Thursday, March 28, 2013

Springing Midwinter

In Little Gidding, T.S. Eliot wrote about 'midwinter spring': here in Devon it is springing midwinter: a sprinkling of snow last night under the paschal moon; bitterly cold temperatures and an even more bitter wind. This morning, briefly, sunlight, a false promise, for this afternoon it has clouded up again, and the forecast for tonight suggests it will be the coldest yet.
Yesterday my hostess and I were discussing what we might do on Easter, as both of us, life-long Anglicans, can no longer stomach the local liturgies—or most liturgies, for that matter. Each year we have celebrated, quietly, in different ways with music, with readings we have gleaned over the previous year, and lots of silence.
This year I half-jokingly suggested that we find some sort of simple piece of kit which we could take into the upper pasture at midnight on Saturday to contain a bonfire, and that we light candles, sing the Exultet and do the readings and prayers. My hostess jumped at the idea, and in no time had located a 'brazier' at a nearby ironmongers. I was thinking of a sort of flat metal basin such as garden catalogs list, but when we arrived at the shop, the assistant pulled out a proper brazier, the sort in which the beacon fires are lit on hilltops [think the beacons lit to warn of the Armada; think the beacons lit on the mountaintops—based on the English model—in the film The Return of the King], a medieval basket design. Of course it was flat pack, and I spent most of this afternoon wrestling it into submission. And of course one bolt was missing, but we have substituted a sturdy piece of sheep wire until we can get back into town.
Radio 3 is broadcasting Bach this week, so we will listen tonight and then go to the large village church nearby [the tiny, lovely, 14th century one in this hamlet will be sadly dark] after the liturgy is over to sit by the altar of repose for an hour. Tomorrow we will listen to a Tenebrae CD that got rave reviews last Saturday on Radio 3, and perhaps also the Britten War Requiem—my standard listening for Good Friday. Then the pasture Vigil on Saturday, snow permitting.
And yes, I will miss the eucharistic liturgy, but since it has, like the bible readings, been flattened into nothing, made folksy, one dimensional, and banal, there is no point attending only to come away in with an advanced case of irritation. My hostess said she recently heard one thoughtful non-believer, Matthew Parris, sum up the problem, in a panel discussion 'Christianity at the Crossroads' on Radio 4: 'If the churches were inhabited by a sense of the divine presence, we wouldn't be having this discussion.' Unfortunately they are inhabited only by a sense of the clerical presence.
But that Presence is still here in the wilds of deepest Devon, in the cold and the dark, among the green and brown hills; along the verges pointed with daffodils in their millions, and the small yellow stars of wild primroses; and in the upper pasture at midnight under the Paschal moon.
To all my readers: may you have a most blessed Triduum and Eastertide.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If the churches were inhabited by a sense of the divine presence, we wouldn't be having this discussion."

Reminds me of Alan Watt's Behold the Spirit. And probably the reason why he left Christianity.

7:48 pm, March 28, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Maggie,

I'm afraid that Matthew Parris rather hit the nail on the head, didn't he! Of course God is there but the Presence is so often obscured by the clergy, the endless words, the daft singing and the chatter. Not many pillars fo flame in evidence as I look at our RC clergy ...

Thsi blog helps me keep going.

We are blessed at Easter ... and thank you for your prayer for our blessing.


7:51 pm, March 28, 2013  
Blogger Bo said...

Yet again I am reminded of our shared language, despite our differences of confession! All well at the fort, by the way.

10:30 pm, March 28, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I too have stayed away - preferring the prayerful quiet of home and the rhythm of spinning to the noise of the liturgy and the politics of the church. At one level I feel bereft - but taking a walk yesterday though the woods in the weak sunshine of the afternoon, I was reminded of Mary Oliver's poem 'Wild Geese' and her opening lines:
'You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves ...'
Thankyou again for your blog and your blessing Maggie.
in solidarity, Tessa

3:42 pm, March 29, 2013  
Blogger Donald LaBranche said...

It is for these reasons that I've planted myself in Quaker soil.


4:54 pm, March 29, 2013  
Anonymous Matthew Carlisle said...

I can't stop myself from responding to your latest post and the advanced case of irritation I felt after reading it. I live in Heywood in Lancashire and in many ways it is a million miles away from the wilds of Devon but it is a place where the church does its best to meet the needs of many many different people with a whole range of hopes, needs, hurts and fears. Most people in Heywood haven't a clue who Matthew Parris is and they wouldn't give a toss what he thought anyway. I will be spending Easter in church with lots of other folk who come to church because they do indeed encounter the living God in the liturgy of the church. If you ever fancy a visit to Heywood feel free to come and share Easter with us.

7:19 pm, March 29, 2013  
Anonymous Roe said...

Is it possible please to have the title of the Tenebrae CD? Thank you.

9:00 pm, March 29, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

The title of the CD is 'Couperin Trois Leçons de Ténèbres

Marais St Colombe

Carolyn Sampson
Marianne Beate Kielland
The king's Consort
Robert King

9:49 pm, March 29, 2013

9:50 pm, March 29, 2013  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tessa -

Today in church the priest said that Good Friday is an opportunity to answer the question Jesus poses in John's gospel, "Who are you looking for?"

Your comment really spoke to me in answering that question today.

'You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves ...'




10:47 pm, March 29, 2013  
Anonymous Penny Warren said...

I am so saddened to read your blog. There is such superiority. We give the best we can to the tiny flock here in Devon. Our liturgy is not the ancient, vast cathedral splendour but a few motly voices speaking words they love and understand said by folk who are humble and sincere. Your words about Christmas were similar. Our organ is played by dear, kind folk and of course they are not highly professional organists but our brothers and sisters in Christ who play because they like to, because they believe in serving.

As solitaries, whether in practice or simply our natural personality we must be so careful not to be superior in our attitudes. Come and be with ordinary folk a while, re-discover the Body of Christ, the muddly, imperfect, tone-deaf, literary simpletons that make up Christ's beautiful body on Earth.

And please, from my heart, can you practice kindness about ministers? Cynicism is so much a part of today's culture, it is tiring and draining, not life-giving.

10:18 pm, April 01, 2013  
Blogger Maggie Ross said...

Dear Penny,

I think you are mistaking grief and frustration for 'superiority'. I have no problems with a village church such as you describe; in fact I far prefer it to a cathedral. But it is the clergy that short-circuit and dumb down liturgies for these folk, and treat them like idiots—I am quoting my friend who is a life-long Devon rural resident.

My Christmas was at the other end of the scale. It was in a cathedral and was a caricature of what a Christmas service should be. I had a similar experience at Exeter cathedral some years ago for the Advent service when the then dean decided it was an appropriate time for the chapter to exhibit their toe-curling school exercises in composing carols; it was the worst Advent liturgy I'd ever been to.

I much prefer the company of what you rather superiorly call "muddy, imperfect, tone-deaf, literary simpletons" —left to themselves they would create the liturgies they need, and very beautiful ones at that.

My friend I'm visiting had a phone call over Easter from a Jewish friend of hers in New Zealand: the same thing is happening there, and the folk are leaving the synagogues to have their own liturgies in groups in people's homes.

I am sure some of the clergy are well-intentioned, but the vast majority I have met are simply out for the power and preferment. The bishop of Exeter is, thank God, retiring: the diocese is known in official circles as a 'problem' diocese because of him.

"Our tiny flock' is also a rather patronizing phrase, don't you think? We 'sheep' do not want to be taken care of; we want to be helped to be spiritually mature—rather difficult when the the majority of the shepherds not only haven't a clue what that is but are threatened by the very idea.

9:51 am, April 02, 2013  
Anonymous sgl said...

to anonymous who mentioned alan watts' behold the spirit, thanks for mentioning it. i've read some of the intro online via amazon's 'look inside' feature, and found it quite interesting. i'll likely try to get a library copy at some point.

and i also found a free online version of his book "Myth And Ritual In Christianity (1954)", which is also interesting.

8:42 pm, April 02, 2013  
Anonymous Penny Warren said...

I take your point about the 'tiny flock'. I included myself in that, likewise the muddy..literary simpletons.. I have proved that eloquantly.

A great grief is hard to express. I think that maybe Christ would somehow draw us into grief with him. Such a grief has truth deep in it, it is healing and life-giving though full of pain. Different to that critisism that we all experience, especially within family or community that leaves us feeling hurt and useless. Your words have sometimes felt like the latter, but I will be open to it being the former.

11:52 am, April 03, 2013  

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