Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Bleak Liturgies

As promised, some RS Thomas - an excerpt from his 'Bleak Liturgies, published in 1992

Shall we revise the language?
And in revising the language
will we alter the doctrine?

Do we seek to plug the hole
in faith with faith's substitute
grammar? And are we to be saved

by translation? As one by one
the witnesses died off
they commended their metaphors

to our notice. For two thousand
years the simplistic recipients
of the messag epointed towards

the reductionist solution. We devise
an idiom more compatible with
the furniture departments of our churches.

Instead of the altar
the pulpit. Instead
of the bread the fraction
of the language. And God
a shadow of Himself
on a blank wall.

The whole published in Thomas' Collected Later Poems by Bloodaxe Books.

Monday, 21 July 2008

Dedicated Builders

Last week's day off was a day of ups and Downs - Sussex Downs, that is. I know it's a poor attempt at a pun but never mind - it's Monday morning and I have three School Masses to celebrate today so allowances must be made!

One thing I forgot to do when in the lovely town of Steyning, was to ask someone how you pronounce the name of the place (Staining, Stenning, Stining). A little apart from the town centre is the great Norman/Saxon church (or what remains of it). The first church here was built by St Cuthman in the ninth century. His story is interesting. It is believed that he was a young shepherd in SW England who, on his father's death migrated to Steyning, taking his aged mother with him. (He walked, she rode in the handcart which he pushed). At Steyning, he got a group of people together and they built a church, and he lived the rest of his life there. In 1939 the playwright Christopher Fry wrote a one-act play 'reviving' this forgotten saint, called The Boy with a cart.

Anyway, the people of the town have erected a statue in his memory, looking at what has become of the church since his time. In the reign of the Confessor the church was given to the abbey of Fecamp in Normandy. If the proportions of the existing Church look somewhat odd, it is because of alterations made in the 16th century when the central tower, choir and transepts were taken down, as well as the two westernmost bays of the nave, and a west tower was built. What remains is however one of the finest pieces of Norman architecture in the country. The changes did not come about through the vandalism of the so-called reformation, but date from towards the end of the century. Whether they resulted from lack of maintenance, or simply from the church being so much bigger than what a small town needed or desired, I do not know. Certainly the town remained wealthy, enough to have a large grammar school and an adjacent junior school founded in 1614, though utilizing an earlier Guild House, belonging to the Fraternity of the Holy Trinity.

St Cuthman does seem rather critical of what he sees. What follows is a photo of the interior of the Norman Church - though like many Norman buildings it is fairly dark inside, and a view along Church Street past the Junior School towards the Grammar School. There are a great number of historical sites in this part of the country, and although I get completely lost when I venture South of Thames, the getting lost is part of the adventure. And when you find yourself high up on the Downs, on a beautiful sunny day with the view extending more or less for ever. and you the next town or village you come to will have something to make it worth while stopping for (other than seeking directions) then getting lost isn't so bad!

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Stevie Smith - Poetess

I just thought I'd like to share this poem with anyone who might happen to be looking in. Written in the 1960s, it's a sign that it was not only the Catholics who were having problems.

Why are the clergy of the Church of England
Always altering the owrds of the prayers in the Prayer Book?
Cranmer's tuch was surer than theirs, do they not respect him?
For instance last night in church I heard
(I italicize the interpolation)
'The Lord bless you and keep you and all who are dear unto you.'
As the blessing is a congregational blessing and meant to be
This is questionable on theological grounds
But is it not offensive to the ear and also ludicrous?
That 'unto' is a particularly ripe piece of idiocy
Oh how offensive it is. I suppose we shall have next
'Lighten our darkness we beseech thee oh Lord and the darkness of all who are dear unto us.'
It seems a pity. Does Charity object to the objection?
Then I cry, and not for the first time to that smooth face
Charity, have pity.

Next, we'll probably have some RS Thomas.

The love of God

We hear in today's Gospel: the heart of this people is grown coarse. What an admirable description of the situation we face at present in England!
Ome day last week I went to post a letter at the post-box across the road. On turning away from the post-box I narrowly missed a collision with a youth riding his bicycle along the pavement. He swore at me indicating that I should get out of his way. I pointed out the presence of a cycle path alongside the pavement, but he didn't seem very interested in that and swore at me again as he pedalled off along the pavement!

My reaction - well, I suppose if I'm to be honest I must admit that my first reaction was along the lines of: Who the devil does he think he is, behaving like that! - but my considered reaction was to think of how great the love in the heart of God must be for that young man.
Surely God must grieve over those whose hearts are so coarsened by the 'cares of this world and the lure of riches' that they have no time for anything else. A life that is lived so concentrated on self that every interaction with others becomes a confrontation; that every crossing of our own will becomes a source of anger - is that a life? Is it not rather a form of Hell? Is it not a shutting off of the self from all that can give life meaning or value?

My next reaction: How do we communicate to such people the hope, the love, the forgiveness, the reason for living that the Gospel offers us? In the present climate, where so many young people kill each other, or themselves, for trivial reasons, is there not an urgent need to make such communication? How do we do it?
I don't claim to have the answers, but I am sure I have a starting point. It's not about making the Gospel 'relevant' (see earlier post). That's a false path. Rather it's about those of us who are Christian taking that faith seriously. We can only communicate the Gospel if we live it; if people can see in our lives that sense of love and belonging, that sense of forgiveness and of hope, that joy in the risen Christ that marks our lives. It's not about being relevant, but about being credible. If that joy etc. is present then people will see it, and some, just some, will want to know what it is that we have that they do not; and of those, just some will want to ask: Could I have that too.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Cotswold Wonders

Following the events of the last couple of weeks it was great to get a day away in the peace and quiet of the Cotswolds - even if I was unable even to find at least on eof the villages I was looking for!

First and foremost was the village of Elkstone, where the Church had an upper storey built over the sanctuary as at Compton (see earlier post) and Melbourne. Whereas Compton is still intact and Melbourne totally disappeared, at Elkstone perhaps the people who lived here forgot the purpose of this upper room, for at some point during the Middle Ages it was converted into a dovecote, or columbarium.

The interior of the Church shows a very low vault built over the sanctuary, in order to carry the weight of what was above it. The Norman arches are highly decorated both with geometric and figurative carvings. Climbing the stairs to the upper storey one finds oneself inside the dovecote and can only wonder what the Church would have been like as completed.

In the church today a columbarium is a place used for the bestowal of ashes of those who have been cremated. This view of the dovecote shows why the word is used. The niches for the urns are reminiscent of the niches in which the doves would originally have rested.

In this part of the Cotswolds is a whole string of truly ancient Churches stretching from North Cerney away to Daglingworth, where the church (dedicated to the Holy Rood) has some old Saxon carvings including one of the crucifixion itself. Like all Saxon the Churches the nave is high and narrow. The carvings themselves are simple - even crude - but nonetheless posess a certain dignity.

The main problem in this part of the country is finding the villages you are looking for. There are huge numbers of roads - some of which are unsuitable for motor vehicles. And to cap it all the villages do not have signposts as you enter them as is the case in most of the country. On arrival at a village you need to look for some indication that it is in fact the place you are seeking! And while I readily found Duntibourne Abbots, Duntisbourne Lees and Middle Duntisbourne, I failed to find any trace of Duntisbourne Rous, which I was looking for! Never mind - it is, as Chesterton might have said, all an adventure. And here's a picture of the Holy Rood at Daglingworth.