Whilst this post is still about Ash Wednesday, because it deals with the two communion services we subsequently attended, I thought I’d separate it out. You see the rather wonderful ‘Ash and Go’, nicknamed by Michelle Fillingham, outside the Abbey was great, it was interesting, humorous, serious, respectful, all of these things but it was, by its nature, quick.
I loved the deep meaningful conversations that occurred and for myself I felt held by Grace, however what happened in the Abbey went much deeper. Our new vicar is a deeply spiritual man and his spiritual connection oozes into everything that goes on around him.
We took the cross into the Abbey to see it stand proudly to the side of both services. We had similar conversations about it’s all terrain capability, due to its wheel, how heavy it was and also health and safety, in case it fell over. It remained silent, a symbol made from humble recycled wood, some glue and a few bolts and screws. Indeed I believe it is St Paul who mentions its very being is foolish, for who could believe that the very worst symbol for the Jewish race could ever be used by God to make such a statement? Yet statement it is, and symbol it is, and it stood silently for that very reason. As appears common in many Christian events, those who normally run large companies, sales teams, multi-national projects etc lose all ability relating to timing, slide presentation and indeed most things inside the building. I have never quite worked out if this is God humbling folk or just a reflection of folk achieving great things in the outside world, despite their abilities? However in visiting a service, any service, unless you are deeply unlucky, expect to see things go wrong and to feel aghast they occur. After a while it becomes just the way it is and everything works despite it. So there were the odd mistake, such as forgetting to arrange someone to read the bible reading, soon rectified, and an air of bewilderment as several folk were unexpectedly nominated as a, b or c etc, without any background information. Was this the start of entering heaven, would the d be first and the a last or was it more Orwellian? It soon transpired than these were different voices in the service, making it seem more inclusive and it worked well, very well indeed. It reminded me of last years visit to Iona where the leader was clearly equal to the congregation and needed to humbly accept their permission to talk, having accepted they were as broken as everyone there. It would be wonderful if this practice was more wide spread, inclusivity rather than exclusivity. I feel very lucky to be in a spiritual place where it is becoming so evident.
Now I may have mentioned that my singing ability is less than zero but if I haven’t I do now. I still remember a good friend, a minister, cheerfully encouraging me to stay for Evensong a few years back on the basis that everyones voice is beautiful to God. They made the error of also standing next to me and after an hour or so of me giving it my best with gusto, as the service ended, they noted, ‘you really can’t sing can you’! However as Oliver stood up, without music, to begin a chant, I felt a wave of the Spirit flood over me. I hid it well but for no known reason I stood with tears on my cheeks. That God shaped hole I believe is in all of us suddenly filled and my very being was overcome. ‘Bless the Lord my soul’ and my soul leaped and in that moment I felt loved. Now that is probably a weird thing to try and describe but in my pre-Christian life I had experienced that same feeling. A sense of being overwhelmed, of being loved, often outside amongst the sheer beauty of our Earth, what many describe as ‘being spiritual’. That is certainly how I would have described it before I realised that it had a name and that name was the purest Love. Thus in both services I felt privileged to be there, this isn’t about duty, some dry Levitical observance of a commandment to go to church. This is about a relationship, about a two way partnership between a physical being and a metaphysical one, and it is difficult not to both enthuse about it but also miss it should it be absent. Thus as the evening service closed, both my wife and I having been up for over fifteen hours, we both felt the passage shown talking directly to us. God is the God of our pilgrimage, this Love is the bread of Heaven and he both refreshed and sustained us. I’ll probably discuss this in my next blog but part of me is struggling with fear, anxiety and worry. My sleep is disturbed and each night I feel like a storm rages outside and about me. We will go ahead but so much of me feels like a youth who waited to have a bomb go off. That never happened and most of my fears will pass into the ether but these services pushed that fear to one side and they did so with a majestic shove. We are all Loved and what better place can there be to both start and end our day?