I will not forget this Pentecost in a hurry. Perhaps it has always passed me by a little. The facts are well-known: wind, tongues of flame, the Holy Spirit descending. The drive was long. Up early to drive to the Abbey from Lincolnshire, but it was not the dignified service and its well-known readings that was memorable but the “Fun Sunday” at the local village. The churches had come together to put it or to explain Whitsunday. It was all free, homemade, and rather moving. In the ‘interactive’ part we were asked to wait awhile in the porch as the Apostles waited. There were bits of paper to represent wind and fire, a little earth in a pot to represent planting the seed. But at the end it had more resonance than just seedings. The show was packed. I liked the Christian bikers too.
In the City of London opposite Mansion House tube station I came across St Mary Aldermary. The City is noisy outside. The doors were open, people chatting. Inside, it is quiet. The church is built on its medieval foundations. The ceiling is intricate in tracery. The yacht Belem was moored in the Pool of London for the Jubilee. Standing on one of these, the last of the great sailing ships, the great masts rising up, the great wheel – what an experience!
On Friday we were at Stonyhurst listening to Zadok the Priest. Can you imagine this type of music being composed for a modern Jubilee? But it never fails to inspire. I think Stonyhurst does the best Mass. It is the combination of a full church of young people, a brilliant choir, and rousing hymns that does it.
Before watching the Queen’s River Pageant on Sunday, I calmed down in the Sunday Mass in Westminster Cathedral. This is austere and traditional but moving all the same. Is the Royal Family England’s religion? No. But it does provide a cement, a focus, a feeling of togetherness that all can feel part of. There is no republican equivalent. President Hollande may be a good chap but when on his inauguration day he was soaked to the skin, he didn’t have the same appeal as the singers in the boat serenading the Queen with ‘Rule, Britannia’.
In its sheer eccentric Britishness this was the highlight of the whole Jubilee. On Monday & Tuesday I went to seven Jubilee fetes in Lincolnshire. Away from the high pomp and massed crowds, this is community.
On Monday I stood in front of Walesby church on the edge of the wolds. As sunset fell looking at over thirty miles of Lincolnshire plain one could see new pinpricks of light coming up as beacons were lit. Perhaps not quite as impressive as the beacons lit in The Lord of the Rings, but impressive anyway. I can’t remember which day but one of the readings this week was the familiar two central commandments. This always makes me feel woefully inadequate. I find great difficulty in loving everybody, particularly people different from myself. But, we were told, the important thing is to try. I have tried. I have been found wanting.
Waiting to pick up a son from Air Cadets, I spent an ideal half an hour listening to Radio Four, a programme on moral dilemmas. I never knew that Blaise Pascal coined my fundamental view. No one, he said, can rationally prove or disprove the existence of God. But if you were going to bet it makes sense to bet on him. Why? Because if he exists and you deny him, you might spend an eternity in the doghouse. If he doesn’t exist and you die, then nothing is lost. I think it was Pascal who suggested too that it is only in trying, in praying, that we can gradually become more convinced. Spinoza also expressed another fundamental belief of mine that if God exists, he made everything. If God is in everything so that we can achieve almost as much walking in a wood for an hour than going to church. The light failing then on a summer evening or the edge of the woods is almost as valuable a religious experience or spiritual experience than turning round and going into the church for an hour.