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Posts Tagged "James Joyce Ulysses":

My Spiritual Journey: Melanie Newbould


I think I can begin by saying that I was always aware that there was a world outside of me to which I felt connected. I suspect that this is true for many, perhaps, most children. I think I found it difficult talk to others about this feeling and I felt it made me different to my parents and my older sister.

I grew up in West Yorkshire. I went to a Church of England infants school initially that closed when I was seven, so I had then to go to the local County Primary School. However, for my first two years of formal schooling I got bible studies every day- so I did get to know all the major events in the Old and New Testaments fairly early in life. At my next two totally secular schools there was the statutory religious teaching, but I never pursued anything more than this. In secondary school, my education was largely in science and maths – the recommended course by the teachers who informed us that we were more likely to end up in gainful employment that way.

We were not a religious family at all. My mother and sister had both been nominally C of E and had both been confirmed at an early stage but neither had taken things any further and were not Church goers. In fact my sister became a passionate atheist as an adult, arguing that she could not see how a good God would allow suffering as one saw everyday on the news. My father was nominally Methodist, but he was totally uninterested in religion and had never attended as an adult. I therefore grew up without any religious leanings. I was baptised as an infant, though – so I was nominally a Christian.

I did have interests outside my school studies. Mostly music and literature. In my first encounter with Wuthering Heights I found much of what I had instinctively felt about the universe – that somehow my existence was not entirely contained within me – but I was connected in some way with the whole of reality. Wuthering Heights expresses this feeling very well, as do some of Emily‘s other writings. My next encounter with great art was with Richard Wagner. When I was about 12 or 13, I heard the final scene from Tristan and Isolde, variously called the Liebestod (Lovedeath)  or transfiguration. It was on a record of the soprano voice that my sister gave me. Isolde sings of her longing to be lost in the world breath. When I heard this- when I had my first encounter with the mind of Richard Wagner, I realised that I would never be the same again. This is usual I think for those that adore the great man. Again, I felt I had found that art expressed what I felt about what it was to be human in this life.

I had friends at secondary school in my group, some of whom shared my love of Wagner and some of whom did not. Some of them were Christian and some of them seemed to be finding something in Jesus that was similar to what I found listening to opera and other music. At that stage, Christianity did not seem to strike any sort of chord with me. I did not become a church-goer. I decided that confirmation was not for me, at least at that stage. But I never entirely ruled out confirmation one day. The thought even crossed my mind that I might someday wish to join some denomination other than the C of E. I knew I could never ever be an atheist- I was just not born that way!

So I went on to University to study medicine in London. I had friends there who were Christian. Indeed, this was the first time I met any Catholics. They all went to different schools, so we never met them. They seemed jollier than Anglicans. They liked dancing and traditional music. However, I did not see any connection between Jesus and the feelings that I had about my place in the Universe. I never really thought about it that much.

I continued to think about Richard Wagner though! I finally went to see my first Ring opera at Covent Garden. I saw Dame Gwyneth Jones ride into the fire- well I can’t actually remember how she did it. I ‘m pretty sure they didn’t risk a real horse in that production. There’s only very rarely a real horse.

I spent the next years, becoming qualified, learning medicine and getting to a point where I was employable and employed (takes a long time in medicine). Nothing really changed – I liked Wagner still! I learned more medicine. But I did not really make any steps in my “spiritual journey”, or whatever it’s called.

I didn’t meet anyone I wanted to marry for quite a few years – I suppose it sometimes happens like that. Anyway, I finally did. He was Catholic – an ex-Benedictine Monk. He had not been born into a Catholic family. His parents had converted from the C of E when he was twelve and they had made him convert with them, much to his disgust at the time. Though they were not at all wealthy – they ran a fruit and flower shop in Northampton – they sent him to a large Catholic public school run by the Benedictines, making sacrifices for themselves so that their son could get what they considered a good education. He went from there to Cambridge and following that he joined the monastery. Now he feels that a major reason why he did this was to avoid national service, still compulsory at this time. He never felt that the monastery was quite the correct place for him and chose never to be a Priest. But he stayed there for a number of years, working as a House Master and English teacher, before finally leaving. He then set up a college for boys who found it difficult to pass exams and did this for a number of years. Though he did not feel he had a vocation to Monastic living, he remained a believing Catholic. Eventually, he met me and Wagner was important common ground for us.

We were married on 3rd July 1993 at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Lampeter. At this point it never occurred to me that I could also become Catholic. So we stayed the way we were for 19 years. Me a sort of non-specific believer in something and my husband a Catholic. I did sometimes go to mass with him, but never thought of joining myself.

For us, our marriage is an exciting journey. We go to as much Shakespeare as we could and this was a discovery for me; I honestly had not realised what a major genius he was – how well he understood humans. We have also seen as much Wagner as we can afford including several complete Rings, several Tristans and several Parsifals. Now this last opera was important in the next phase of my spiritual journey. It was one of the works of art that made me understand the link between Christianity and my feelings of belonging to a wider universe. The point of Parsifal is that suffering is part of the human condition and that empathy with suffering is what being a human is about. Wagner himself made the point that the Christian God is one of us, suffering. From this I started to think that the point of Christianity was that it makes it clear that humans are part of everything else that exists, because God was born as one of us. I found this a difficult but exciting idea. I continued to think about this for a few more years,

In 2004 my husband and I decided to become vegan. We had acquired several cats and a dog and we became aware how devoted animals are to us. From this time we felt that exploitation of animals was something we wanted to avoid wherever possible. Becoming vegan has been the most fantastic adventure for us Like many others who take this decision we suddenly found that food tastes much better and that there are many more things to eat than there ever were before! We really love it. It also is a practical way of living life as though life is sacred and important- to try to avoid hurting others.

Also around this time my husband and I read Joyce‘s Ulysses together. Now this was also a work that helped me decide what I felt about Christianity. Christian symbols are part of its fabric, though it is, famously, the tale of everyday life in 1904 in Dublin. So, to me it illustrated how Christianity is deeply embedded within my life, as well as that of Leopold, Molly and Stephen.

So all of this encounter with art helped me to think more about Christianity and to think that, perhaps, I should consider joining my husband. I did think for several more years, though. Because I had encountered the Bible at school, I had thought of it as something you are taught about by a teacher, like a text book. I had never really thought about it as a work of history/literature. The Gospels are obviously very exciting works when you think about it- telling this astonishing story about a group of provincial men who were not learned scholars or politically powerful and never really went much to the big cities. But this group were to have a major influence on the events of the next two thousands years. Of course none of this is original thought, but it is just that it took me many years to realise it. The central figure of the Gospels, whether you think he is connected in some way to God or not is clearly someone who is charismatic and who possesses an astonishing intellect. So finally, I came to realise why my Christian school friends of forty or so years ago had been so excited by Jesus and I realised gradually that I also found him exciting, mysterious and wonderful. I suppose, like many other people, I found this happening to me without any effort on my part.

So I decided that I should formally join a Christian Church in early 2012. My decision to join the Catholic Church was much influenced by my husband. For practical reasons, it makes sense to both go to the same church! However, it is not just for this reason; I am attracted by Catholicism – though I am aware that many aspects of it are not unique and many in the C of E hold very similar views, regarding themselves as Catholic.

I love the notion of the sacraments. To me God is not outside the Universe but within every particle of it. God was born as a human, so humans are part of God. All life is an encounter with God. I love the Catholic conception of marriage – as a sacrament between the two individuals who express this continually as they live. I love the idea of the Eucharist- an encounter with God- which is to say an encounter with the whole of everything, an encounter outside time. Or so it seems to me- though I’m not a theologian and obviously the Eucharist is not the easiest! I love the idea that we are part of a community, that is continuous from the first century AD (though of I know that other churches would also feel this).

So that is how I came to be confirmed, received into the Catholic Church and received the Eucharist for the first time on 30th March 2013 in the Easter Vigil, which is such a wonderfully joyful celebration. So myself and my husband are now Catholics together!

In the YouTube extract,  Waltraud Meier closes a performance of Richard Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde with Isolde’s transfiguration (though more commonly referred to as Liebestod – Love-Death).

The image is Illustration by Willy Pogany (1912) from the book, “Walk Me Through My Dreams” (A Picture book of Verses) by Joe Lindsay via Wikimedia
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