“Wearing a bikini is not acceptable in our community on public beaches. This doesn’t mean we will arrest a lady swimming in a bikini without doing an immoral act, unless we receive a complaint from someone.”

Yes. I thought that too.  So that’s OK then. Thanks to the Kuwait Times and Al Watan. Going to take my latest read with me “Around the World in a Bad Mood.”

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Paying Attention

Dear God. Please. As if a polite enquiry by way of preamble might confer favour. I have been giving thought in these last days to prayer and have begun to realise how appallingly superstitious I am about it. Time to tear up the metaphors about a wise and kindly Santa Claus, dispensing largesse. God doesn’t do quality control.
Leaving is a transformative process and we’re not very keen on it as a species. The chrysalis resents being metamorphosed into something else since this belongs to a pessimistic and possibly uncomfortable future which is, like the past, a foreign country where things are done differently. Our metaphorical chrysalis thus agonises as to whether his wings will be big enough and as time’s rollercoaster is outside of his control, his mumblings and sweating often find a voice in some abstract, wordless, inarticulate cry to the heavens.
Some thoughts then, some of my own and some not.  In “God Still Matters”, the Dominican scholar Herbert McCabe writes:
”For real absolute waste of time you have to go to prayer. I reckon that more than 80 percent of our reluctance to pray consists precisely in our dim recognition of this and our neurotic fear of wasting time, of spending part of our life in something that in the end gets you nowhere, something that is not merely non-productive, non-money-making, but is even non-creative, it doesn’t even have the justification of art and poetry. It is an absolute waste of time, it is a sharing into the waste of time which is the interior life of the Godhead. God is not in himself productive or creative. Sure, he takes time to throw off a creation, to make something, to achieve something, but the real interior life of the Godhead is not in creation, it is in the life of love which is in the Trinity, the procession of Son from Father and of the Spirit from this exchange. God is not first of all our creator or any kind of maker, he is love, and his life is not like the life of the worker or artist but of lovers wasting time with each other uselessly. It is into this worthless activity that we enter in prayer. This, in the end, is what makes sense of it…

To ask if prayer “works” is to reduce it to a kind of magic. Prayer is not in the least bit necessary; it is more than necessary.

We never begin to pray, we always enter into prayer that has already begun before us and without us, the prayer of the church. We may pray alone, but we are never alone when we pray. “Our Father…”

“Prayer is a dangerous activity. In prayer we do not enter the kitten’s basket but the lion’s den. Prayer is a transformative activity. In prayer we are changed—and change hurts.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

Prayer is not a private activity; indeed prayer is the most political activity in which a believer can engage. “To fold your hands in prayer is to begin an uprising against the world” (Karl Barth).

It’s a nonsense to suggest that prayers of thanksgiving trump prayers of petition and there is some kind of cosmic counterweight which asserts that as long as we don’t overburden the Almighty with our needs and wants, instead peppering our petitions with thanksgiving, it increases the probability that we will get a favourable response. We are children of God. What would I think about my own child if he always went about thanking, never asking, demanding or pestering?

Asking whether God answers prayer is fatuous. The Father is the object of prayer, the Spirit is the subject of prayer, the Son is the predicate of prayer. How then can God not answer himself? If God seems silent, it is only because he is ‘being God’ – listening and thinking. Archbishop William Temple once said, “When I pray, coincidences happen.” 

Prayer begins with the eyes. Prayer begins with simply paying attention.
Wherever did we get the idiotic and disabling idea that prayer must be a richly rewarding experience, I wonder? If I have ‘an arid time’ I’m simply not paying attention for long enough.

Flags and Madness

One hundred and fifteen years ago…

In 1897, a stately procession in a landau was all Victoria got. No wonder she looks a bit glum. This year’s model borrowed the transport for the same journey but there were a few more bells, whistles and hip-hurrahs than last time. Every blogger north of Antarctica has had his shout about the whole Jubilee business, which has driven the UK and half the rest of the world into a frenzy of red, white and blue. America hasn’t got one – a Queen, that is – except for Hillary Clinton and she don’t count. So, Washington is as afroth as Wilmslow, but they’re constitutional infants and thus are more interested in the other Middleton girl rather than HM and the Greek. Poor old chap, being in hospital for the Cliff Richard gig; however will he get over it? Brits, it has to be admitted, do the big event very well indeed, vast crowds turn up obediently, wafting flaggery, while HM, Gawd bless ‘er, cracks a smile to the brassy thump of military bands which struck terror into Napoleon’s chasseurs before Waterloo. A friend posted on FB that she was ‘PTBB’ which I thought at first might have been a ‘code secret‘ on HM’s Facebook page for ‘pretty tired and bloody bored’ but was told aloofly that it meant ‘proud to be British’. If I knew what it meant to be British, I might, I suppose, be proud of it, but I’m really not quite sure what it means any more, not having sat in a traffic jam on the M25 for quite some years. So, it was with more than my usual detachment that I watched the shenanigans and buffoonery last night. Elton John in pink penguin jacket, an avuncular Tom Jones with a white beard, the bass player from the Beatles twirling a vintage Hofner bass, impossibly bedecked in the Union Jack. . . Despite the best efforts of Grace Jones doing her usual impersonation being of a woman temporarily evading the clutches of a group of psychiatric nurses and a thirty year old hologram of  Dame Shirley Bassey, the highlight was Madness, looking portly and almost Establishment, performing ‘Our House’ and ‘It Must Be Love’ on the Palace roof. It was genuinely spectacular, a solitary, iconic moment that even the most implacable, bah-humbug opponent of the monarchy might have felt themselves softening at least a little to the event. Even me. To be fair, the old girl has done a marvellous job, doing all that standing up at her age – most pensioners don’t have to stand that long to wait for a bus. Being monarch can’t be a soft career option despite the fact that she was rudely thrust into the job at quite a tender age, barely out of diplomatic potty-training.
She was there before the Information Age, postmodernism and the Sex Pistols and has had to put up with twelve prime ministers – however did she deal with Gordon Brown, the vicar’s son, or the woman from Grantham with a first in Chemistry from Oxford? With remarkable patience, and the knack of being mentally in two places at once, it seems.
In an age of uncertainty, perhaps all of us have a primeval instinct to run home to mamma, the security of a thousand years of tradition holds people’s emotional and social tillers steady when unemployed yoof roam the streets armed with spray cans and cynicism, and the world’s dangers loom large. Am I going soft, I wonder?