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Diary: Ann Morisy

05 April 2024


Songs of the spirit

WHEN you live in an institution, groups come to entertain — sometimes at our bidding, sometimes at their own. We had an interesting visit in the run-up to Easter: some Year 9 students from a Middle Eastern international school.

They sauntered in, about 20 in number, with six teachers. Without bidding, they made for the settees in our concert hall, lolling about in a manner that would appal their grannies, and assiduously averting their eyes from our wheelchairs and disabilities.

After much confab, at the nod of their teacher, each callow kid, either singly or in a group, made their way to the front and offered up the most meagre performance of music and poetry. My cynicism led me to conclude that we woefully disabled people were cover for posh kids’ having a jolly week in London.

And then something mysterious happened. It was suggested that the youngsters come among us as we sang our karaoke-inspired anthems. Together, we sang as we were able. As I sang, my cynicism dissolved, and the youngsters grew in stature. Joy broke out. Grace, mediated by our different vulnerabilities — and, yes, banging tables in time to “I’ll play the wild rover” — created an experience that would stay with these kids, and me, for a very long time.

I like to think that this remedial encounter between youth and the severely disabled will be the subject of conversations, both here and in the Middle East.


All things New?

ON THE subject of the Middle East, now that Israel and Palestine have become elevated in people’s consciousness, chatting with friends made me realise that I was not alone in having to think deeper each time the name Israel was used in our Lenten or Easter liturgies.

A newcomer to church would understandably be perplexed by the frequency with which Christians refer to Israel. It is silly, and lazy, to assume that people distinguish between the ancient land of Israel and the modern political state as we sing “Ye choirs of new Jerusalem”. If ever there was an example of having to double — nay, triple — contextualise, it is surely this.

While it is a challenge to make sense of the past 100 years of history in the Middle East, it is even more of a challenge for the proverbial (hu)man on the Clapham omnibus (which journeys past my window) to understand the frequent references to Israel in our Sunday-by-Sunday liturgy; but I have never heard theologians or missiologists consider this challenge. I have begun to ponder what our journey of discipleship would look like if we were to downplay the Old Testament just a tad?


It’s a dog’s life

THESE dangerous thoughts were triggered by our Lent course at St Leonard’s. This year, 65 people signed up to study Dave Tomlinson’s book How To Be a Bad Christian: And a better human being. The biggest group opted to meet on Zoom, helped by having Dave himself in attendance to amplify his chapters and answer our questions.

I delight in Zoom gatherings, because nobody need know I’m in bed. Yes, I must ’fess up to a six-o’clock bedtime. This is not the outcome of Trunchball-esque carers’ doing what suits their interests, but because, by then, sitting in my power-chair has begun to get uncomfortable.

Zoom is not just a great facilitator for me: it’s also a great leveller, echoing one of my favourite cartoons from the New Yorker. You’ll probably know it, because I’ve seen it on a greetings card. It portrays one dog saying to another, as it types away merrily at a computer, “No one knows you’re a dog on the internet” — and, to our misfortune, how true this has become.


Eye of the beholder

OUR Lent course was well worth the effort. In days of yore, the prize for the greatest effort would have gone to “Reverend Penguin”, to use her Zoom moniker, or the Revd Hayley Argles-Grant, as she is better known.

Hayley is the Rector of Christchurch Cathedral, on the Falkland Islands, and, until last year, was our curate at St Leonard’s. Courtesy of the internet, Hayley happily sipped her mug of coffee as she contributed to our thoughtful journey through Dave’s book.

In one of the early weeks on the course, there was a phrase that hit me hard. It related to my anxiety about becoming institutionalised, aware that I have now been a resident at British Home for almost 18 months (Feature, 24 November 2023). In his exposition of unforced but attentive spirituality, Dave uses the phrase “falling asleep on the inside” to describe the ease with which we can become inured to the presence of the holy or sense of the numinous. It struck me as a powerful and fitting description of the hazard that lurks for those of us who live in institutions.

For the following weeks, I chewed on this apt phrase, and then — praise the Lord! — the antidote to my anxiety came in the form of a sentence, quoted by Dave, from Sister Wendy Beckett: a sentence that could have come only from a saintly art historian. “The eye that sees nobility and beauty in what another would regard as ordinary is the eye of prayer.”

I don’t think I have ever been more surrounded by nobility and kindness than I am here, in a place too easily shunned: nobility in my fellow residents who live with extraordinary disabilities — and to nobility I now add joy, courtesy of the gangly youth from an international school in the Middle East.


Ann Morisy is a community theologian, and is a member of the congregation at St Leonard’s, Streatham, in the diocese of Southwark. For more information about the work of British Home, visit: britishhome.org.uk

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