Thursday, 23 August 2012

Again, my "comment" was too long

An excellent reflective post from the Monk, obviously heartfelt but not proof-read! I have taken now to writing in my word processor, correcting and only then posting it as my new keyboard aids my banana fingers quite well. I can still compose at about 1200 words per hour, but not all of the words contain the right letters.

The only vigil I have kept was the night prior to my investiture as a Rover Scout, it was a very meaningful process of meditation and would have been even better in the majestic surroundings of an Abbey or great Cathedral Church; I will except Coventry from that list, I am afraid that to me, the great Cathedral Church of St Michael is the ruin alongside the Basil Spence /Arup structure, I mean, they didn't even have a compass when they laid out the floor plan and that great green altar cloth leaves me cold, also the seats tend to numb one's bum after about an hour.

One of the most meaningful churches I have ever visited can be viewed here : dedicated to St Adamnan the thesis of Dr Sylvia Landsberg written in 1955 gives a great history. The church dates from 707, although the present structure is believed to be as late as 1265, by 1680, however, only the church remained above the sand, the settlements of Kirton of Forvie, along with Haddo of Forvie and Milton of Forvie had all been inundated over about 200 years by the dunes and become not only uninhabitable but unable to support crops. Four walls with a North and a South door just shoulder-width, there would never have been any glass for windows, and I suspect that there were never doors in the openings. Today the walls now stand at between four and five feet high, there is no roof, but there is a peaceful tranquillity inside the building that is not there outside of it. If there is a church where one's God could be said to sit next to one, it is that church.

One of the most meaningful services I ever attended was in the small mining hamlet of Blucher in Northumberland. At that time it stood at the head of an ancient waggonway, with modern wagons and steel hawsers, that took coal brought by 0-2-0 locomotive from North Wallbottle Colliery and then sent them by gravity down to the river Tyne, the empties being hauled up as the full wagons descended. The service took place in a Methodist chapel and was the Harvest Festival, but where were the piles of apples, the sheaves (we called them “stooks”) of corn? On a small table between the front pew and the minister, there was a huge lump of coal, fully fifteen inches cubed, and a brass Davey-lamp. That was their harvest, that was what they celebrated. The little Hamlet is more peaceful today as the new A69 by-passes it, but look for it on the maps, it is worth a visit, although the coal is no more.

I am not sure if I believe in The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, if I do, I do not subscribe to the next part of Acts, 3:13, (most quoted to me if I had become a Monk would have been Job 33:29-31). However, there are two aspects of St Ignatious Loyola's writings that have always captured my imagination. One is the (Ignoring the fact that he was a Jesuit!) Ingatian principle that one can, in fact should, find awareness that God can found in every one, in every place and in everything.   The other is the simple prayer that we used in the Rover Scouts, simple, but deeply meaningful;

Teach us, good Lord,
to serve you as you deserve,
to give and not to count the cost,
to fight and not to heed the wounds,
to toil and not to seek for rest,
to labour and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will.

Noticing that it is as I remember prayers in my childhood, not requiring the intervention of any third party between the person praying and the deity being asked for strength. For many years, at every main meal, the Lord was thanked for the food in one of many ways, at school, at social gatherings, at home, but no-one felt obliged to ask Jesus to be an intermediary, I preferred that simplicity. I do not believe that religion or a belief in a supreme being is anything other than a positive human desire; however, the harm that hasd been caused over the ages has been caused by those who can only bear to consider their God on their own special terms, through their own “chosen one” and that all else is heresy or blasphemy.  To illustrate further my view here can I invite you to read a joke written by Emo Phillips more than 20 years ago that has been voted the funniest religious joke of all time:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

That is where most organised religion, for me, has lost its way.

I always enjoyed the ritual of the book of Common Prayer; the Morning Prayer and Evensong services were wonderful yet simple, the Communion varies according to the “height” of the ritual of the officiating Vicar, Curate or Rector, but illustrates the tale of the last supper in a deeply meaningful way. I appreciate ritual and would appreciate a Roman Catholic Tridentine Mass, except that my Latin is forgotten and it was the scholastic sort not the liturgical sort. I have never, however, even in my childhood in the fifties and sixties, believed in transubstantiation. Allegory is a wonderful teaching tool and I choose to take the allegorical story which I find meaningful, rather than contemplate either alchemy or cannibalism. In the same way, I took Masonic oaths and meant them, although I do not really expect my tongue to be torn out and buried in the sand at the low-water mark; especially not as the sea is rather too far from my home. That, perhaps though, is just my hatred of “absolutism”.

My personal book of Common Prayer is referred to quite often for a non-believer, it was awarded as a school prize on 9th March 1892, obviously, not to me, and is the most beautiful book, with great font and fine paper, a pleasure to read. However, in 1967/8 (our church, where my Father was a Churchwarden was chosen for the “pilot”.) came the new liturgy. Trendy it might have been, but the solemn magic, the feel of a connection with events thousands of years before-hand in distant lands was simply not there: personally, I think that ritual and ceremony make religious adherence easier, although, perhaps I was always just there for the show!

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