Types of Bras We All Had



Judgment of Others vs Judgement of the Lord

Humanism throughout history yielded incredible advances to humanity, by promoting the rule of law, individual freedom and separation of church and state. We owe this revolutionary movement a lot of what is today taken as granted in developed countries. Placing the human, rather than God, at the center of the universe was, when first introduced, unheard of.

Centuries later, we seamlessly integrated the core principles and ideas of humanism in all levels of everyday society and life. Placing the human at the center of the universe might have not been such a bad idea idea after all. However, what happens when we forget who came up with humans in the first place? Humanism separated entirely from the idea of God and deity is palpable in our societies today. In my personal experience, it can be destructive and create a climate where the inherent value and sacredness of humans is reduced.

As a catholic living in a secular, arguably pagan society, there are a few aspects of this that make daily life… well, challenging. One that is particularly obvious is the concept of a person’s (or soul) value is determined by outside factors, rather than being an intrinsic, birthright de facto quality of simply being human.

The world cares much about labels, “good” and “bad” people, successful and failing, attractive, geeky, eco-friendly… you name it. The focus seems to be on external, action-based, materialist attributes. Which is precisely what puzzles me; these are attributes. These can be changed, taken, given away or received. They can even be purchased.

The judgement of value in our societies today relies on attributes that are somewhat fickle and meaningless – what happened to virtues? to values? these appeared to have been pushed out of the equation and left to appear only at graduation speeches and Christmas. It might explain why a lot of people don’t take President Trump seriously, and are quick to declare him unfit, a fraud and plain ridiculous. But do they ponder on the values Donald Trump has embodied all through his life and the personal characteristics that make him who he is, and lead his path to presidency? If anything, the mere fact that someone so openly ridiculed and despised by the popular opinion succeeded to be elected as President of the United States of America is itself worthy of admiration (… cue Russian involvement conspiracy of the revolting left).

Sometimes, you can’t win. People will judge from their own experiences, out of fandom, out of their own insecurities, out of actual constructive criticism as well. It’s worth keeping and open mind and heart to other people and discern the best way to move forward. Even when society judges unfairly or delivers aggressive messages, there could be a truth to listen to there – if only deep begrudging and fear. Peers will guide you on your journey through life, but only God knows our hearts and only He can ever judge the world fairly and entirely.

As women, we make countless decisions everyday that relate to how others will perceive us; what to wear, how to wear it, what makeup, how to style our hair, how to interact with people, what to reveal or conceal about ourselves, and so much more.
In all this, it’s so easy to lose balance and get confused between what God wants from us, and what other people want. We remember who our hearts belongs to, and honor Him by our decisions everyday.

The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
that I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them.
Morning after morning
he opens my ear that I may hear;
and I have not rebelled,
have not turned back.
I gave my back to those who beat me,
my cheeks to those who plucked my beard;
my face I did not shield
from buffets and spitting.

The Lord GOD is my help,
therefore I am not disgraced;
I have set my face like flint,
knowing that I shall not be put to shame.
Isaiah 50:4-7

xx Beth

Truth in 2016

Oxford Dictionaries have declared ‘Post-Truth’ as their 2016 International Word of the Year­. I find this interesting, and not just because to me it looks suspiciously like two words. Post-truth is an adjective relating to circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals.

220px-what-is-truth02‘What is truth?’ asked Pontius Pilate rhetorically, when at His trial Jesus said His purpose was to testify to the Truth. Pilate clearly believed, 2000 years ago, that he was already living in a post-truth society.

To say that truth is identical with objective fact is only part of the answer to Pilate’s question. Truth undoubtedly concerns facts about the past, but truth is not confined to the past. Truth is also a promise for the future. What is true, is ultimately what will always be. Some things will pass away but truth names those things which will not.

What does it all amount to? What’s the point of it all? Where’s it all going? This goes beyond objective facts into dreams, longings, and ultimate imaginings.

But there is another sense of truth. You get an idea of it if you ask yourself what kind of person Pontius Pilate was, and whether or not you could trust him. What did he really think of a supposedly powerful man brought before him who, when confronted with the question ‘what is truth?’, just shrugs His shoulders. This brings us to a kind of truth which is not just about the past or the future, but something very present.

Truth in the present is essentially about trust. When I wonder whether or not someone is speaking the truth, the issue isn’t about statements I can fact-check, or promises to which I can hold them accountable, but about whether or not I can trust them. Post-truth is really just a euphemism for post-trust.

So for me truth is three-sided. It’s about the past – we could call that ‘faith’ – and about the future – which we might call ‘hope’, and it’s about the present. Perhaps we could call that love.

St. Paul said of these three virtues that love is the greatest of them. Why? Perhaps because in the past and the future senses of truth, we can surround ourselves with people who think like we do, whether politically or religiously. Truth in the present is a lot harder. Love is an ability to learn from, be thankful for, and even cherish, those with whom we profoundly disagree, by whom we’ve been hurt, and with whom we can even get very angry.

If we love only those who love us, what good is that? If we listen only to those with whom we agree, what wisdom is there? Love has to extend even to a befuddled and shambling pumpkin-coloured flounder with tiny, tiny flounder fins.

Finding a way to work with those who don’t trust us is the great challenge of a post-truth culture, but it’s also the truth, that sets us free.


~ Murmurs

Courgette & Chocolate Cake

It’s the time of year when people who grow these monstrous green things (also called zucchini by some of our cousins), suddenly find they have a glut of them: courgette season is once again upon us!

There is always the possibility of having them sautéed, in a ratatouille, stir-fried in various ways and in a whole heap of others too, all of which are pretty good for you. However as we all learned from our childhoods, we know the best way to cope with a Very Healthy Vegetable is to cover it in chocolate and pretend it isn’t really there at all.


What looks a rather unpromising grey-brown when it goes in the oven, comes out chocolatey and delicious. The courgette keeps this cake wonderfully moist, and you can kind of pretend it’s good for you as well. It’s a win all round.

You can also use similar quantities of pumpkin or squash instead of courgette.

You will need:

  • A 2lb loaf tin, greased and lined (or use one of those awesome silicone ones, which I really recommend, and which don’t need lining); alternatively use a lined 8inch x 14inch (20cm x 35cm) baking tray.
  • 120g softened butter
  • 125ml sunflower oil
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 130ml milk
  • 350g plain flour
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • 5tbsp cocoa
  • 350-400g peeled and finely grated courgettes
  • 1tsp vanilla


  1. Heat your oven to 190˚C / 370˚F/Gas mark 5.
  2. Mix the butter, oil and both sugars together until light and fluffy. Gradually add the eggs, one at a time and then the milk until mixed thoroughly.
  3. Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa together and fold into the mixture. Stir in courgettes and vanilla, and spoon into tin.
  4. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. (Or possibly a little longer: it can be as long as 55 minutes, but maybe my oven is just inconsistent). If you used a baking tray, cut into delicious brownie-sized squares

A Cup of Tea

This Wednesday (17th August) at 6pm Eastern Time (11pm in the UK; 3pm on the Pacific Coast, and MurmursIsConfused O’Clock in Australia!), we are having are very own virtual tea party in our chat room. Do come and join us learn about our plans for the site and make some suggestions!


Hope to see you there!


~Murmurs x

Turning the World Upside Down


Today the church celebrates the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. And while I have by chance a day off work (hooray!), and a desire to do something more fulfilling and spiritually nourishing than play on the Sims all day until 6pm Mass, I have a few thoughts which have struck me today.


Many people, whether or not they’re very religous at all, tend to associate Our Lady with the birth of Jesus – her radical, trusting, (fool-hardy?) fiat to the angel when she was invited to be the mother of the Son of God, and then her leading role in the Nativity story, and maybe little more. The Bible shows her as a woman much like us, struggling to be faithful to God in life and someone both women and men can honour and emulate. And the reason she is so honoured and we can try to be like her is that she said “yes” to God, and took the risk of being faithful in the midst of daily life. So in celebrating Mary, can we reclaim the remarkable, perhaps feisty and vivacious woman, who was confronted with quite extraordinary events and remained faithful to God through them all?


But we should think about her son who is, after all, the reason we remember her at all. She knew Him as her baby; we can imagine she taught Him to walk; He no doubt spoke with her accent; maybe He looked very much like her. She fed Him, was woken at night by Him, taught Him to pray, told him off when He was naughty (Son of God or not, all toddlers are troublesome. Cecil Frances Alexander didn’t know what she was talking about) and generally saw the human side of Him. There were those times when she was aware of something different about Him. In contrast, 2,000 years on, sometimes I wonder if we are in danger of thinking of Him as more divine than human. Perhaps the Constantinian emphasis of the kingly qualities of Jesus, as divine-emperor (which obviously suited Constantine and his successors politically), has made him unapproachable for many and I suggest this affects how we understand Mary, whose role changed to fill the gap left by the loss of understanding of Jesus’ humanity. She is the mediatrix between humans and her son – we approach His Mother, beseeching her to bend her son’s ear on our behalf. If we reclaim a fuller understanding of Jesus’s humanity as well as His divinity, we gain a better perspective on Mary, His Mother.


At the Annunciation, and then in delivering the Magnificat, Mary gave her un-coerced “yes” to the monumental enterprise proposed to her by God. Her active consent was responsibly given: the outcome of dialogue with God’s angelic messenger. I think this shows her a more self-determined woman than the Church has allowed. It is radically different from the view of Mary which sees her expressing passive, humble obedience and then enjoins that attitude on all women. I understand her words “let it be unto me according to thy word” as excited anticipation of what wonders God is going to do through and with her, despite natural hesitation at the personal cost. It is not simply meek acceptance.


The gospels give us tantalising vignettes of this remarkable woman. She was wife to Joseph and mother to Jesus. But Mary appears to glimpse that the child she knew so well was also God incarnate. She kept the events of his birth and childhood in her heart and pondered them, as she no doubt did other things during his life, becoming for us a model of reflective prayer. Thus she was able to trust Jesus to respond to the wine shortage at Cana; she might not have expected a miracle but she clearly expected him to do something.


Mary sought the company of others, in her network of friends and relatives. We read in St Luke that she stayed with Elizabeth for three months; her extended family was at the Passover in Jerusalem when they lost Jesus and found him in the Temple; we hear of her with (her?!) other children, the other women around Jesus, and disciples. Her example reminds us that we need one another and need to seek out one another for strength and support, fun and recreation, praise and prayer.


Then Mary, who stuck by her son throughout his life even when he appeared to rebuff her, watched him die an agonising death. In today’s terms, she might understand the plight of women whose children are tortured and killed for political reasons, of women sold into prostitution or trafficked by criminals. She was probably in late 40s or early 50s by the time of the crucial events in the life of her son – something, incidentally, that art tends not to portray: even pictures of her Assumption tend to show a figure akin to the young virgin with her child, a lifetime earlier. Rediscovering Mary as the older woman who was respected by the early church, having been there at its birth praying with the men (remarkable in itself) might be a perspective to balance the not-always-helpful focus on her virginity and motherhood as the definition of her example to women.


So, how can we honour Mary today and what can we learn from her? One suggestion might be to understand more of her in her context of first-century Palestine. To understand Mary as a remarkable, faithful woman in her own culture, with its particular religious, political and economic contexts, is to open the door to understanding our potential to be faithful and prophetic in our own contexts.


It also frees her from the saccharine docility that makes her too-good-to-be-true, and restores her as a woman of flesh and blood, and allows us to read intelligently into the New Testament’s silences, for example the indications in Acts 1 that she was active in the early church life. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that presenting Mary just as a mild, self-effacing woman, may say more about the ideal first-century Jewish woman than the woman we glimpse in the New Testament.


The Holy Spirit came on Mary once for the purposes of the conception of Jesus; she was a virgin at the time but her virginity is not what makes her the model of submission or a model for us centuries later. Instead what is significant is her “yes”, her outspoken openness to God when His messenger appeared in the midst of daily life (what was she actually doing in the moment when the angel appeared? I have always wondered…). It is far more helpful to know that God can come to us in the midst of ordinary routine and invite us to be participants in the work of salvation; that we do not have to be consciously at prayer or devoted to a full time religious life; that women as well as men can hear God and respond. Like Mary, we meet God in daily life.


So, it is entirely possible to celebrate and honour Our Lady without being catholic (Roman or otherwise), without subscribing to the dogma of the Assumption, which we celebrate today. Indeed, while I deeply honour her, especially today, and love her always, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t think about this particular dogma a bit.


Some think the adoption of the Assumption as dogma, was something of a response to a loss of confidence after WWII – a way for a battered humanity to feel good about itself, because one of its members was assumed bodily into Heaven. Instead – sometimes, I wonder if it does not reinforce the otherness of Mary, as someone who is not entirely like us. Already the immaculately-conceived, perpetual virgin, Mother of God, she was spared whatever awaits us after death, too. Of course, someone might write in answer the obvious answer (which I myself would give), that the reasons for her Assumption lie in her life totally devoted to God and others; in her radical opposition to anything that is sin – but I can’t help feeling that is nonetheless scant comfort to people who are, for instance, caught up in human trafficking or domestic violence who are all too aware of feelings of shame because it suggests that there is no entrance to heaven for them. The Assumption is I think one of those tricky dogmata not because it is theologically unsound, but because it shapes the image of Our Lady into someone approaching an unattainable “other”, rather than a woman like them, or us, and anyone else caught up in situations beyond their control.


If Christ is known as fully God and fully man, Mary can be restored as fully human, the woman who said a willing “yes” to God, the mother of Jesus who was a faithful and central member of the early church and is a model of human discipleship for us, before we ever consider her place now in Heaven to where we pray she prays for us. In her own society, Mary was every inch the liberated but godly woman. If we follow her example in going beyond the restrictions of her society’s role for women, we – men and women – will find ourselves challenging injustice, especially against women.  Trafficking, forced marriages, female genital mutilation, dowry deaths, discrimination in all its forms including inadequate education and healthcare for women in many nations, should all the concern of the Church if we take Mary as our example, because in her we see God’s honouring of a very humble woman’s body and soul. To digress a moment for illustration, it is good news that all countries now send female athletes to the Olympic Games, and that in Rio, women are competing in every sport. But don’t forget the things that haven’t changed. Even the BBC have aired slow motion montages of female athletes with close ups of their backsides to music of the kind (I imagine) heard in ‘70s porn films. And we’ve not even finished the beach volleyball yet. It happens too during the Commonwealth Games and when, during the football/soccer world cup, the camera operators chose to focus on particular women in the stadium crowds (and particular parts of particular women); and during coverage of the women’s Six Nations rugby tournament; and every time school exams are released and newspapers and TV reports are full of nubile girls jumping around, and so on, and so on, ad nauseum. That should simply not be in a world that respects women, as God respected Mary.


But anyway – until all that stops, we should be following Mary’s example of commitment to God, in singing of God turning the world upside down, and then acting as God called her to do, to turn the values of the world upside down; to offer ourselves in the service of God. For that, as well as the fact of what she experienced at the very end of her earthly life, we honour her today. May we follow her example in bringing life and light to God’s world.


~ Murmurs

Our New Art Gallery is Now Open

And, I might add, quite popular already!

The whole Catholic Chat community now has it’s own little art gallery to share any works of all kinds, religious and secular. As the greatest artists have said, it is not us that make art, but art that makes us! – Alright, I just made that quote up. Still, you get the point and I bet one of ’em has said it one day.

Nonetheless, we have launched an invitation for all to create a self portrait and have it posted, you can already see works from a few budding artists of our own 🙂

Yet a few of you lovely readers are quite the talents, you can now use the gallery to share your favorite pieces, link to your own sites or launch a context!

Have a peek!

God Bless you and  happy ARTing all!


Rhubarb and Custard Cake


This deliciously moist and more-ish cake, combining tart rhubarb and creamy custard, is a perfect late spring/early summer pudding, or fabulous had with coffee!




14oz/400g trimmed rhubarb, cut into little-finger-sized pieces

8oz/250g butter/margarine (soft), plus extra for greasing

8oz/250g self-raising flour

8oz/250g caster sugar for the cake, plus a further 1.5oz/50g for roasting the rhubarb

5oz/150g custard, ideally relatively thick.

½ teaspoon baking powder

4 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

Icing sugar, for dusting, if desired.


  1. Make the custard in advance or buy ready-made (I always make about a pint then weigh out 5oz/150g; it is the cook’s prerogative to finish it off), and allow to cool. Heat oven to fan 180˚C/350˚F, and grease and line a 9inch/23cm cake tin.
  2. Put the rhubarb in a shallow dish or a baking tray, tip over 50g caster sugar, toss together, then shuffle rhubarb so it’s in a single layer. Cover with foil and roast for 15 mins. Remove foil, Give everything a little shake, and roast for 5 mins further or until tender and the juices are syrupy.
  3. When finished, strain as much of the syrup away as possible (tip: while very acidic on its own, the rhubarb-flavoured syrup I think is awesome cold with soda water, so don’t throw it away – find a use for it!)
  4. Meanwhile, mix together the butter/margarine and remaining 250g sugar, then eggs, flour, baking powder and vanilla extract. Reserve 2-3 tablespoons of the custard, and mix the rest into the cake batter.
  5. Put 1/3 of the resulting mix into the cake tin, then add about 1/3 of the rhubarb pieces; then another 1/3 of the mix, more rhubarb, and then again a 3rd time, so the rhubarb is reasonably distributed through the cake in roughly 3 layers.
  6. Dot any remaining pieces of rhubarb, and the reserved custard, over the top. Don’t worry about making the top of the cake ‘flat’ – the pretty moist batter starts off baking with a mind of its own anyway!
  7. Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the top has started to go golden-brown, cover with foil and continue to bake for up to another 15  minutes, depending on your oven. I tend to take it out every 3-4 minutes during this time and test it (a skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean). If there are areas which even after 50 minutes still seem ‘wet’, it’s 99% certainly baked through – you may have just hit a particularly thick area of custard! Dust with icing sugar if desired.

The Mother Love of God

“Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.”

St Luke 1:31


I first heard the story in Year 3 and have never quite forgotten it. I think I understand it much better than I used to, though deeper knowledge hasn’t undermined my appreciation of it, which is pre-philosophical and pre-theological.

One day, He was going on a tour of the Heavenly City (omnipresence isn’t everything, after all), much like the priest tours his parish or the mayor their city. Heaven is, after all, the one city where everything works. The hedges were trimmed, the lawns manicured, all the gold and ivory buildings (no elephants harmed, we can be sure) glowing and the city walls of twelve types of precious stone, polished and sparkling. The choirs were all practicing at their allotted times (some angels probably even watched their conductor), and had never sounded better.

But as He walked down the street, He noticed that there were some people wandering around, who had no business to be there at all. Some might have made it in on the day last before the Judgement – others perhaps not even then, if one stopped to think about it.

So He goes to the entrance to the City to have a quiet word with the man at the gate. I can see him there, our man – at his workstation with his civil-service-minion shiny off-the-peg suit and his Windows Immaculate computer (God doesn’t do Apple)…and his tiara, his fishing rod, and that bunch of keys.

“Well, Simon Peter, you’ve let me down (again) – and yourself too.”

“What have I done this time?” asks your man with a sigh.

“Haven’t you let in a lot of folks who have no business being here at all?”

There’s a short, awkward pause. “…have not…” mumbles the first Pope, defiantly.

“Well then who has?”

Another awkward silence. “You don’t want to know.”

“Yes I do.” (Omniscience isn’t everything either, apparently).

“Well…” says Simon Peter with a sigh, “I did tell them there was no way in just yet…and then didn’t I right away slam the gates on them?”

“So? Then what?”

“Then don’t they go round to the back gate and doesn’t your Mother let them in!”

Theologically-speaking, this (hardly amusing) story – the kind of thing that priests up and down the country, stuck for something more exciting with which to open a homily on a Marian feast day, trot out annually with weary enthusiasm – is not merely absurd but probably bordering on the heretical. But as a symbol, it summarises the function of Mary in our imagination: she represents the mother love of God; the generous and loving, life-giving power of God: the tenderness of God; the fertility of God; the nurturing power of God.

The image of Mary the Mother of Jesus distinguishes the Catholic religious sensibility from all others. She pushes the envelope of the imagination as far as it can be pushed by hinting that there is a maternal dimension to God as well as a paternal one; thus absorbing and purifying and transforming all the female deities who came before, in pagan times, such as Nut, Astarte and Venus.


The Egyptian goddess Nut protects the world with her body. A distant view of Mary’s role?

Does this mean Mary is a goddess too?

The answer (of course) is no…but also, almost, yes. Mary was a human person, not a divine one. We do not worship Mary (as much as some Protestants at their most ungenerous like to claim). Rather, through Our Lady, we worship the Mother Love of God. In the catholic heritage, her image, Mary-as-a-metaphor, has a similar but not identical function to that of the female deities of the pre-Christian pagan religions: she discloses to us that the Power Responsible has a tender, gentle, life-giving, nurturing side: God loves, in other words, like a mother as well as a father. Mary, daughter of Anne and Joachim, weaver of the Temple curtain (we are told), husband of Joseph, aunt of John the Baptist, cousin of Elizabeth, and the Mother of God, was a human being. And she did and does the work of God.

More prosaically-minded theologians, or theologically-minded feminists, might well claim (not without justification) that the Holy Spirit ought to represent the maternal and feminine in God. This by-no-means invalid argument, however, is an example of the either-or approach to metaphors taken by those who have lost all sense of the poetic nature of religion. God, and the Blessed Virgin, can be more than one thing at once.

This is a clumsy, social-science-y unpacking of a metaphor, which diminishes this beautiful symbol by reducing poetry to prose. I am not suggesting that catholic sensibilities, unsophisticated in the past (and sometimes barely more-so in the present), have interpreted it in this way. One doesn’t even have to disassemble a metaphor unless one is a literary scholar. But, in the art and music and poetry of Catholics, Roman and otherwise, Mary’s image reflects the tenderness of God.

Do we need the image of a woman to reflect the tenderness of God? (Isn’t that a little bit sexist, and certainly a little old-fashioned?). Of course not (though of course it maybe is those things, too). But the human experience of gender being what it is, and at least until very recently an entirely coherent reflection of a biological reality, it helps to have the image, and its appearance may well have been inevitable anyway.

It is not really the doctrines about Our Lady, nor the theologies which have developed around them, which are surely the basis for the image’s appeal. I cannot reject or criticise those doctrines or theologies; long before the doctrines were elaborated and the theologies written, the stories were already told. It is the story, ultimately, that God loves us like a mother as well as a father (though it’s not all that often expressed in such explicit language), that is the core of appeal of Mary.

Of course, when our imagination and sensibility links the fertility of nature and the fertility of women with that of God, it risks being insulting to both God and women. It reduces women to birth-machines and suggests God does not transcend fertility as He transcends all. So how could we introduce Mary, a mere human woman (albeit an infinitely special one), as an intermediary between God the Giver of Life, and humankind?

Maybe the question is fair: but it also makes God’s nurturing of life and creation’s nurturing of life seem discontinuous. It denies the role of the latter in the former, and even the use of the latter as a metaphor or hint (however imperfect) of the former. The catholic imagination bravely (or foolishly) sweeps aside these fears of over-elevating a human being, and first permitted, and then encouraged, the Mary “cult” to develop.

As late as the 12th century, the Vatican was uneasy about the Normans’ propensity to dedicate their magnificent, soaring cathedrals to Our Lady. But the popular tradition couldn’t be denied either.      The Normans, barely out of short trousers as far as their Christianity was concerned, were building temples to the Christian “goddess” of spring. They were God’s churches, of course. But they were hers, too, and that was that. Given the longstanding decisions made about “baptising” everything good in paganism, this development was probably inevitable too.


Our Lady guards the scintillating tympanum above the west doors of Amiens Cathedral, completed c.1270AD

The sudden and dramatic appearance of the Norman Romanesque cathedrals, and their successors in gothic, in the 12th century and after, is an astonishing phenomenon, although we usually take it for granted. Descendants of pirates, only a generation or two removed from paganism, the churchmen, nobility, craftsmen and artists who created these wondrous spaces might have been weak in their theology, and perhaps still superstitious. Like their Celtic and Norse predecessors they may have danced naked by the sides of lakes in the springtime; but they also knew who Our Lady was, and, in an interlude of stunning creativity, they celebrated her as a spring “goddess” with spring temples. What did Mary mean in the Middle Ages, really? Go to Paris or Amiens or Chartres and see what it meant, because the churches built in her honour are still there: life, and superabundant life. We have not seen anything like it before, or since.

Of the actual mother of Jesus we know almost nothing, historically. What we know does not really account for the power of the metaphor she has become. Four New Testament moments, however, have been seized on by our Catholic imagination: the visit by Gabriel, the birth in Bethlehem, the Babe in her arms (the classic “Madonna” pose), and the Pieta. If such images were attractive to great artists (to Botticelli of his Annunciation, or Raphael of his Madonnas, or Michelangelo of his Pieta), the reason was that these stories and the lurking metaphors had enormous appeal to the human imagination. That’s the way God loves us, the stories and images say: the way a mother loves her child.


The Madonna as mystical Theotókos

As important as the Christmas Nativity scene is, the central Mary story I think is the Madonna image; one that is preceded by depictions of mother goddesses and their sons, though very different from Mary and Jesus. Like all mother-and-child religious imagery, the central story is based on the simple idea of a mother with a baby in her arms – an image irresistible to human nature since it represents the ongoing triumph of fertility over morbidity – of life over death. In the Byzantine churches, the icons of the Θεοτόκοϛ are rich and stylised. In the West, as the High Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, the Madonnas which fill the musea of Europe become less mystical and more human and earthy: placid and attractive peasant girls with fat and happy babies (although one sometimes finds a very pompous looking baby, or one who, like Cupid with Venus, touches his mother’s chin….and that is before we approach the remarkable tumblr chronicle Ugly Renaissance Babies).



The more bucolic Madonna del prato by Raphael, 1506, where the infants Jesus and John play at Mary’s feet

At times these Madonnas, such as those of Raphael, have been accused of being too human, devoid of spirituality. This is, of course, exactly the point. Mary is just a woman. A very wonderful, woman who was the Mother of our Redeemer – but just a woman: special ultimately and principally in the way that every women is special, in her co-operation in the bringing of life to the world. That the life she brought into being in His full humanity was the Life of men, is in some ways just the icing on the cake. The real Mary and the real Jesus surely did not look very spiritual or mystical. Together they were a peasant mother and her son (even if they were also something else in the story of our redemption) – both doubtless appealing but not likely to be engaged in ecstatic experiences.

Ave, Maris Stella

Dei Mater alma,

atque semper virgo,

felix coeli porta.

It seems to me, that to turn away with haughty (Protestant) disdain from stories in stone, paint and song, like this, is to miss the point completely.

If one says “but we do not know what the actual Mary was like,” then the response must be (if a response is needed), that we do know what her Son was like. So, we can guess at the kind of mother that she was.

The Mary image has proven irresistible to poets and artists of many different faiths through the ages – and some with no faith at all. One wonders how such a wondrous image could possibly offend. There is, of course, a solid instinct behind the Reformation’s resistance to “superstition” – metaphors easily can be abused, and perhaps there was (and is) abuse of Mary, as a metaphor.

But we need not in a fit of 450-year-old Calvinist pique, throw out the Baby’s mother with the bathwater. T.S. Eliot (a convert from Unitarianism to Anglo-Catholicism) felt that power remained in the image. In his passionate cry for salvation at the end of Ash Wednesday, he begs:


Blessed sister, Holy Mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood,

Teach us to care and not to care,

Teach us to sit still

Even among these rocks,

Our peace in His will and even among these rocks

Sister, Mother and spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,

Suffer me not to be separated


And let my cry come unto thee.



Beth’s Gluten Free Apple Crisp

Opening the baking series with a revisited classic; the Apple Crisp! This delightfully Gluten free recipe is perfect for sharing among friend and family with no guilt, as it provides great energy for the outdoor season. Serves 4, 2 mega-hungry or 1 lady marathoning series! Fabulous with ice cream.


Gluten Free Apple Crisp

4 apples, cored, and diced; 5 plums, halved, pitted and quartered; 1/4 cup fresh apple juice (or apple sauce); 2 tablespoons firmly packed brown sugar


3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons gluten free flour (a range of options is available, my favorite is Kamut flour!); 1/3 cup dairy-free spread, diced; 1/2 cup buckwheat flakes; 1/2 rice flakes; 3 tablespoons sunflower seeds (or your favorite chopped nut or seed!); 1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar; 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (I also add a pinch of nutmeg)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix the apples, plums, apple juice, and sugar together in a 9-inch round pie plate.

To make the topping, sift the flour into a mixing bowl and rub in the spread with your fingertips until it resembles coarse bread crumbs. Stir in the buckwheat and rice flakes, sunflower seeds, sugar, and cinnamon, then spoon the topping over the fruit in the dish.

Bake the crisp in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, or until the topping is lightly browned and crisp.

Let me know in the comments how you liked it! muah!