Tablet Newsletter

Tablet - January 2010

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It’s time for good news. Political leaders’ failure to make the sacrifices necessary for a new global vision transcending the ancestral egotism of nations. The Irish Church’s continued self-erosion and its betrayal of the grace of kenosis. An unrepentant greed from those who make money out of nothing at the expense of those who have been fooled into trading in their citizenship for consumerism. 

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Tablet - November 2009

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China

The city of Shen Yeng in north-east China has been settled for seven thousand years. So, there are plenty of ancestors to venerate. It began as a city about 300 BC during the Warring States Period at a time when the Britons had barely learned how to build hill forts. It had a noble history becoming the imperial capital of the Qing dynasty before yielding to Beijing in the 17th century. Its prestige lasted long afterwards. Today it is an important industrial centre and indescribably drab –true at least of what I saw during a short untouristy visit to its seminary.

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Tablet - October 2009

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Japan

Religion can take many forms, some more real than others.

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Tablet - September 09

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There are some things that we cannot and should not even try to explain.

Early one grey morning when the family was all asleep the phone rang. L’s husband was being called by a friend to see if he could take the place of a member of the crew who had had to drop out suddenly from a fishing boat trip. He did not feel like leaving his warm house on a cold wet morning, nor did L want him to go. 

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Tablet - August 2009

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"Mumbai"

Mumbai, cloudy and oppressive in the monsoon felt like London, but clammy with the heat. Showers were short but frequent and unpredictable. Sitting in an open motor rickshaw, cheaper than the aircon taxis and more agile in negotiating the traffic, made you feel closer to real life on the streets but could also get you instantly and totally drenched. Entering an air-conditioned building in wet clothes made matters worse. I was told in reply that they liked the monsoon weather, cooler than the 40+ degree temperatures of high summer and giving the water so desperately needed for city reservoirs and prayed for by the farmers. For them the problem was that it was only drizzle compared with the downpours needed. I stopped complaining.

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Tablet - July 2009

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Providentially it was Midsummer Eve and the white night of Scandinavia was reaching its zenith. So, late but in preternatural light we walked up the hill to Hedalen church. It stands commanding a view over the forested hills and valleys, its generations of worshippers sleeping in the graveyard around it. 

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Tablet - June 2009

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Fara Sabina

Mindful motion. Walking in a slow rhythm, in a large circle with others, on a balcony with a panoramic view over the gentle grand beauty of the Roman campagna. A distraction eased into a train of thought, diminishing my mindfulness but useful for my column deadline.

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Tablet - April 2009

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Canonisation

It is, when you think about it, an extraordinarily daring claim to declare a saint. To be convincing it requires the creation of a lot of atmosphere and visible authority. Keeping the hubris and the humility in balance is perhaps the art of all external religion.

The Pope sits in the solitude of his ancient primacy on an elevated cathedra in front of St Peter’s. His supreme power is tempered by a sense of his personal loneliness. He looks down on the terraced ranks of the church, clergy, religious and laity strictly segregated in the hierarchical order that is the visible form of this part of the Body of Christ. Theology says all the parts are equal. But sacred theatre is not democratic – no one wants it to be, actors or audience.

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Tablet - February 2009

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Maria's Mother

With the determination of the born multi-tasker not to let anything drop Maria declined our offer to postpone the visit. In addition to being a wife and mother and coordinator of the meditation groups she was the principal carer for her dying mother. All her children were warmly committed to the care also and willingly took on additional times to sit with their grandmother who had lain in bed at their home for several months. She was not in pain or distress but slept deeply or drifted quietly in and out of consciousness day and night. Her existence seemed already to have migrated to a different plane of consciousness without fully leaving the one we familiarly know as life, the daily life filled with activity, thought and the preoccupying sense of time, of keeping appointments, enjoying mealtimes and making plans.

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Tablet - November 2008

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Indonesia

Dear friends,

In 1405 Cheng Ho, the Chinese trader and soldier who seems to have succeeded at everything he set his adventurous hand to, sailed into the port of Semarang in Indonesia. Three centuries before, Islam had been brought here by his fellow-countrymen. This is an inconvenient fact for modern Indonesian politics which is still shaped by the twist given to ethnic Chinese identity by the Dutch who used the Chinese as a buffer between themselves and the Indonesians. Despite discrimination, the Chinese (the ‘Jews of Asia’) prospered, losing their language in the process. Not much can stop the industrious Chinese from prospering in their diaspora. But in Indonesia they became associated with the western colonisers and perhaps for this reason gravitated away from Islam towards Christianity.

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