I was born in London 10 days after war was declared into a very ancient traditional Catholic family. After 2 months my elder brother and I were sent with a very strict nanny, to a deaf Grandfather in Yorkshire. Obedience and fear were born. In January 1942 we came back to Stanmore to find another brother had arrived. Here bombs, air raids and gas masks accompanied by Catholic prayers were the pattern of a fear filled life though nothing was spoken of.
At 10 I went to a Catholic boarding School. The days and weeks were filled with Catholic training in prayers, liturgies and feast days. I was obedient and accepting of all I was taught, questions were not encouraged. Being dyslexic I presumed I was stupid. I considered everyone knew better than me.
At 17 I felt God wanted me to enter the Convent, where sadly, I received no theology but the Rules and Constitution were to be obeyed to the letter. We had the discipline to whip ourselves with and spikes to put round our arms every Friday. For the first 10 years I was told that this would discipline my body and free the spirit, it did not do so, it ruined my relationship with my body. For 25 years I tried harder and harder to follow the rules to the letter, hoping that would help me develop a better relationship with God. Eventually I broke apart. By providence I was saved from completely sabotaging my well-being when I met a therapist, not even knowing what therapy was.
Slowly and painfully and with the encouragement of the therapist I was accepted onto a Post Graduate Diploma Course in Adult Religious Education in Liverpool. Everything was new: secular dress, writing essays and experiencing student life. I waited in fear that my first essay would not be good enough, and would be sent away, but all was well. I then Ioved it all and asked for more, so I came to Heythrop to do the Pastoral year, my mind was expanding. During that year I became certain I could not go back to the Convent. So, with much difficulty and pain I was released from my vows.
Here at 43 starts the Second Half. I found a lay community to live in, run by a forward looking secular Priest who founded a Eucharistic Community for those who felt excluded from the Church. After two years I left wanting an ‘ordinary’ life. I remember clearly one of my first days at that Community standing in Battersea Rise thinking “who is going to buy my toothpaste?” Reality struck and for the next 5 years I cleaned and ironed. I was exhausted but my mind was full of new experiences.
After a while I found going to Mass on Sundays increasingly painful so one Sunday I went to Cannizaro Park instead. I walked through the gates and realized the birds were my choir, the plants my readings and the earth my connection to all that is.
One weekend I went to the sea hoping to walk bare foot on the sand, but it poured with rain. The Convent I was staying in had videos, one title jumped out, The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos by Brian Swimme. I was captivated, this was a vision I could aspire to. This is about the unfolding of the Universe from the big bang through to today and how we can learn from it to make our lives meaningful.
Eventually I purchased all 12 of the Canticle of the Cosmos videos. I longed to share these so I gathered a small group, we met once a month to share and explore their meaning, and our horizons were expanded. Out of this grew The Cosmic Holy Week. For many years we went to retreat houses where the communities were happy for us to do our own thing. For the last 2 years we have had to go on zoom. It is a deeply shared experience wherever we are and honours the heart of the Liturgical Year.
The Eucharist holds great meaning for me. I need it in my life and it has been through many incarnations. Now I have a small group and we meet to celebrate the turning points of the year, the equinoxes and solstices, but every Sunday I celebrate in my flat on my own, inviting the whole Universe to join me using the Teilhard de Chardin Eucharistic prayer.
There is so much more I could say about the journey but in an article this length I have focused on the significant moments that have helped me to move from one of ‘God’s best conformist’ to a freer spirit seeking the sacredness in all that is. I have not described the deep psychological journey with all its pain and struggle but I endeavour to follow the path whether rough or smooth to which I feel called. I am deeply grateful to all who have supported and inspired me on this journey towards ever greater wholeness and oneness with all that is – the precious sacredness of The Universe.
Photos © Mary Jo Radcliffe