Holding up, holding out and holding on


By Sister Gwyn

The 2017 JPIC Conference was held at High Leigh in Broxbourne and I was privileged to go as our JPIC Link person.

I always look forward to these meetings, it’s a chance to meet up with old friends and make new ones along the way! In the past, we’ve been introduced to some amazing speakers & this year was no different, we had Tina Beattie, a name I hadn’t come across before. I did google her and it was somewhat daunting when you read all that she has achieved. I did think, how am I going to cope!

According to Wikipedia, Tina Beattie is a British writer and broadcaster. She is the Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of Roehampton in London and Director of the Digby Stuart Research Centre for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing.
Beattie's academic research and publications include work on Catholic theology and psychoanalytic theory (Theology After Postmodernity: Divining the Void; theologies and theories of gender and sexuality (New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory); the cult of the Virgin Mary (God's Mother, Eve's Advocate); theology and art; atheism and religion (The New Atheists), and religion and women's rights.

In addition to her academic work, Beattie has been a public speaker on issues relating to the role of religion in contemporary society and contributes to radio and television. She has written for the Catholic weekly journal, The Tablet, and contributed to The Guardian.[1] She has engaged in a wide range of educational and awareness-raising activities and projects among religious groups, including inter-religious dialogue and issues concerning social justice and non-violence. Conservative Catholics have criticized her for arguing in favour of same-sex marriage and women's ordination, for challenging the Catholic Church's teachings on contraception, and for appealing for a more-nuanced ethical approach to the question of early abortion.

According to Ann Shean: "Yes, Tina Beattie is everything that is mentioned above but what Wikipedia fails to mention is what a passionate warm, caring person Tina really is. I thought after all that I read about her, I was going to meet this feminist woman, who hated men and wanted to change the world, in a way that couldn’t be done! She is so tiny, I was taller than her, now that doesn’t happen very often, when I’m taller than someone! However, Tina can draw anyone into her circle and suddenly you find yourself excited by her passion, angry and frustrated by what she is telling you, leaving you hungry to learn more. She takes you out of your comfort zone, and suddenly, you feel as passionately as her. Tina’s manner is not aggressive, she is softly spoken, with a wicked sense of humor. She became a Catholic before she became a feminist and it’s refreshing to meet someone like her. If you ever get the opportunity to go to one of her lectures, then please do, you certainly won’t be disappointed. If someone like me can get so much from her work, then I am sure you will!"

Setting the scene, for what to expect from the weekend, we were introduced to Rebecca Solnit work, an American writer, Hope in the Dark:

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future – and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable”.
I have never described Hope like this before, yet it made sense: “to give yourself to the future” is hope. I have since taken those words on board.

We also worked on Psalm 139, ‘Search Me, O God, and know my heart’ and it was then that I felt something so powerful, I was excited about the following days here. The evening was over, everyone had retired to their bedrooms but I stayed up. I kept reading it over and over and this part kept jumping out at me: ‘Where can I go from your spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.’

For the first time in many soul-searching months, I felt I reconnected with God and understood, even appreciated his presence in my life, a presence that I had begun to doubt. Even in my doubts, God was there. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me & know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, & lead me in the way everlasting.

Focus on self
Discovering the self-anew
The main part of session 2 that I really got something from was when Tina shared with us, the beautiful poem, “The Journey” by Mary Oliver, which I had never came across before. It was illustrated with a powerful video which you can find on YouTube: https://youtu.be/MhnNMwQv0ko

The Journey by Mary Oliver

It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
One day you finally knew and the road full of fallen
what you had to do, and began, branches and stones.
though the voices around you But little by little,
kept shouting as you left their voice behind,
their bad advice -- the stars began to burn
though the whole house through the sheets of clouds,
began to tremble and there was a new voice
and you felt the old tug which you slowly
at your ankles. recognized as your own,
"Mend my life!" that kept you company
each voice cried. as you strode deeper and deeper
But you didn't stop. into the world,
You knew what you had to do, determined to do
though the wind pried the only thing you could do --
with its stiff fingers determined to save
at the very foundations, the only life that you could save.
though their melancholy
was terrible.

Tina had displayed a bowl full of wool and after she had shown the video, we each broke into small groups, holding a ball of wool and each of us shared why we found this poem, so powerful, and if we could see ‘ourselves’ in the poem. Then passing the ball of wool to the next person to talk but still holding your bit. When we had finished, each group brought their ball of wool, all messy, back to the display.

I found this a very powerful poem, made better with the lovely video that was shown with it which only consists of still black & white photos. It sums up the weekend, with Tina and the rest of JPIC members.
Before the video starts, Tina introduces us to the sudden realization that we can listen to our own stream of consciousness and still excel through life. I wasn’t convinced. However, very quickly into the video, I no longer saw the black & white still photos, I saw ME walking the journey.

I live in a world where to be considered “normal” I must conform to society. The Journey leaves you with the daunting task to find your own voice, especially in a world where society seems to speak for everyone! My own journey is full of ‘broken branches & stones’ but the more I continue walking my journey, the more I can leave the voices, the ‘broken branches and stones’ behind & let ‘the stars burn through the sheets of clouds’. This poem made me understand that there is a new voice and it did take time for me to realise: the new voice was “mine”.

This was probably one of the better JPIC meetings that I have been to. It came at a time in my life that I needed a bit of space, walk the journey, jump over the branches and as a woman, have an opinion, and find my voice to share my opinion and keep holding on to that.