13 October 2008

Curious week in Barford...

Highlights of this past week:

Broke a tooth. Completed my first W.I. duties. And yet another attempt at “church shopping.”

I also baked a horrendous Banana Bread Loaf this week--on Sunday--that had all the light, airy texture of a cast-iron brick. Must note that said failed Banana Loaf was not the cause of aforementioned broken tooth. I broke my tooth eating popcorn. While watching a movie! What is the world coming to? Found a dentist in Stratford-upon-Avon, no problem. Got an appointment for the very next day. Dental procedure took less than half an hour, and wasn’t too expensive.  Go, British Healthcare System!

My first duties for the Barford W.I. consisted of delivering flyers door-to-door from my end of Wellesbourne Road to the bridge and back, for the upcoming “Grand Auction of Promises.”  The Auction proceeds will benefit the soon-to-be-opened Barford Shop! (Sainsbury’s will finally have some local competition here in leafy Barford!) A gander at the prizes for the auction will illustrate the caliber of my new neighbo(u)rhood: a bottle of House of Commons whisky; “cream tea for 2 in the Cotswolds in a chauffer driven Classic 1977 Jaguar Coupe”,  “Champagne and canapés followed by river trip and supper for 6 adults”; 1 week’s accommodation in a flat in Javea, Spain (between Alicante and Valencia); and “a quantity of farmyard manure (delivery if required)”. God, I love this place.

The quest for the “new spiritual home” continues. The D.E.B., bless him, has given up for now. I think he has just resigned himself to attend whichever place I finally settle on.  That is, if I am ever able to actually settle on any one place...  This week I tried the Collegiate Church of St. Mary (C of E) in Warwick. Fabulous.  I mean, it's not every day that a girl gets to take Communion in a church that has it’s own 10th century crypt!

On the surface, I felt I had finally found the “Mother Ship”. Up-market, well-heeled, coolly Episcopalian-looking congregation; all-male choristers, decked and trimmed in dazzling red and white, high-necked regalia; massive pipe organ bellowing a Bach Prelude; did I mention the Norman crypt?

Yes, even without the ‘smells and bells’ that I so desperately long and pine for (what is it with English Anglicans and their anti-smoke/incense stance?), this place had most, if not all, of the pomp and circumstance I think God deserves, though doesn’t require.  Besides, any church that has its own “Choir Librarian” wins in my book! I mean, now that is just sexy…in a spiritual way, of course.

But, still, and yet, what? Something, still, missing. An emptiness. A casual aloofness. Maybe because it is a tourist destination – the information leaflets at the front door are printed in 25 languages – or because everything here is on such a massive and grandly historic scale, I didn’t feel like I was a part of what was happening. No one “welcomed” me, or made any motion to ascertain who I was, or what I was doing there. The most intimate and immediate connection I made in the course of the day was in the Norman crypt.

The Norman crypt is the oldest part of the church and dates back to 1123.  I crept down the cold, ash coloured stones to the crypt, and found, alongside the slabs of the long dead, the remnants of a medieval "Ducking Stool".  I could not believe my eyes, nor could my hands resist. I closed my eyes and ran my hands over the wheel and wooden flanks of this intricate torture device. I dug my fingers into a hole where a spoke had long gone missing, relishing the thought of collecting some medieval dust under my nails. I wanted to touch, smell and sense the past, those frightening and confusing times. They thought they were living in the end times. But still life went on, and still life goes on. Perhaps each generation of people believes their time is the only time, the most important, painful, or significant. And still, we go on.

A note on the wall reminded me that the "Ducking Stool" was used as an implement of punishment for: “Dishonest bakers, brewers of unadulterated beer, scolding wives, women of immoral character or those suspected of witchcraft, and quarrelsome married couples.” Happy times, indeed.

I left St. Mary’s beaming, basking in the bright October sunlight, and the thought that: “Yes, I’ve found it.” But, just as I was passing through the church’s massive, beautiful garden, the collegiate bells rang out, thundering the arrival of the noon hour; my heart broke with the thought of little St. Peter’s back in Barford. So humble, so small, so modest by comparison. 

The vicar had asked me at Morning Prayer this past Thursday, if he would see me at service on Sunday, he had planned to “welcome us” during the service. I had hemmed and hawed ("hummed and hawed" in Brit English), knowing I was had planned to go to St. Mary’s for a “bigger and better” experience. I feel so awful now. A place like St. Peter’s needs people like me, whereas at a place like St. Mary’s, I would be a dime a dozen. Am I looking a gift horse in the mouth? St. Peter’s may not be everything I want, but it may be what I need. And maybe, it is a place that needs me, instead of the other way around. Perhaps that is the lesson I am meant to learn in all this.   

2 comments:

londongirl said...

Ah, Alycia...here's to soft treats at the films...screened at home or in the cinemas...and here's to the quiet and delightful splendor experienced in pews dusted and loved in the little churches where you are missed if Sunday comes and you don't...it's the cds of english choral music and the boys choirs whose voices reach beyond the eaves of the ancient churches that get me through...seeing as how I'm a london girl living over here on other side o' the pond in and near towns named after the real British places that all the disenchanted folks left in the year dot...circa 1600ish...

write on, dear friend over there on other side of pond, write on...

Nirmitee said...

i stumbled across your blog today and just had to start from the very beginning[its a weird thing i have with blogs]
i love the way you've written this piece-the descriptions,feelings,all of it just gives me a lump in the throat.
Nirmitee
[blog address: http://quill-dreams.blogspot.com/