So far so good with the (stupid) weather: I did leave the vigil a little earlier than I would have otherwise, last night, because I was worried about the drive home. You would think that the end of the universe would not be in Hampshire, but it is. There are streets and villages all around the abbey called things like Valley Bottom and Misty Bourne* but the abbey, which is at the top of a hill, attracts all the really best worst weather. Heavy fog? Valley Bottom is a trifle cloudy, and the pea-souper around the abbey makes you want to get off your horse and walk, except that Wolfgang objects to going .05 mph just because we can’t see the road. High winds? You’d think even a hill at the end of the universe would run out of 200-year-old trees that it takes an all-terrain crane to move when they’ve fallen across the road, but it hasn’t run out yet. Wolfgang has learnt to jump** but you don’t want to do a lot of this when you can’t see the road for the fog. You’re saying you don’t get high winds and fog at the same time? You haven’t tried to visit the Abbey at the End of the Universe.***
And we had a borderline frost Wednesday night& so I’m allowed to be apprehensive. But today’s Easter service was in the middle of the afternoon. Tomorrow will be the interesting one, with the night Mass when we resurrect him&& starting at nine and . . . going on for a while. All that ‘hallelujah he is risen’ stuff. Goes on. Yesterday’s service—Maundy Thursday—wasn’t too awful&&&, and the sitting in the tiny gatehouse chapel in front of the candle-heavy altar, after Mass in the main chapel, is always very moving.
Today . . . they don’t just read the Passion on Black Friday, they half-dramatise it, with three readers, one the narrator, one Jesus, and one any other solo speaking part: when the crowd speaks, the three speak together. It’s pretty harrowing. Plus we’re in that wasteland of silence and emptiness: the saints’ statues have all been taken away, and the celebrants walk in silently, without the usual bell having rung you to service and the little bell warning you to stand up for the priest.
I don’t lose it and cry and cry and cry and cry any more . . . much. I did this afternoon. It’s what I was saying the other night: sometimes your losses and the sadness that doesn’t go away—and your sense of unworthiness which of course a lot of Christian ritual hammers you with%—are just Too Much. But if you’re going to cry and cry and cry and CRY, till you have to pour yourself out of your seat, splash to your car%%, turn the key in the little hole and tell him to take you home because you can’t see out of your eyes, Black Friday is perhaps the day to do it. Because, furthermore, Jesus is dead.
Radio Frelling Three is playing the Dream of Gerontius in honour of the day. Arrrrgh. I think I’ll turn it off and put something light and cheerful on the CD player. Gotterdammerung, maybe, or Wozzeck.
Oh, and the temperature is dropping again. Time to bring a lot of wet, dripping baby plants indoors again. It’s supposed to rain again tomorrow, but just so long as it stays rain . . .
* * *
* And Wind Tunnel and Storm Haven and . . .
** He tucks his knees very well for a twenty-three-year-old, thank you.
*** The local council doesn’t like the abbey either. All that supernatural weather makes them nervous. So they close the road a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them actually do something while the road is closed^, but when there’s been another sighting of something forty or eighty feet long with red eyes and fangs flying over that hill, they snort ‘oh nonsense’ and then close the road for a few days.^^ My own theory is that all that frelling holiness attracts the Evil Weather Demons.
^ Except moving 200-year-old fallen-down trees
^^ Although road closings due to malign entities may be contagious. There was a wild spate of road-closures here in New Arcadia a few weeks ago—and we’re not the same local council as the abbey—including one located exactly at the bottom of my little cul de sac. Closed down one lane, temporary lights, the full irritating show. When they first set this up, the temporary lights at our end were visible to those of us daring to descend from our eyrie, and then they MOVED THE LIGHTS so you got down to the bottom of our little hill and there were cars on either side of you AND YOU HAD NO IDEA WHICH DIRECTION THE TRAFFIC WAS ABOUT TO GO.
So having got that out of the way, they tore up our road.
And then they went away.
They went away for about ten days, while those of us living on our cul de sac risked sudden death every time we emerged through the gap in the terrace[d houses]. There were all kinds of (possibly dubious) works going on in all the other chasms dug into our roads, but not ours.
After about ten days, they came back. And filled in the road. And took the *&^%$£”£”!!!!!!!!!!!! lights away.
This may be my fault. I may be bringing something tricky home with me from the abbey, on my clothing or Wolfgang’s tyres. I keep wanting to ask if any of the other hardcore midweek and prayer-service attenders at the abbey have strange weather and even-more-than-usually unpredictable roadworks in any of the villages they live in, but I haven’t quite figured out how to phrase the question yet.
& Another way to say this is that the thermometer in the middle of my garden said that we did, and the thermometer leaning against the house wall said we didn’t. And it was raining by morning, so there were no (for example) wilted pansies to tell me there had been a touch of frost. I had brought all my baby plants indoors again . . . including all the extra baby plants that had arrived in the post that day. At least there won’t be any more frelling live plant deliveries till Tuesday.
&& I’m told anything after sunset on Saturday counts. WHATEVER. BRING HIM BACK PLEASE SOONEST.
&&& Except for Alfrick^ appearing at my elbow about thirty seconds before the service started and saying ‘you’re doing a reading.’ I am? I said. The monks always do a certain amount of bustling before service, especially for a big important service, so having him stalking past me didn’t mean anything till he stopped.
I’ve never done a reading at the abbey. Let alone been assigned one thirty seconds before the service during Holy Week. I assume someone had a last-minute case of laryngitis, and Alfrick knows what I do for a living: reading words off a page to a listening audience is not a problem.^^ Although I hope he didn’t take any stick for his last-minute substitute’s pink All Stars.
^ Alfrick is my monk. The proper phrase is ‘spiritual director’ but that sounds so idiotically fatuous, the sort of thing that, back in my I-believed-in-something-Out-There-but-it-wasn’t-Christianity days, would stop me at the door. I ain’t goin’ near any frelling (or frellin’) spiritual director, thank you very much. Then I converted and the world changed. Can’t remember how much of this story I told on the old blog. My then-curate at my ‘proper’ church, St Margaret’s, was very interested in the meditative tradition, and so am I—it was one of the things that translated better than most things, across the divide between there (no Jesus) and here (Jesus). He said that the monks at the abbey ‘sat’, ie had meditative services. MONKS? I said. ABBEY?? No, no, he said, they’re friendly. Really.+ And he went with me, the first few times I went to the abbey, to prove that they welcomed everybody who wanted to come there.
Well, sort of. The prior is tall and imposing and is very committed to his church and his God, and he has opinions. And I heard him having a rant—not that I know anything about rants—about a few things that were not being done well in both the local and the global community of Christians. He frightened me half to death. I started calling him Scary Alfrick. Not to his face, of course.
You see where this is going.
Most of a year later I found myself thinking about this spiritual director thingummy. The abbey advertises spiritual direction. I said to my curate, they’re not talking about anybody, are they? They mean like other religious/professional Christians. No, said my curate, they mean anyone. If you’re interested, ask.
So I dithered for a while, and then wrote an email to the abbot.
Nothing happened for several weeks.
Then the frelling prior waylaid me after service one night, apologised for the delay, and said that they were really full up with directees but the abbot would make a decision about me soon.
Okay, I said, nodding rapidly. Okay, okay, thanks for telling me, okay. And went home and thought sadly, well, I’ll be put on a waiting list. Sigh. Never mind. I can buy another concordance.
Several more weeks passed.
And then one night after meditative service, there was the prior again, waiting at the top of the little slope up from the chapel door. It’s not enough he’s seven feet tall, he’s standing at the top of a hill with the light behind him. I totter up to him and try not to squeak. He’s going to tell me about the waiting list, and that it’s only twenty years long.
The abbot has assigned you to me, he said.
I think I probably said EEEEP, because he said hastily, if that’s all right with you, of course.
Yes! I said. Yes! Yes! Thank you! Yes!
And I went home and thought Scary Alfrick. God definitely has a sense of humour.
That was five years ago. If anyone ever tried to take me away from Scary Alfrick I would bite them.
+ I’m afraid I’m a nasty old cynic, and it makes me laugh that the poor things are Benedictines, which means they’re required to be friendly, treating every stranger as Jesus, etc, it’s in the Benedictine contract. Every weepy, babbling lunatic off the street# including elderly recent converts with American accents, they have to welcome. But I didn’t know that then.
# Hmm. Maybe there’s something about all those road closures.~
~ But it doesn’t actually stop any of us. We keep coming. We just complain a lot.
^^ Although it was the blood-on-the-lintels Old Testament God rant in Exodus, speaking of rants, not my favourite part of the Bible. Especially not declaiming all that striking down of the first-born with the pronoun ‘I’.
% I can, you know, parse the whole ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise’ thing, but I don’t think this is the way to go about it in the twenty-first century. Maybe they needed it in the first century, which is a strong argument to me that we have changed a lot in the last two thousand years.^
^ However don’t get me started on translations.
%% Although it was also RAINING