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.