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Sunday, 10 August 2014

Sabbatical art pilgrimage: Services and reflection

The most magical service I experienced on my sabbatical art pilgrimage was unexpected and resulted from finding out about Brian Clarke's stained glass at l'Abbaye de laFille-Dieu through my visit to the Vitromusée Romont. I went from the Vitromusée straight to the Abbey and found that I had arrived for Vespers followed by silent contemplation in the still onset of the falling dusk. The flakiness of some of the lead vocals in the sung responses during the service, before the individual voices were then caught up in the wondrous harmonies of unified responses, only added a sense that our individual fallabilities are accepted and swept up together in the great corporate song of heaven.

An equally special surprise was the performance of dance based on Christian imagery by Moving Visions Dance Theatre on a visit to Gloucester Cathedral with Diana Crook. The dances made by this group attempt to realise numinous experience and expression through dance: “There are indeed things that cannot be put into words. They make themselves manifest. They are what is mystical.”

Another special service came at Nôtre Dame du Bon-Conseil in Lourtier, Switzerland. Here it was the simplicity of the Mass which spoke to me. There was no incense and no choir, just a priest speaking conversationally and responses from the 70 strong congregation. The liturgy spoke for itself, as was also the case with Matins at St Paul's Cathedral on the final Sunday of my sabbatical.

The first visit of my sabbatical was at St Paul's Cathedral, so to return for my final Sunday seemed appropriate. On that first visit I had seen my friend Tricia Hillas, Canon Pastor at the Cathedral, who was preparing for a special midweek memorial service. Tricia also led the service on the final Sunday of my sabbatical, so the chance to catch up again was another end in my beginning. The service featured beautiful singing from the Lady Margaret Singers and it was the calmness and beauty of the singing which had particular impact.

The sermon in this service left me uneasy as it seemed to be indicating that there are occasions when we should defend our interests and beliefs with force. I am becoming more and more convinced that as followers of Christ we should not be thinking or acting in terms of defensiveness. Christ's sacrifice and his teaching about love for enemies, it seems to me, is the reverse of defensive actions.

Many of the churches I have visited have been dedicated to Our Lady with their visual focus sometimes seemingly being more on the Mother of Our Lord than on Our Lord. In addition, I have also observed and participated positively in Catholic and Orthodox forms of devotion - I particularly appreciated attending, with Mal Grosch, a service held by the Romanian Orthodox Church of London at St Dunstan in the West. The Protestant in me has sometimes struggled with the Maryology and aspects of the devotion I have seen and experienced and I will be posting separately with some thoughts I have explored during the sabbatical on both the Virgin Birth and aspects of devotion.

After Mass at Aylesford Priory I wrote the following poem: 

Reading 'Drysalter' before Mass at Aylesford Priory.
Lip-smacking words savoured on tongue,
epiphanic explosion come.

Using the escalator at Tottenham Court Road,
praying a David Adam prayer,
raise us from the depths of despair.

Watching film of a plastic bag dancing on the breeze
for fifteen minutes straight,

beautifully evident benevolence.

I finish this post with some epiphanic words from the shewings of Julian of Norwich on which I have been reflecting since visiting Ditchingham and Norwich:

"There were times when I wanted to look away from the Cross, but I dared not. For I knew that while I gazed on the Cross I was safe and sound, and I was not willingly going to imperil my soul."

"In falling and rising again we are held close in one love, for our falling does not stop him loving us."+

"He is everything that is good and comforting to us. He is our clothing, he wraps and holds us. He enfolds us in love will never let us go."

"Prayer fastens the soul to God, making it one with his will through the deep inward working of the Holy Spirit. So he says this, 'Pray inwardly, even though you feel no joy in it. For it does good, though you feel nothing, see nothing, yes, even though you think you cannot pray. For when you are dry and empty, sick and weak, your prayers please me, though there be little enough to please you. All believing prayer is precious in my sight.' God accepts the good-will and work of his servants, no matter how we feel."

"He did not say 'You shall not be tempest-tossed, you shall not be work-weary, you shall not be discomforted'. But he did say, 'You shall not be overcome.'"

"Love was his meaning. Who reveals it to you? Love. What did he reveal to you? Love. Why does he reveal it to you? For love." 


Saint Paul Cathedral Choir - The Lord Bless You and Keep You.  

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