Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Maeve on Menopause

I am not going to write about Thanksgiving. We didn't have it in the first century, though we gave thanks and made offerings, chucked a lot of gold down votive wells. When Celts feasted, usually a roast pig was involved. It could be quite dangerous. There was such a thing as a "hero's cut of meat." Men have been known to fight to the death over that cut. Think about that when you ask for the drumstick.

This piece may be my last for awhile. Elizabeth has been invited to experiment with this blog in a particular way over the next few weeks. For my (perhaps temporary) swansong I am responding to the question: What does Maeve have to say about menopause? Yes, I have gone through it.

In Magdalen Rising there's a whole chapter about my menarche. To my dismay, I realized there is no corresponding chapter about menopause in Bright Dark Madonna. Dear readers, I apologize. Like many of you, I had a child (my second and long awaited) in my early thirties. Her menarche and my menopause roughly coincided, but her change took center stage. My menopausal years were also complicated by having to contend with Paul of Tarsus. No wonder I did not notice my hot flashes. My blood was always boiling. I don't want to give away too much plot. But I might as well tell you: not long after one final knock down drag out battle with Paul, I spent seven years wandering the world searching for my runaway daughter. My red hair turned grey. I did not bleed, except in my heart. Then I took care of my mother-in-law. Believe it or not, when I had given up all hope and thought of such things, I had the most wonderful, tender, fleeting love affair in my early post-menopausal years.

So what do I want to say about menopause: there is life after it. Life that can be juicy, sweet, surprising, as well as sometimes dismaying and out of control (when wasn't it?) If you are lucky, you may get to sojourn for a time in a cave or other retreat as I did. You may learn to love yourself, even forgive yourself; you may have moments of wisdom. (I for one am still capable of being rash and foolish.) For sure you will find out what the moon has been trying to tell us for a long time: It's just a phase. It'a sll just a phase. Life itself, a phase. Don't let it phase you!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


First to everyone who has been so kindly inquiring, my husband is continuing to do thorough research about his treatment options. My mother-in-law, Olga, is thriving in her lively new home, as much a queen as ever. She has several guardian cats. She regards them with a certain tolerant disdain (and secretly enjoys their attention). What is a goddess to do?

Every now and then a story in the news gets under my skin, and I have to respond directly. I read the story on http://www.truthout.org/1114098. The next day aol had picked it up: w|dl3|link3|http%3A%2F%2Fnews.aol.com%2Fmain%2Fnc%2Farticle%2Falexis-hutchinson-refuses-deployment-to%2F769226 Here's the gist:

Alexis Hutchinson, an army cook and the single mother of an eleven-month-old son, was scheduled to be deployed to Afghanistan on November 15th. The plan for her son's care that she had filed with the army fell through when her mother realized she could not add care of an infant to the load she was already carrying. (Three family members in need of nursing care.) The army first granted, and then revoked an extension that would have allowed Alexis Hutchinson to arrange for alternative care. When Ms. Hutchinson refused to leave her son on the appointed date, he was taken into foster care, and she was arrested and is currently confined on a base in Georgia. She faces potential court martial and a year in jail.

The army's decision to revoke the extension, place the child in foster care, and arrest the mother appalls me. That Alexis Hutchinson was using her child to avoid deployment in Afghanistan, as military officials have alleged, is the grossest speculation and moreover beside the point. If parents of either gender are willing to risk their lives in the course of military service, the military has an obligation to support them in every way possible in making acceptable arrangements for their children. Forcing a parent to place a child in foster care is unacceptable. The suffering already inflicted on this child and this mother is both cruel and unnecessary. I wrote to Michelle Obama, who has said that she has a particular concern for military families, to ask her not only to look into this case but into military policy regarding parents who must leave children behind when they deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan and other posts where family cannot follow.

The title of this blog is Mother Right, a concept that was part of ancient Celtic law and the laws of some other ancient peoples, I believe. I have been searching for a definition of it among my books, including in Magdalen Rising where Maeve gives a definition. But I haven't been able to place my finger on it yet, and I am almost out of time today. I will keep looking and include the definition in next week's blog.

For now, I am going to make something up. Mother right, in today's winging-it definition, not only has to do with the rights of women to own property, participate in all aspects of the political process, bear arms, have spiritual authority, and sexual autonomy, all of which rights ancient Celtic women exercised and enjoyed. Mother right in today's definition is law that includes both common sense and compassion. The spirit that gives life instead of the letter than kills (as good lordess deliver us Maeve's nemesis Paul of Tarsus once said). A law that is unresponsive to individual circumstance soon becomes a form of oppression and abuse.

As to the subject of mothers (and fathers!) in the military and the heartrending choices they make--or have made--that is a subject for another blog. Or novel, like the one I am writing now set during the rebellion of Queen Boudica against the Roman occupation. A hard book to write. More another day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Who Died for What Sin? Theology with Maeve

It is my turn this week. But before I begin to put my foot in my mouth (at least theologically) Elizabeth asked me to thank everyone who responded to her post last week in comments, emails, on facebook, and twitter. So much loving kindness from so many. As the Dalai Lama says (yes, of course I know him, but don't expect a novel about it) kindness is what matters. Religion is only useful if it supports you in being kind. Or words to that effect. Elizabeth is very grateful for your kindness.

I looked back through the comments for the topic request I haven't yet addressed. I thought it was something like how on earth would a devout praticing first century Jew end up with a pagan pig-eating Celt who became an Isis-worshipping whore? That is a good question, and I was working up quite a sermon on the importance of hanging out with people who are NOT like-minded. And perhaps I will deliver it sometime. But here is the question I will tackle today:

"How a beautiful fiery pagan Celt would answer to the subject of Jesus being the 'chosen one who died for our sins, and that we are all heathens who do not follow.' "

First, thank you for the adjectives! I appreciate them. I am not a theologian or a historian of religion, so I had better speak only for myself. I wanted to blame the whole concept of Jesus dying for our sins on Paul of Tarsus (with whom I have had my struggles). He surely did go on (and on) about it in some of his epistles, but a quick check on the internet (too much information!) tells me the idea did not originate with him. Here's an article on the diverse sources for this concept: http://www.biblicaltheology.com/Research/CostaT03.pdf

Sin was not a concept native to me. A Celt (especially a hero) sometimes had to deal with a geis being laid upon him. A geis is something like a taboo imposed on an individual. Cuchulain (whose name means hound) had a geis laid upon him against eating dog meat. If you broke a geis danger and destruction followed. Grainne forced Diarmuid to be her lover by laying a geis on him if he refused. And I am afraid when I was an impressionable, headstrong young girl under the influence of such stories, I laid a similar geis on You Know Who. He turned me down flat, and I have sometimes wondered if I am responsible for all his subsequent troubles, except that, of course, he eventually relented, but only of his own free will, as he insisted. Very murky waters.

Did I sin in attempting to force my will on him through word magic? Perhaps. If you define sin as "missing the mark," not being in alignment with the will of the whole mystery. If we are all sinners, can someone's death atone for our sins, take them away? I confess I have never been able to see the connection. And as many a child has asked, if Jesus died for our sins once and for all, how come the world is the way it is? Who and what has been saved from sin?

I don't know that answer to that one. As for one person being sacrificed for many, the Celts had something called the god-making death. The idea was that a perfect and willing human sacrifice could, through death, go between the worlds and speak on behalf of the people with the gods. It wasn't that the people were bad; they needed a representative, one made powerful by passing through the mystery of death.

Even if that concept was or is true, I, for one, wasn't having it. I stole away the human sacrifice from under the druids' noses. And even though I fretted for years that the subsequent invasion of Britain might have been my fault, I would do it again. And if I could have prevented the crucifixion, I would have. His mother tried, if you read my version of the story. And when MaevenSong is released, you will be able to hear her defiant lament at the foot of the Cross.

As I lived and healed with Jesus, I know he felt the inexorable pull of the god-making death, as we called it when we spoke of it privately, but to the Jesus I knew it was a mystery. And he also felt a pull towards life, the heartbreaking beauty of ordinary life. He healed people by seeing them, in their brokenness and in their wholeness. There was nothing abstract or theological in that moment of healing. He often said, Your sins are forgiven, and he got in trouble for that. Only God could forgive sins, people said. Who did he think he was?

As you know, people subsequently decided he was the Son of God and moreover the Only Begotten Son of God, and only people who accept that doctrine can be saved--and the rest of us, including me, are damned. Because I never became a Christian. I am a lover of Jesus. That is all I can say. I am myself. I am that I am.

If I believe in anything, apart from loving kindness, it is this: that we are all incarnations of the mystery, all called to mediate the divine and human, little self and the expanded one, the in breath and the out. We are here to embody this paradox, not to condemn our humanness or exalt our divinity, to embody both. To love this earth, to love each other while we're here. Sure sometimes we'll miss the mark. Forgive yourself, forgive another. Draw back the bow string and take aim again.

For more about my stories: www.passionofmarymagdalen.com

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Untying my tongue

I have spent the last ten days tongue-tied, if such a term can be applied to writing, responding only when necessary to email or messages directed to me on twitter. I still have not written in my journal. I have not worked on my novel. This blog today is my first step towards returning to writing practice. I can't write or speak without saying first:

My mother-in-law has just moved from her home of sixty-four years into an eldercare home where she can receive nursing care that we are unable to provide.

My husband has just received a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

Also, preceding the first event and during the delivery of the diagnosis, we both had flu. We don't know what kind, but it was severe.

There was a kind of grace in having the flu. We had to stay home; we had to sit with each other and take care of each other and grieve with each other. Although I wasn't able to visit my mother-in-law in person while I was sick, I spent much of the time during the week leading up to Halloween traveling between the worlds. My mother-in-law has alzheimers and zero short-term memory. She often seems to be a meditative state between waking and sleeping. During my own fever-doze, I felt I could communicate with her directly, soul to soul, and help prepare her for the change that was coming. I also spoke to the spirits of the land she has loved and tended for so long and to the spirits of the land across the river where she was going.

I also spent a lot of time crying my heart out. Fever is good for that, too.

The place my mother-in-law has moved is part of a movement in eldercare called the Eden Alternative, based on the idea that elders should be part of the flow of life. Islandview is home to an extended family of caregivers, including mother and daughter RNs, six elders, four cats, four dogs, and a cockatoo. Employees can bring their babies and toddlers to work, and grandchildren are in and out. That sounded great in theory. I am happy to say after hanging out there the last couple of days, it seems to be working out in practice. Here is a description of my mother-in-law's first afternoon from an email I wrote to my sister.

"The place really is sunny and homey. I sat with Olga for quite awhile in the living room while Douglas did paperwork. The other residents were friendly but not demanding of attention.
At one point the most gorgeous calico cat decided to make it her mission to sit on Olga's lap, which wasn't entirely easy since Olga wasn't helping. The cat tried one approach, then another, searching for a way to sit on her that would be comfortable for them both. Finally she settled in across Olga's stomach and chest. She lifted her nose to Olga's cheek a couple of times, then kneaded with her paws careful to keep her claws extended and not in the fabric (unlike my cat). At last she rested and purred loudly for about ten minutes. Although Olga reputedly does not like cats to sit on her, I think she was comforted and perhaps flattered. And probably warmed, too. The woman who runs the place says this cat was the guardian of the 103 year old woman who died recently. I hope she has decided to adopt Olga."

After all the deep grieving I did last week, I am now feeling huge relief that my mother-in-law is safe and cared for. She seemed quite peaceful today. And she is very much her regal, yet-goodnatured self, ready for a new adventure, willing to be pleased. So many of us identified her with the place she created. It is good to be reminded that she is who she is no matter where she is. There is a core nature that seems to transcend even memory.

Now my husband and I must turn our attention to information gathering, decision making, treatment, and recovery. We are at the bare beginning of this journey. We have gathered, so far, that his prospect for recovery from cancer is good but that sex as we have known it and cherished it for thirty-one years may change irrevocably and unpredictably. He is seventy; I am fifty-six. Our age difference, which has hardly been noticeable to us, may begin to make a difference. Nothing is certain. We know that. Everything and anything can change at any moment as if can for any and everyone. And does. Every moment.

There. I just needed to say that. My mother-in-law has left home for her last home. My husband has prostate cancer. We are all held in the mystery no matter what. Tomorrow, mystery willing, I will begin to write again.

For pictures of my mother-in-law's land where she ran a school for many years and where we now run a center: http://www.highvalley.org/ My website is still: http://www.passionofmarymagdalen.com/