Saturday 27 April 2013

L'Abbaye de Boquen

First, the distant past:-

I was raised in a family, the well-educated male head of which, espoused that particularly intolerant form of christianity, puritanical, born again fundamentalism.  Now let me say here and now that this is not going to be a diatribe about my childhood and parents. However, I do need to set a background against which I can display a much more recent event;  a trip to the Abbaye de Boquen.

I was thoroughly embedded in the Church, having been christened in the Church of England, enrolled in the Salvation Army, baptised in the Baptist Church (just my luck that the water heater was out of commission on that occasion - and it was a full, midwinter dunking!) and attended, at an earlier age, various London City Mission halls.  Yes, I had the job lot.  No-one was going to keep me out of Heaven.  Church activities five evenings a week, sometimes six, and five attendances on Sundays.  It must be said that although this way of life wasn't entirely of my choosing, I did grow into it and gained quite a wide experience of church life.  One form of religious observance, however, that was totally forbidden was attendance at a Roman Catholic church.  None of that damned popish stuff this young fellow-me-lad.  Ooooh no!  (Incidentally, there's a small point of illogic that has been conveniently glossed over here.  I'll leave that with you for prep.  Submissions before the next post, please.)

Now there were two activities that gave father a great deal of pleasure.  And who would deny him? He was after all a very sick man.*  One activity was to sit at an old pump organ in the back parlour, belting out hymn tunes to which he and mother would sing, whilst I listened in.  (Heaven only knows what the neighbours thought.)  My father could not read music, but he could hold a tune well enough.  This meant that his harmonies were 'improvised'.  (Lovely, forgiving sort of word that.) Unfortunately, many hymns to his liking were written in a minor key and, therefore, had a rather melancholy, nay, even mournful sound.  His 'improvised' harmonisations, however, were always rather upbeat.  The effect was truly, truly bizarre.  Notwithstanding the offence to which my ears were thus subjected, I did get to learn a wide range of some of the finest hymns written.  I can still remember the tunes, but I struggle for the words.

The second activity in which he indulged was to invite a friend round, usually a London City Missionary, and engage in a process of theological discussion which I can only describe as a bible slanging match.  Consider if you will the following proposition.  Once your soul has been 'saved' it remains in that state, regardless of how deeply you fall into sin thereafter.  (Oh c'mon!  You must have sinned.  Not even a little one?)  Father would totally refute the proposition, as he glowered meaningfully at me in the mirror suitably positioned on the wall.  If the opposition disagreed with him, (Heaven forfend!) there would follow the process to which I have already alluded, in which biblical texts would be quoted either in favour of, or against, the proposition (or even the texts themselves) in an ever-increasingly loud and frenetic exposition of the subject in hand.  Needless to say, I learned a great deal about the King James' version of the Holy Bible.

The point of all the foregoing is to demonstrate, that without a shadow of a doubt, when it came to the Church, theology and the Bible, I felt I had become a bit of a whizz-kid.  Less kindly souls might also add that I had become other things as well, but we'll let such arrant judgementalism take its place in the dark pit of forgotten speculations.

* He shuffled off his mortal coil, and sought heavenly pastures new when I was 16 years old.  With his death I began the process of disentanglement from religion.

And now to the recent past:-

Some years ago we visited the Abbaye de Boquen which is situated not too far from here.  I have always had a certain predisposition towards monasteries and convents.  It was to be after a lapse of some ten or eleven years, if memory serves, that we returned to the Abbaye in June of last year. On the previous visit I am certain there was no rood screen in place.  Thus the visitors and the occasional, meditating monk were in the same space.  In the intervening period, a rood screen had been erected on which appeared images of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We sat, and I settled in the silence to contemplate.

..........The images of the evangelists began to shimmer, then faded away, slowly.  Beyond the rood screen there were figures, a vast throng of people clothed in golden raiment, their faces turned upward in adoration.  They radiated a plenitude with which my sense of my own two-dimensionality compared but poorly.  Movement of a kind, inexplicable, a world beyond.  A whispered sound that made no sound at all.  Yet in my empty state of listening, I heard it clearly.

"You have not even begun to scratch the surface of Christianity."

A few moments more.  The throng have passed away, and the rood screen has returned to normal..........

                                                               (Images from a meditations journal)

Something of me, some unidentifiable awareness, had slipped to a new level.  Here was yet another beginning.  I 'knew' nothing, and that was where I needed to be.  I felt gloriously unchastened, for that sense of joyous acceptance is part of the nature of true consciousness, the "timeless witness".  Another beginning? Yes!  But not a return to some previous beginning.  This beginning was new, as all real beginnings are.

Sunday 21 April 2013

An Evening with Friends

I am deaf.  I am not as deaf as the proverbial post, but deaf enough not to be able to hear birdsong; deaf enough not to be able to make sense of what is being shouted at me;  deaf enough not to be able to listen to television, cinema or music.  However, a year ago I acquired a pair of smart hearing aids from Specsavers of Bishops Stortford, UK, who also supply my specs.  It has to be said that total hearing has not been restored, but things are far better than they were.  Now being deaf is not all bad, certainly not.  I can, on occasion, remove these "aural apparati" and retreat into a muted, sublime world of my own.  Also, they are barely visible which saves me from being accosted by anyone who feels moved to say,  "Do you know your hearing aids are showing?" as if I had left home that day having forgotten to don my trousers.

Unless it is requested otherwise I would like, respectfully, to pick up on a comment from time to time as a way into, or as an inspiration for, a future post.  Now in one comment I have been warned not to do posh music, but I would find this restriction rather sad and inhibiting.  After all, music is an art form that is part of mankind's very soul.  Simply because posh music has been called "classical" does not fundamentally distinguish it from all other music forms.  Yet that particular word creates an artificial divide in the mind that is more apparent than real.  But such is the power of words.  Much of western, so-called "classical" music has its origins in folk music, popular music of the day.  And what of "classical jazz"?

I recall that when I studied music at school, as a teenager, a small group of us were asked to list some "classical" works to be compared with music of another ilk shall we say.  This other music was chosen by a group of boys (it was a boy's only establishment) who had no declared interest in "serious" (another divisive adjective) music.  The aim of the exercise was to compare our musical choices, discuss them, and reach some common appreciation of their value.  I have to say that we did very badly.  I learned two important lessons from that exercise.  First, we chose compositions that were poor examples of what we were trying to demonstrate.  As our music master repeatedly said, "You could have chosen......" this piece or that.  There had been a marked lack of discernment on our part.  As music students, we had chosen pieces that had been guided by our intellectual considerations.  We had made the fundamental error of assuming that music needed to be understood in order to be enjoyed.  Second, we had failed to appreciate that our opposing team were not going to come round to our way of thinking anyway.  There was an ego problem involved, and that problem existed on both sides.  Neither side would give way.  The debate was not about music, but about winning, a trait that has caused so much grief in human affairs.

There will always be people who do not like this kind of music, of course, and that's fine, just as there are people who passionately love "classical music" (strictly a term which applies to music written within a narrow time span by, for example but not exclusively, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.)  The reasons for liking or disliking any style of music are many and various, if they can ever be defined at all.  I am not trying to convert anyone, not trying to win anyone over.  I no longer choose to fight those battles.  Instead, I would like you to come along with me for a short while. Let me set the scene.

It is Saturday evening, and a lovely day is ending with a chilly sunset.  A light, delicious dinner has been consumed, and we are preparing to relax in front of the television.  As is usual, there is nothing being broadcast that is remotely of any interest, and so we opt to listen to some music, our CD player connected to the television speakers.  (We used to have powerful, independent speakers, but when they and my hearing  began to decline,  the speakers were disposed of.  I'm still here though.)  Now viewing television requires little effort in concentration, whereas listening to music requires constant effort.  First my hearing aids must be reprogrammed, a simple enough adjustment, then my stethoscope-like widget needs to be arranged on top of the hearing aids and then constantly adjusted for volume and position.

I am reclining on the larger sofa, a glass of wine to hand, whilst Lucy sits on the smaller sofa, knitting perhaps, with Molly either curled up on her lap, gently snoring, or periodically investigating the possibility of snuggling down beside me.  The curtains are drawn and the lights are dimmed. Ssssh!  The music is about to begin with Arias from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly", "Tosca", "Suor Angelica", "Turandot" and others.  Puccini speaks to the heart, not the mind, and the heart responds, falteringly at first then with ever-increasing surety.  As the music swells, its passion mingling with, and absorbing in joyous union, that which the soul offers in return, I become aware of something else;  a world beyond definition that demands something of me.  It demands an opening up, a releasing, recognition.

Silence, a shuddering, indrawn breath.  Self-conscousness.  But all is not yet finished.

"Tchaikovski's Violin Concerto" (in D major, op.35) a.k.a. the 'lonely man's concerto' will complete the evening's listening.  This piece has been chosen, in part because this is a much loved concerto with all Tchaikovski's passionate intensity, but also because the work is being performed by Nicola Benedetti.  Recently, I heard her stunning performance of the ever-popular "Bruch Violin Concert" on television as part of the BBC's Promenade Season of concerts.  She is well worth listening to.

Finally, and almost too soon, the performance is over.  There is a kind of joyful 'gathering up'.  One looks around to share a smile with rest of the audience.  Yes, they are there, in the mind and memory at least.

Let me get your hats and coats.  Now come on people, please don't tell me nobody was interested.

Saturday 20 April 2013

First Post on a New Blog.

This is the first post on my new blog,  "Gwynt".  It is, therefore, an introduction, a dipping of the toe into new waters, a step into the unknown, even perhaps an act of faith.  I sense a degree of nervousness about this venture, and I think that is a good thing.  I cannot know where this venture will lead, if it leads anywhere at all.  I do know that if I am going to do this, now is probably the best time to start.

But why would I want to have my own blog?  Why would I choose to engage in an activity that may leave me vulnerable?  I don't know.  All I do know is that this activity may answer a call, pave a Way toward some place I cannot yet see.  Ah yes, a call from the future!

As part of this introduction, I would like to explain why I chose the name Gwynt.  I must say it has nothing to do with Wales, or the people of that lovely principality.  The fact that the name is Welsh is coincidental.  Last year, in September of 2012, Lucy arranged a trip to a falconry here in Brittany.  Her write-up of that trip is here.  Gwynt is the name of the beautiful Harris hawk with whom I had an all too brief association, a name that means "wind".  At a deeper level there is an association of "wind" with "spirit", which may well describe the essential focus of this blog.

I would like to thank Zhoen for nudging me towards the opening of this blog, Natalie d'Arbeloff whose curiosity I could not allow to go unassuaged, and Lucy who was the prime mover in setting up this blog.