Saturday, 25 September 2021

Three Abbey Churches

        Before continuing to write about those matters on which I have been focusing up until now, I will take a few moments to consider an incident which occurred on our recent holiday, and try to fit that in with other, and related, experiences in the past.

          We were  taking our habitual September break and for the second time this year were visiting Donville-les-Bains, which adjoins Granville on the S.W. coast of la Manche, [the Cherbourg Peninsula]. All the country around there is rather salt-marshy, unspoiled and fairly unpopulated. There isn't too much farming, but does have a fair proportion of market gardening: quite lonely, and lovely.

          So it was on one sunny morning much like any other really, except that we did briefly commemorate an event which happened eighty-four years ago to the day when a squawking foetus was gifted to the world. Within a few days that particular individual was given the name which I have carried ever since. Anyway, it was on that day that we visited the Abbaye de Lessay. From the outside the building was not over-elaborate, neat and simple, but on the inside I found it stunning. Sadly, the abbey has had a terrible history of violence dating from the time of King Edward III of England in the 100 year's war, his French opponents, and the forces of the king of Navarre [Charles the Bad], who between them massacred thousands. Then after the wars of religion and the French revolution, the government took over, and that was a pillaging and quarrying disaster. Eventually the Benedictines rebuilt and renovated the abbey. Then of course, came all the damage of allied bombing in WWII, culminating in the Nazis planting of fifty landmines and a couple of bombs in the abbey. The damage after they exploded was so bad it was almost decided to pull the rest of the abbey down. That is a very brief outline of the abbey's travails. Fortunately, the abbey was rebuilt in twelve years and is now run by a group of nuns.

          Switching back a few years, I well remember visiting Chartres cathedral in 2009, the first of the three churches that has influenced my inner search. After that visit I walked out of the cathedral feeling profoundly changed in some way. What happened was nothing to do with Christianity, at least as far as I believe it has been practised for centuries. It was almost a glimpse into ..... something else, some sense of ..... otherness that existed beyond my normal consciousness.

          More recently, I visited Boquen Abbey. I have written about that visit in previous blog posts - [e.g. L'Abbaye de Boquen, 27.4.2013]. In that experience the question was asked, "Still scratching at the surface of Christianity?" It was a question that demanded a response, but a response that I had no idea how to give. How could I respond when I didn't really understand the question? Nevertheless, that question has never been far from my thoughts. Certainly, and considering my earlier involvement with the Christian religion and the Church, the Christianity about which something deep within me was asking the question was of a quite different order. And now to return to the third church, the Abbaye de Lessay.

          My subjective memory of the Norman-Romanesque building is one in which the stone has been completely cleaned to a pale greyness, giving the quite simple building a look of rare purity. There is a marked lack of icon paintings and aggressive, in-your-face, crucifixion symbolism. Frankly, I find representations of the crucifixion revolting. I recall thinking that the abbey was, and this is the crucial point of this visit, like ..... contemplative prayer given form. 

          Gradually, and perhaps tentatively, I feel I am reaching out towards, or pursuing, something of which I cannot be certain; something that holds experiential answers to the Chartres experience, and also to the Boquen question.

Sunday, 19 September 2021

The Crypt

           The idea of the body being the temple of the spirit is not a new one. Yet I doubt its accuracy because the body often referred to is the physical body. When religious writers of the past spoke in this vein, including biblical writers of course, they were referring to something more than just the physical form. The 'flesh' or external form to which they referred was the physical senses, and included the thoughts, emotions and perceptions or personality characteristics. Indeed, St. John of the Cross specifically refers to such traits listing pride, spiritual avarice, lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth as the senses. One could add to the list. Of course there are also positive personality traits to consider. In other words the body to which they refer are all those senses which come into play when we interact with the world/universe around us, that 'body' which is also known as the ego. 

          But there is another Self, some other and spiritual state of mind perhaps, which lies far below/beyond  the ego and the realm of thought and emotion. That Self is ..... if I may express it this way ..... like a sun hidden in the crypt of an inner  church, that lowest/deepest part of a person. About that sun, it can be said that it represents that to which the epithets, 'higher' and 'superconscious' may be applied. One might even suppose, if one is inclined in that direction, to include the word ..... 'divine'. It seems to be of, or allied to, the Spirit [Holy or otherwise] of what a religious would call God. Yet as I have said, it is hidden ..... deeply ..... perhaps in the very foundation of one's being, in, to use a Meister Eckhart expression, the Ground of the Soul*.

          Finally, I would pose the questions, "Are the spirit and the soul linked? Does one generate the potentiality of the other? Why are they hidden in this place of safekeeping?"

*    Meister Eckhart describes the Ground of the Soul as, 'a central silence, into which no creature may enter, nor any image. Nor has the soul there either activity or understanding, Therefore she is not aware of any image either of herself or any creature.' 

Saturday, 11 September 2021

The Gates of Darkness - Alternative Format

           It is a theme in Gnostic writings that the 'soul' is trapped in the physical body, and the aim of life is to find release from that trap. The state of the soul is thus bound up with that of the spirit and the body. This is clearly a cause of sadness for the soul, but there is a way out by the path of repentance. What is repentance?

          Technically, repentance is a change of mind, not a turning away from what the Church calls sin. The Greek word translated "repentance" is metanoia, and the meaning is simply "a change of mind." Part of the way back through the Gates of Darkness that locks the soul in its imagined prison is, therefore, through a change in preconceived ideas.

[And now for a week's vacation.]

Saturday, 4 September 2021

The Gates of Darkness

 "..........It is night, and I am standing in a misty, moonlit churchyard. There is an ambience of detached sadness with which I empathise. There is a need to grieve, yet it is not I who feels this need. No, it is not I but some presence which rests in the mystery which is me, for I am the churchyard and all that it contains. There are no gates here, though there are deep holes where once, long ago, massive posts which held those discarded gates were placed........."

          The cemetery lies within the environs of a church; it is not a municipal burial place. I --- this mysterious me-entity --- am, therefore, the location of a resting, hidden, secreted, buried spirit. Further, a churchyard is not a place where dying took place but where the dead await. Death had already taken place; death to a higher/other realm in order to be born in a lower. I am both a place of the dead and the living. 

          It has been said that the spirit is trapped in the physical body. Maybe that was how it once was, when one takes one's first steps on the path to spiritual discovery. But I do not believe it is so any longer. The gates of darkness which once trapped the spirit are no longer in place. Something uprooted and destroyed them.

"..........and all the while the the protectress, overhead, guards the charge that lies in her spiritual womb, until such time as it is ready to be reborn, to return to that realm from whence it came.........."