Since way back in the AOL days, my email address has been “celticjlp”. I am more than a bit of a Celtophile. I have made three pilgrimages to the Emerald Isle. On all things Celtic, I have facilitated forums, I have led retreats and I have tutored a disciple or two. I am steeped, as steeped as I can be, in the history and spirituality of my chosen people. And in all five of the churches I have served I have concocted and celebrated Celtic worship, orthodox and otherwise. I am Celtic to the core and have the tattoo to prove it — a little green shamrock on my left shoulder. (A Christmas gift from my children!)
Let me recount just a few of the things that connect me so deeply to my Celtic ancestors. They worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars. They wove the sacred into their most ordinary of chores. They hallowed each and every very hour of each and every day with prayer. Their sanctuaries are the forests and the meadows and the cliffs. Holy spirits indwell their streams and inhabit their oak groves. Holy winds blow on their most remote islands and holy waves crash on their island’s shores. Every little blade of Celtic green grass practically shimmers with the divine. Well almost.
Not to over romanticize my chosen people, the Celts were a nomadic people who probably practiced human sacrifice. Not too often — but one human sacrifice is one too many. The Celts were a warrior people who liked to collect the skulls of those they conquered as trophies. They were a tribal people where both women and men exercised royal power. Yes, women in power. What’s not to like?
And this brings me to Boudica, the Celtic Warrior Queen.
Boudica, for those who do not know, was queen of the Iceni, a Celtic tribe of Britain in the 1st century of the Common Era. During the time of the Roman occupation, Boudica’s husband was able to keep his crown. Upon his death, however, the Romans rolled over the Iceni. They captured its people and confiscated their property. Boudica was flogged and her daughters raped. No one would have blamed Boudica, if she gave into defeat and despair. But hell no, Boudica rescued her daughters, climbed into her chariot, and led the Iceni army in the charge against Rome. She put down the 9th Legion, destroyed the Roman capital and went on to conquer London, another stronghold of the occupiers. There was bloodshed beyond measure and Boudica was eventually beaten back. It is said she took her own life to avoid capture. No one knows where Boudica is buried. But all of Celtic Britain knows her story, every little boy and every little girl.
And so this brings me to Brigid.
In the second half of the 5th century, there was Brigid, Bishop Brigid of Kildare. Brigid is both the name of a Celtic goddess and the name of a saint. For the ancient Celts, Brigid is the three-faced goddess of poetry, metal work, and fire. And for Celtic Christians, Saint Brigid is the founder of the monastery at Kildare, the Church of the Oak. Kildare was a “double monastery” home to both religious men and women. And these Celtic Christian brothers and sisters were permitted to marry and raise children in service to the Lord. And Brigid, the abbess of Kildare, Celtic history tells us was consecrated as a Bishop. Carved into the stone altar rail at the Rock of Cashel, Bishop Brigid, crozier in hand, leads a procession of the twelve apostles. The Roman Catholic Church turned her crozier into a butter churn and demoted Brigid from Bishop to milkmaid. Hopefully and forever, the hierarchy thought they had put in her rightful and inferior place.
Until there was Fildelma.
The real Brigid did not remain buried forever. She has been resurrected and reincarnated in the fictitious and fabulous Sister Fidelma. Fidelma is the creation of Celtic scholar turned mystery writer, pen-named Peter Tremayne. Set in 7th century Ireland, the Sister Fidelma stories are a delicious combination of history and mystery. Fidelma is of royal blood, a princess of the Eoghanacht, educated to the level of dalaigh, an adovocate of the Brehon courts, just below judge. She is also a member of the monastery at Kildare, and married to Brother Eadulf. Yes, married to Brother Eadulf, a Saxon monk, who is Dr. Watson to her Sherlock Holmes. And by the time Fidelma and Eadulf are solving their 20th murder or so they even have a baby. Crack open one or two of these books and you will be hooked. Tremayne gives them hokey Agatha Christie titles like “Absolution by Murder”, “Shroud for the Archbishop”, “Our Lady of Darkness” and “Whispers of the Dead”. Who says women can’t have it all?
Boudica. Brigid. Fidelma. When feeling the need to slay a dragon or two – or just feeling a touch grandly grandiose — who better for my bipolar brain to channel than the spirits of these holy three, this Celtic and o so feminist trinity. Boudica — queen, warrior, widow, mother and savior of her people. Brigid — goddess, abbess, priestess, bishop and saint. Fidelma — princess, sister, lawyer, detective and murder mystery solver. Their icons and statues grace my halls and walls. Their books and biographies fill my bookcases. I have embraced their stories and made them my own.
It may seem silly, but to tell you the God’s honest truth, I believe these three women are kin to me. And O my, my this little trinity has given me the energy to get my warrior on — from time to time.. And so I believe myself to be their sister – their soul sister. Joani, the soul sister of Boudica, Brigid and Fidelma. Crazy, huh?
Yes, Crazy, bipolar Celtic crazy. The best kind of crazy there is. The best kind of crazy of all.
So friends, whose spirits are you channeling today?
(And by the way, a happy Saint Patrick’s Day!)
Mea culpa. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa.
For 45 years, I have locked my secret away in a vault.
Lead lined, buried deep, for me and me alone, always to keep and never to tell.
Under lock and key, it seemed safer that way.
Forty-five years ago, just sixteen years old, I went looking for love, wherever I could find it.
And it wasn’t at home.
Outside looking in, I was Doctor Peacock’s daughter, well to do, parochial school girl, goody two shoes, and middle child.
Inside looking out, I parented myself from a very early age. While my alcoholic bipolar mom was behind closed doors and my workaholic dad was forever making rounds, I learned to take care of Joani.
So I found love in the boy next door. Both refugees from our dysfunctional households, close friends, we clung to one another for love and support.
And then I was “late”. O my God, O my God, what have I done?
1972. Alone and disowned by my parents, I had become a disgrace. A shame on my family, impossible to erase.
Should we have a shotgun wedding? My parents said no. His parents said yes. But both sets agreed that teenage parents, we were destined to be.
But I was a minor, just a child myself. And though I had conceived this child, I could not possibly conceive of being a mom at 17. No, not yet. No, not now. No visible means of support. No diploma. No degree. Not even a bank account to call my own.
I was terrified. Out and out terrified.
A junior in high school, at Immaculata Prep, I hid my belly beneath a sweater buttoned up well into the spring. And on May 19th of ’72, the priest having refused us, we were married at the courthouse by the Justice of the Peace. I bought a calico hippy peasant dress for the occasion but my mother insisted I wear white.
I might, as well, have worn a Scarlet Letter.
And though, I knew I could not keep her, I also knew I had to bring her into this world.
The social worker at the adoption agency, whose name I wish I could remember, mothered me three trimesters through. But it was 1972. There was no Planned Parenthood. No birthing classes. No Lamaze. Just a stick figure pamphlet from the Medicaid clinic.
I remember going to the public library to find a picture book, so I could see and understand what was happening inside of me. Blushing at the circulation desk, I was terrified to actually check it out.
September 28th of ’72, in a cab all by myself, I made it to my final appointment at Georgetown Hospital. Already in labor, the nurse rushed me to the delivery room. No time for drugs. I did nothing but push.
And out she came. Purple and slippery and squawking and full of life. Shaking and in shock, I could not bring myself to hold her. I knew that if I did, I risked not giving her up.
I had no plans to even name her, for she was never going to be mine. But the birth certificate sat on my tray table. I had to fill in the blanks. Elizabeth Catherine. Or was it Elizabeth Beatrice? I can’t quite remember.
But I did visit the nursery, though I did not go inside.
“Please, hold her up to the window for me, so that I can see her before I go.”
“Goodbye, little Elizabeth. I wish you a good life. I wish you the best it can be.”
And I have never regretted this decision. I am proud of that child that brought this child into the world in 1972.
So I signed the papers, a sealed adoption. She would never know us and we would never know her. It seemed best for all concerned. And what did I know? I was only seventeen.
So I locked the secret up tight and threw away the key. Grieving was a luxury, I could not afford. Traumatized teenagers, kicked to the curb, we had to survive.
So I skipped my senior year and a year or so later, I made it to CUA. We got jobs in a preschool and the tiniest efficiency you have ever seen.
And now, to make a long story short, we took ten years to grow up. Built a marriage. Built a home. Built a life. And ten years later, in 1982, we had Zach and then Colleen and then Jacob.
All three babies made possible by Elizabeth, the baby I never held in my arms.
And even to my three children, she was a secret. Locked up tight. Never to tell. Why? What good would it do? What would I say? What purpose would it serve? Forty-five years is a very long time. It seemed the vault would hold forever.
And then she found me.
Through a DNA test on Ancestry.com (my brother’s account), just before Christmas, she found me.
An emotional tsunami broke loose in my head. Pummeled by waves, I was certain, I’d drown. Buoyed by therapy, I did not.
Rebecca Dragon is her name. Mother of three. Lives on a farm in Vermont.Spiritual seeker. Russian Orthodox, by choice. Theater major. She found and read my blog. My daughter’s too.
Excited beyond words, she had found her tribe.
Terrified beyond words, I froze, not knowing what I would do.
But, of course, I did.
The next morning, I called her. The hardest phone call I have ever made in my life. We talked for half an hour. Crying. Incredulous. Laughing. And now, we have talked many more times. Texting, emailing, Face Booking, too.
She is happy, healthy, and whole. A down to earth, sort of off-the-grid parent, she home schools her three children. Crafty, she spins and knits. Comfortable in the kitchen, she makes real food from scratch. She is snarky and hysterical, theological and spiritual. And a blogger, herself, twice over. An urban expat, living on a rural route, she grew up in D.C.
Though those domestic genes are certainly not mine, she reminds me so much of me. Different, of course, taller, green eyes, and a different nose. She is definitely one of us. Primarily a Peacock, I would vainly say.
DNA is much more powerful than I ever could have imagined.
And now my children know and have happily connected with her, too. And my siblings know. And my coworkers know. And my friends.
And now you know too.
Saint Patrick’s Day weekend, I fly to Vermont, to meet Rebecca and her children: Bella, Jude, and Meir. And her husband too.
I am going as “just Joani.” I am not “mom” or “grandma”. Rebecca’s fabulous parents, alone, deserve these titles. I did not raise her as my own. I like to call her “my long lost offspring” and as for me, maybe “biomom”, at least for now.
But we are definitely biologically joined at the hip. And I really, really like her. And I look forward to knowing her and her family, more and more.
So the “Peacock and the Dragon” will meet and we’ll take it from there.
No more “Mea maxima culpa.”
Scarlet Letter, no more.
I am addicted to pajamas.
The pajama drawer of my dresser is stuffed with over a dozen pairs — and yesterday, from my favorite store — I brought home two more.
Sometimes spelled “pyjamas” and nicknamed “PJ’s, jimjams, and jammies”, pajamas derives from the Hindustani word for lightweight drawstring trousers traditionally worn by Islamic Continental Indians. Perfect for lounging. Perfect for sleeping. Perfect for so much more.
Like interchangeable monastic robes, each pair I wear depends upon my manic-depressive mood.
Mostly manic and mostly mystical, in the sanctity of my sacred space, I call home.
Coffee drinking (Yes, again, coffee drinking.)
All in my pajamas: fleece, flannel, cotton, short and long, worn through and brand new.
All in my pajamas, in an hour or two, I collect my thoughts and reconfigure my gut,
at least for the next day or so.
I recommend it most highly — in these most exceedingly strange and stressful times.
Pajamas: a way of life.
While family arguments, yelling, screaming, and name-calling by the so-called grownups in my house, flew over my little eight year old head, I would escape into the 1960’s institution known as parochial school.
It was my salvation. I ate it up big time. I was a little parochial school girl extraordinaire.
I dressed the part. It was required, of course: plaid jumper, peter pan collar blouse, saddle shoes and chapel veil.
Middle child and peacemaker at home, I was quite the expert at disappearing into the woodwork, keeping my head down, not rocking the boat. (I could go on but I am running out of metaphors.)
But in Sister Regina Clare’s third grade class, I was a star in the movie of my own making.
I raised my hand every chance I got.
“Call on me, Sister. Call on me!”
And call on me, Sister did. Teacher’s pet and smartest kid in the class, I would do just about anything to delay going home after school.
“Who can clean the blackboards and clap the erasers?”
“Me, Sister, me!”
“Who can alphabetize all these test papers for me?”
“Me, Sister, me!”
I would even volunteer to stay after school and clean the convent. Yes, CLEAN THE CONVENT! That is how desperate I was to stay out of the cross hairs of chaos called home.
(But I did get a scandalous eyeful of the nuns’ underwear hanging on the clothesline! BONUS!)
Catholic school was my salvation but it was not free. No cheap grace here.
There was the ever present threat of eternal damnation, everlasting hell fire: pretty f*ing scary to an eight year old.
So I memorized the hell out of my Baltimore Catechism.
“Who made me?”
“God made me?
“Why did God make me?
“God made me to love and serve him for all eternity.”
I rattled my rosary beads like there was no tomorrow. (Well, maybe there was NO tomorrow!!)
Scarier than Hell was getting stuck in the eternally boring feedback loop of Purgatory – not just for myself but for all of my dead relatives, as well. Whose full names I wrote in the back of my Saint Joseph Missal:
Bernard Francis Peacock, Sr.
Benjamin Joseph Cady
I wrote their full names, I guess, so God would not get my grandfathers mixed up with anybody else’s grandfathers.
One loop of the rosary, could buy them a thirty-day get out of Purgatory early card. Two loops could lessen their sentence by sixty.
Eight years old, I was responsible for their immortal souls! Scary, scary stuff.
And God forbid, I commit my own grammar school mortal sin. MORTAL – meaning just that – that I would go straight to Hell if I forgot to confess it – if I should die before I wake.
(And whoever came up with that crappy, crappy prayer for a little child to pray as their parents terrifyingly tucked them into bed? To Purgatory they should go.)
So at Holy Family School, every Friday, I was first in line for morning confession.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession. Father, I have (FILL IN THE BLANK).”
Thoroughly prepped on Thursday by Sister Whoever, having examined my conscience and run through the Ten Commandments, I went into the booth fully armed with “THE LIST”.
Which I would pad with a few extra sins, here and there, just to be on the safe side.
- No false gods? No problem. I did not worship Baal this week.
- No idols? No problem. I did not carve any graven images this week, whatever that means.
- The Lord’s name in vain? Put me down for two “God Damns” and three “Jesus, Mary, and Josephs.”
- Sabbath holy? Holy Day of obligation? No problem. Stars in my crown. I get my butt to Mass every Sunday.
- Honoring mom and dad? Truth be told. I have been disobedient all over the place. Put me down for ten.
- Adultery? Sister says that’s “impure thoughts.” The lust of an eight-year old. Put me down once for Michael Spillane and twice for Jimmy Sinkieweiz.
- False witness? Well, not in a court of law but fibs, white lies abundant. Put me down for six.
- Coveting? What the hell is that? O, wanting other people’s stuff. Veronica’s red patent leather sparkly shoes. I confess to one.
- Stealing? Well, a cookie or two, out of the cookie jar. Purely, grade school stuff.
- Murder? Murder? I did think about bashing my little brother’s brains in but I managed to avoid the temptation.
And this is just for one week. Saving my soul was exhausting. And by the fourth grade, the system started breaking down. Little cracks were beginning to splinter my little Catholic psyche.
My little hand kept shooting up in the air, of course. I knew my catechism, just about better than other little RC kid in my class. But having reached the ripe old “age of reason”, I started thinking on my own.
Catechism answers turned into questions. Lots of questions.
“Hmmm. ‘transubstantiation’. Sister, why would Jesus want us to eat him and to drink him? That makes no sense.”
“Hmmm, one true church? True? According to who?”
“Hmmm, limbo? Poor little, unbaptized babies sitting in the dark for all eternity? What kind of f*ing God is that?
(I did not really say the “F word” but I do enjoy writing it that way.)
By seventh grade, my questions grew bolder.
“Hmmm, French kissing? Tongues touching is a mortal sin? A kiss on the lips is a venial sin? A kiss on the cheek is okay? Where is that in the bible, Sister?”
And in my sophomore year, at Immaculata Preparatory School, I took on the Pope himself – and Humanae Vitae – Pope Paul VI’s crazy encyclical banning birth control.
Star of the debating team, I gave a speech taking on the persona of an unfertilized egg – yes, an unfertilized egg — which I followed all the way through the menstrual cycle and the reproductive system in great detail.
The egg triumphs!
Legions of sperm go down in defeat!
And not a single life is lost!
Yes, I said these things.
Well, to me, yes, but not so much to Sister Mary Clare, the principal at my prep school.
She called me into her office.
“Joani,” she said. “You have to stop. You have to stop asking questions in religion class.”
“Why?” I shoot back. “That’s what school is for, right? Learning? Asking questions?”
“Not for you, Joani. You have to stop. You are confusing the other girls.”
“Really?” And thenI risk one more “why?”.
“Yes, my child, you have to stop.”
And then Sister says, and I quote, these words which have forever hence changed my life.
“Joani, you are intellectually gifted but spiritually retarded. You are risking your immortal soul – and theirs too.”
Yes, Catholic school saved me. This conversation with Sister Mary Clare saved me.
So, I skipped my senior year at Immaculata Prep and got early admission to Catholic University. (Yes, Catholic University). There, at CUA, I became a philosophy major, where I could ask all the GD, F*ing questions I wanted.
Sorry, Sister Mary Clare. You might be right. I might be about to lose my immortal soul. But I will truly be damned, if I am going to lose my mind.
A mind, you know, is a terrible thing to waste.
And I am very fond of mine.
(And truth be told, this is how I grew up to become an Anglican.)
The third annual U&U List, full of twists and turns, blessing and curse, presented in whimsical and random order for your year ending contemplation and consideration. (And once you’ve read mine, grab pen and paper and come up with your own!)
- I’m with Her/I’m Still with Her
- Bishop Payne Library/Library of Congress
- Ghost of Christmas Present/Ghost of Christmas Future
- Story District 1st 2nd Tuesday/Story District 2nd 2nd Tuesday
- Unorthodox&Unhinged/Sex&The Single Vicar
- Milk/Almond Milk
- Mulder/David Duchovny
- Whole Foods/Harris Teeter
- Kindle Fire/iPad Mini
- Killer ESP/Killer ESP
- Kind Bars/Dangerously Delicious Pies
- OK Cupid/DC Singles
- Old Town/Capitol Hill
- Priest Associate/Associate for Liturgy & Hilarity
- La Croix/Spindrift
- “Going Clear”/”The Path”
- Caffeine/Half Caf
- Half Marathons/Half Measures
- Lewis Carroll/Christmas Carols
- Alphabetical/Color Coded
- Friend/Femme Fatale
- Sirius XM/Spotify
- Keeping Secrets/Spilling the Beans
- Break Ups/Make Ups
- Wedding Chapels/Baptismal Fonts
- Aunt Joani/Great Aunt Joani
- Nail Biting/Manicures
- Rosary Beads/Meditation Apps
- Head Bands/Head Space
- Fair Trade/Free Trade
- Off the Cuff/Office Hours
- Early Voting/Emigrating
- Blue Glasses/Red Spectacles
- Gray Hair/God’s Highlights
- Possibility/Possibilities Publishing
- God with us/God within us
- Burt’s Bees/Bella Cara
- Out of the Pool/Into the Fire
- Road Tripper/Time Traveller
- Fit to be tied/Wii Fit
- Mood Swings/Climate Changes
- 6:30/Half Past Six
- Ball Points/Felt Tips
- Stuffed Animals/Animal Shelters
- Feel the Bern/Feel the Pain
- Saint Robin (Williams)/Saint Carrie (Fisher)
- “The Tudors”/”The Crown”
- Potted Plants/Fresh Flowers
- Le Pain Quotodien/Carluccio’s
- Victoria’s Secret/Bloomers
- Turtlenecks/Cowl Necks
- Safety Nets/Safety Pins
- Bitches/Bichon Frises
- Krispy Kreme/Sugar Shack
- Amazon.com/East City Bookshop
- Left Turn/”The Right Turn”
- Huntley Meadows Nature Park/Flirtatious Downtown Dog Park
- Hand Dryers/Paper Towels
- E-book/Real Book
- Baby Spinach/Grownup Kale
- Friday Therapy/Wednesday Therapy
- Digestive System/Solar System
- Off Ramp/On Ramp
- Oak Trees/Acorns
- Hipster/Hope Peddler
- Peacock/Like the Bird
- Middle Child/Going Wild
- Star Gazer/Earth Dweller
And I am ecstatically, exquisitely, eternally grateful to the Creator of the Universe, the Very Ground of my Being for each and every day of each and every year.
Each and every day, even if it be the worst day, is a holy day, a gift.
Big blessings be to you and yours in 2017!
Bipolar, I am very rarely down.
I live my life gloriously balanced in hypomanic and holy space.
This space is the woof and warp of my loony loom. Daily decisions, large and small, weave together the texture and color of my daily walk.
Walking, talking, balking;
Reading, working, sleeping;
Lurking, leaping, housekeeping;
Netflixing, Hulu hopping, blogging;
Sermonizing, staff meet-ing, colleague conferencing;
Teaching, preaching, pastoring;
Cafe haunting, eatery slinking, coffee drinking;
Advocating, electioneering, volunteering;
FaceBooking, photo shopping, grocery shopping;
Floor mopping, dish washing, laundry folding;
Clothes modeling, junk recycling, riverfront hiking;
Story Districting, LIbrary (of Congress) docenting;
Eucharist celebrating, neighborhood organizing;
Writing, reflecting, philosophizing;
Socialzing, parenting, befriending;
Showering, singing, flinging.
Entertaining angels unaware.
Rainy days and Mondays rarely get me down.
whirling and spinning, even I have to begrudgingly admit, that my psyche so wound up, eventually has to wind itself down.
Darker, wetter December days enter.
I feel a tug that pulls me downward
and closer to the earth.
An undercurrent of small sorrows,
little ripples of sadness,
lonely and alone.
Bittersweet, emotionally delicious,
I taste and touch the deeper parts
of my happy, happy manic soul.
Like the little blue girl in Inside Out,
“Sadness” is a place we should not fear to go.
Sadness, sometimes, is exactly the place we need to be.
Tearing up in the shower is okay.
Soul searching on the subway. Also okay.
Channel surfing in your pajamas. Okay too.
Just let it be,
at least for a little while,
but not too long.
Darker, wetter December days are holy days,
like rainy days and Mondays,
they sometimes weigh us down,
but the darkness will be overwhelmed by the light,
So from U&U:
A very, very,
manic-depressive Christmas to you!