I went to the Orthodox funeral in Ennismore Gardens of an elderly lady, a family friend, Gwen. The liturgy at an Orthodox funeral is overpoweringly beautiful and haunting in a quiet, remorseless way. But then by chance after everyone had left I stayed behind. A young man, alone, was being baptised.
It seemed to sum up Christianity. An endless cycle: death, rebirth.
It was an extraordinary day for late September, blazing hot, with a fierce sunlight bouncing off the sea.
I took refuge behind a bush. It was quiet. A sandy path beneath my feet. The light filtered through the leaves. I opened my blackberry and read the readings for today from the Universalis website.
“How do you know me?” said Nathaniel. “Before Philip came to call you,” said Jesus, “I saw you under a fig tree.”
For me this bush was for a moment a fig tree. This sandy path running past St. Enodoc’s in Daymer Bay a sandy path 2,000 years ago in Palestine that like Nathaniel wherever we are at whatever time we can sense however fleetingly a cause, an insight, a belief.
Then I had to catch up. I stood up and walked forward into the glare. The moment passed.
I am reading Patrick O’Brian’s Hussein, written when he was only in his twenties. The most moving part of the book is Hussein’s love for his elephant, Jehangir, and the intelligence of the elephant. Animals can be so much more intelligent and trustworthy than we think.
I went swimming in Lundy Bay and William, our Border terrier, insisting on following over the rocks. Then, to my intense annoyance, he got stuck. I had to rescue him by climbing up rocks from breaking waves, something I hate doing. William resolutely refused to climb down but looked at me with baleful eyes. In my vexation I almost made him swim back but I know how he hates water.
But animals are happy because they have no ambition save food, sleep, and affection. It is so distressing to look at Ed Miliband on the news so obviously a man led by ambition into a position he cannot fill. Everyone knows it. He just doesn’t look like a prime minister. It’s not just how he looks and sounds. He is obviously trying too hard. He is at the very limit of his confidence. My advice to him: throw caution to the winds. Be entirely himself and don’t try too hard. Just enjoy yourself. Who knows, some accident or event may then propel him where he wants to go.
After the sun had set into the sea, it was a moonless clear night. Over the beach at midnight, looking out to sea from the cliffs, the Milky Way along with thousands of stars was clearly visible, a rare sight in Britain.
At night, I was thinking about how awful and traumatic the loss of even one child is and about the horror of war. The arguments against our intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya are well rehearsed and don’t need to be repeated. Suffice it to say that deterrence was and can be made to work along with minimal proportionate response. I still think that most of the world’s problems over the last two-thousand years have been caused by governments not arranging their budgets and exerting a moral right to invade other people’s countries. I have been reading a biography of Eleanor of Aquitaine this week. A remarkable woman married first to the King of France, whom she divorces as too much of a wimp, then to the King of England. But I’m not sure a great deal has changed since then.
I walked for five hours along the coastal path between Port Isaac and Tintagel.
For all that time, though, William, our Border terrier, and me were going very slowly and stopping often no one passed us. I met only two couples and one man coming the other way. Here we were, alone, walking along in one of the most glorious spots in Britain.
To our left, an ocean of green, low stone walls, and to the right a great sea of aquamarine blue. The only sound the distant breaking waves below. The waves beyond breaking gently remorselessly. Sometimes we paced by green fields the ocean far far blow us. At other times we plunged down into steep gullies. The waves a short reach away. William drinking from the streams, enjoying their moments of fresh water delight.
Wonderful names. Tresungert Point. Rams Hole. St Illickswell. Gug Pigeon’s Cove. Filly Horse. Ranie Point. To our right, lovely farmsteads, Tregaverne, Trewethars.
Port Isaac had been crammed with people, perhaps keen to see the home of ‘Doc Martin’ on ITV that night. What a winning formula for a t.v. show: Cornish tales and every two or three minutes a breathtaking view behind the characters of sky sea and cliff. But here on this pass we were quite alone.
The atheist will say this physical creation is all he needs. The Christian will welcome it as God’s amazing creation. All can welcome it but for the atheist what is beyond that, where is his music, his art, his poetic verse?
The perennial question: If God loves the world, why does he allow evil to happen? Look at the film about Bethany Hamilton, “Soul Surfer”, a professional surfer whose arm was bitten off at the shoulder by a shark and overcame this to go back to surfing. We do not know what God’s plans are for us. Some of us may not be certain he has any plans or knows of us. But if we read Jeremiah 19, I think it is. We can start to assume, to accept that there is a plan for us. I certainly found the film moving.
I went by chance to Mass in Westminster Cathedral. I am not normally there on a Saturday. And it was the feast day of Our Lady of Walsingham, 24 September. The Cathedral was packed. It was comforting to be back home with Our Lady.
We were discussing money on Lincoln Cathedral Council. To be honest, I find long presentations on finances by accountants boring and fairly incomprehensible. But of course cathedrals are always short of money, though Lincoln is better run than most. But a thought occurred to me. Here we have the Shrine of Saint Hugh. In the Middle Ages it was a major centre of pilgrimage. People walked to here from all over Europe. Yet not one in a thousand people have ever heard of it. Thirty years ago a tiny trickle of people walked the Route of St James of Compostela in northern Spain. Now it is 300,000 a year. Even in France as we saw this summer every small town on the St Jacques “routes” are marketing themselves. Here nothing. Could we not recreate a pilgrimage route from London to Lincoln? Are there country villages and churches that we speed by on the motorway. Walsingham, destroyed in 1539, reborn again because of the vision of one Anglican priest in the 1920s, Father Hope Patten. Is there hope for Hugh?
It is fairly difficult to run aground in Portsmouth Harbour. After all, mighty aircraft carriers and huge cross-Channel ferries berth there but in a strong breeze of 25mph, struggling to control alone my little old boat, I ran straight aground on a sand bank. As in other crises in life, if you run aground first you don’t know it’s happened. Then because everything is slowing you think something much worse has happened. Then comes anger, despair, and finally resignation because if you’re on a falling tide you’re going to be there upwards of twelve hours in an extremely uncomfortable position and there’s absolutely nothing you can do. You can pray but nature will not relent. That is the beauty of nature, it is not driven by anger or aggression or envy or pride. Nature is driven simply by nature.
Once again I was irritated that some plan or other, something I wanted to do, was thwarted by events. How extraordinary that the most selfish exercise of will can cause us so much angst. Tossing and turning, I recalled Our Lady of Walsingham. She is not just a comforter but she strips away our ego and self-like.
On Sunday I had woken in the middle of the night in Walsingham and the thoughts of the site of Richeldis’s Holy House just round the corner had comforted me.
Now although I woke again and Walsingham was one hundred and fifty miles away, the thought of Our Lady of Walsingham was also a comfort. One does not have to be in the place to derive the benefit.
Gabriel had a job to do so simple, to travel on the tube one way, deliver a letter, and travel back. But instead of sitting quiet, everything irritated him: the noise, the crowds. But above all that he might miss lunch! He ran from the tube and made his lunch. Why worry about lunch. But nothing, even reading the office of readings, nothing helped. His mind dwelt on that lunch. Why can we not rid ourselves of impatience?
I woke in the middle of the night with an almost physical sharp stab of pain with some deep worry or regret. Then I realised how foolish I was. I was lying perhaps 300 yards away from where 950 years before Richeldis had created her Holy House of Nazareth, thousands of pilgrims had come over the centuries. Not in a car taking three hours but many in complete poverty and rags taking weeks or months.
Our Lady cannot perhaps solve the original problems: money, health, whatever. But she can help us, Gabriel, to live with it.
We drove up for a short pilgrimage to Walsingham with the OMV and the Knights of Malta.
We arrived in time for Mass at Binham Priory just two or three miles northeast of Walsingham.
It was founded in the eleventh century by Pierre de Vacognes and his wife Albreda.
Although dissolved in 1539, it is not a complete ruin. The nave has been preserved as a parish church.
The venue was magnificent, the venue lovely, but I spent most of my time worrying if my daughter had arrived safely. She had. Thus do our minds wander and swell in this present world.
I took an exhausted dog, William, who doesn’t like walking at the best of times, to the lido for a swim, from Westminster then back again via Mass at the Brompton Oratory. He dozed gratefully at the back. William would certainly agree with today’s reading if he could understand it.
“We brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” (Tim 6 2:11)
But he doesn’t need to understand it, this is just the life that William lives. All he wants is love, a little food and water, and an occasional walk.
In today’s readings I suppose I could have mentioned this line from St Paul to Timothy in my speech at the prize-giving. Without saying where it came from of course. It’s not possible now in a public, non-religious venue to quote St Paul. People think you are a bore.
“Do not let people disregard you because you are young.” Timothy 4:12-15
I was presenting the prizes at a school and my own remarks were not noteworthy but the Head and Chair of Governors gave great speeches.
One on the theme of “Grief is the price you pay for Love” recalling 9/11 and the other on the theme of “Do not lose your sense of wonder”. Mine was on the theme “Do in life what you really really want to do” and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do it.
I am in Mass drenched and late to hear the last words of the sermon.
“He died exhausted from his work in 404.”
Who was he, I wondered. He was St John Chrysostom, a noted preacher and bishop of Constantinople. But who was he?
His writings, we are told, “reveal the brilliance of his intellect and his strength of faith”.
But many have strength of faith and brilliance of mind. Not I in either case sadly. But who was he? How did these men achieve such strength of faith and how does it elude me?
What I remember of the 10.30 Mass in the Cathedral is not the readings. Although the readings are memorable, including Jesus’ visit to the town of Naim, but the fact that at this 10.30 Latin Mass the priest was Italian. Immediately the beauty of the words was apparent. What a lovely language Latin is if spoken with an Italian accent (which I imagine is like the one used by the Romans). Why did we ever give up Latin for the bits of the Mass that never change? The Confiteor, Gloria, Kyrie, Pater Noster, Agnus Dei. Why not have just the Eucharistic Prayer in English but the Latin at the supreme moment. “HIC EST ENIM CORPUS MEUM” is far more powerful than “This is My Body”.
We went to Mass. The reading was about forgiveness.
“Lord, how often must I forgive my brother if he wrongs me? As often as seven times. Jesus answered, not seven I tell you but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:21-35)
I thought of the few nasty things people have done to me compared to some of the very nasty things done to others and our small capacity for letting go.
I always love today’s psalm, Psalm 61.
“In God is my safety and glory.”
I thought on today’s reading:
“You are God’s chosen race, His saints. He loves you.” (Colossians 3:12-17)
If only we had real confidence in these words, wouldn’t life, Gabriel, be full of confidence?
Today was the great debate on abortion. As usual we lost and lost heavily but we can only try. My argument was that those who financially benefit from providing abortions should not be the people expected to give independent advice.
Today we took another son to his new school. Quite a stressful day too. I walked and ran along a country stream. It was strangely moving.
This is always a stressful week. The children going back to school.
We took one to his new school for the first time today. New beginnings…
Later I sat in the Church. It was some comfort.