In this warm and touching book, Hilary Musgrave RSC recounts childhood memories of colourful family characters, the rigours of Irish Catholicism, first kisses, true love, hurt, forgiveness, death, and wonderings about God. All these memories contribute to her reflections on the journey of being oneself with God.
Emmaus Productions, 2003. To purchase this book, write to
The Ministry of Monica Brown
3 Main Street
Tramore, County Waterford
Phone: +3539(0)51 391784
Email: [email protected]
1. Listen Here God!
2. Your Own… The Worst and The Best
3. Reality Therapy
4. History, Ancestry and New Perspectives
5. Out of Touch
6. In Sickness and In Health
7. Family Fortunes
8. She’s All Yours
9. The Correct Answer
10. Getting On With Myself
11. Winds of Change
Listen Here God!
I lay there, my limbs stretched wide, a relaxed contentedness easing me into total surrender to the white carpet beneath me. Above me hovered the conspiratorial clouds. Smiling smugly I shouted my joy into the soft silence around me. “You did it!” I cried, utterly delighted with how this day was unfolding. “I thought you would hold back, but you did it, you let go!” The thick grey clouds seemed to acknowledge the magnificent feat they had performed and, billowing strongly, moved darkly across the sky.
It had all started that morning… I trudged along the over familiar path to the red bricked building that for five hours every day incarcerated me in a regimented drone of thinking, doing, playing and praying. I noticed the gathering clouds. The cold deepened. The morning seemed to falter and darken like the coming of night. An early twilight crept slowly across my little part of this big world. Without the aid of a forecast, we all knew what the clouds were about. I watched furtively as we sang the seven times tables, my heart bursting with new found enthusiasm, knowing the first snow of the year was just about to fall.
Within ten minutes it had happened – there was a light flurry, it seemed feeble, irresolute, indeterminate. While I did my utmost to appear attentive to the tables, my heart willed encouragement to the vacillating clouds. My fierce, yet subtle concentration, seemed to steady them so that after the first few gentle flutters, the snow’s freefall regularity matched the repetitive cadence of the eight times tables.
She came. I heard her walk along the corridor, her nylon stockings rubbing against each other at the top of her legs. She was always the first with the news, and even though her messages were stage whispered in Irish from the door, her face always conveyed the amusement, the joy or the solemnity that the information contained. She opened the door. I glimpsed her delighted smile as she looked at our teacher and purred, “a dó dheag a chlog inniú!”
My heart sank, “two o’clock today”! Getting off school at two o’clock was no real advantage. There would still be the same amount of drilling to be gone through, the same amount of mental gymnastics to negotiate and the same level of attentiveness expected. I was just about to fall into despondency when my mind suddenly registered – “a dó dheag” – that means twelve o’clock! My heart soared, only one more hour to go.
By a dó dheag a chlog the snow had enveloped everything in a thick white blanket. The impending freedom from school also carried with it promises of playing outside for long hours, sitting round the fire, reading books and comics, listening to the radio, playing cards and hearing more stories of ‘the olden days.’ With a feeling akin to ecstasy, I bolted from school and did a running dance the whole way home, urging the snow to fall forever.
An hour or two later as I lay in the lush thick soft snow, smiling at the clouds, I asked God, not for the first time, why God had let Adam and Eve commit that original sin. Could they not have been prevented from eating that apple? I figured God knew everything and must have known they were going to do it; eat the forbidden fruit of that one special tree. If only God had stopped them, how different my life would be. I would know everything there is to be known so there would be no need for me to go to school. I could have all day to myself. I could play games, make up stories, climb, cycle places with my friends, explore. There would be no end to all enjoyable possibilities, if only Adam and Eve had not eaten that apple.
School dominated my life. It determined when I went to bed, when I got up. I gave myself to it for five full hours every day, yet it still spilled over into life in the form of homework, and took me away from doing the things I loved. It was unfair. Why did God do this? Why did God not give Adam and Eve another chance? After all it was only an apple!
My mother’s voice interrupted the flow of my thoughts, warning me I would get my death of cold if I did not get up out of the snow. “Adults think they know it all”, I muttered. In the time it took me to wonder whether it would be better to obey promptly or to continue enjoying the beautiful softness of the snow, I became aware of a cold wetness seeping into my skin. I jumped up immediately, alarmed that something sinister was invading me from under the snow.
Before I had time to register what was happening, my mother had half lifted, half carried me into the house, asking me over and over what I thought I was doing lying in the snow on a day like today. She scolded me, “Listen here Hilary …” , and as she peeled my wet clothes from me, she continued on in an endless litany, talking about the day that was in it, the cold and the silliness of my actions.
There wasn’t room in Mam’s monologue to say that those thoughts had never entered my head. She didn’t even pause so that I could tell her of my conviction that God had sent the snow to make me happy; that God was making up to me for being so harsh, unforgiving and unsympathetic to Adam and Eve. My mother’s interests were elsewhere. In dramatic tones and language she showed me how the melting snow had ruined my hat, my coat, my gloves and my skirt. The more she illustrated the stupidity of my behaviour the more angry I became with God. I shivered as I looked at my drying clothes hanging around the room. I had learned a lesson: nothing is as it appears. I felt I had been duped by God just like Adam and Eve had been. I looked skyward with fury in my heart, daring God to meet me eyeball to eyeball. Louser… Teaser… Tormentor… I thought, and waited to see if my taunts would provoke an appearance or a sign indicating that God was listening.
Sensing an abashed presence, I ostentatiously declared in my crossest voice, “Listen here God…, you take the good out of everything. You gave Adam and Eve a perfect world and then snatched it right back. I thought you were saving me from school with the snow but you couldn’t even get that right.” I waited. Surely that would provoke God into some kind of reaction? Nothing.
I had responded dutifully to my mother’s, “Listen here Hilary …” and had promised never to behave like that when I went out in the snow again. But my, “Listen here God…” went nowhere. I was met with a resounding silence when I had hoped for some kind of an apology. I’ll give God one last chance I thought. So, with arms folded, forehead furled, eyes dark and menacing, I beamed my statement heavenward with furious intent, “Listen here God, you better do something my way or else …I will never, ever speak to you again.” Still nothing. Just the slow smooth falling snowflakes.
I held that self-righteousness position with God for some time. I made all the right external moves; said my prayers, learned my catechism, performed all the rituals, but my heart was hardened firmly against God. Sunday came. There was no way of getting out of Mass. I presented myself at church with an air of indignant indifference. But the music held my heart, the incense crept into me, the whispered Latin murmurings stirred a desire to be connected to God. I felt my resolve weaken, my innermost depths betrayed me, moving me to surrender and trust this Holy God.
A fine young priest stepped into the pulpit and halted my act of surrender with a booming voice that bounced off every wall and strongly and clearly proclaimed, “Woe to you who doubt God! Woe to you who doubt that God has a plan for you. Woe to you who question the plans of God.” The woes went on until I felt diminished by the powerful demands of an Almighty God who couldn’t bear to be asked a simple question, even by a little girl.
I left the church in a profusion of apologies vowing never to query God again. In a fever of guilt I promised I would follow the rules and regulations and be on my best behavior always. But somewhere deep down inside, I resented the fact that there were no rules for God. God could do whatever God wanted to do. It was so unfair.
That time in my life was a time of great perplexity about the nature of God. On one hand I was drawn into the mystery of God. I felt that God was concerned about my life, and knowing that made me feel safe. But then, when the rules, regulations and demands of God were preached with such solemn unquestioning conviction, I felt distant from God. This sense of separation from God was reinforced by the official ‘religious spokesmen’ – the priests – whose whole message seemed to be concerned with instructing me that God had certain expectations about my life, and woe to me if I didn’t live them in the way Mary, Maria Goretti, Francis and Brigid had!
I despondently knew I could never please such a God, because even my best efforts were far less than perfect. It was the beginning of a life long search of trying to know God and connect with God; a journey that has had many twists and turns, surprises, and delights; a journey of being myself with God.