Sunday, 17 June 2012

The Quiet Way, the Open Road

The things people say sometimes linger in my mind so that I go on thinking about them for ages and ages. 

During the week I visited with a friend who lives just nearby a church where they still have the Book of Common Prayer (1662) as their worship book.   I love the old prayer book, the wisdom and humanity of Thomas Cranmer & co, and really appreciate the opportunities as they come to join in the forms of worship that recall days now for the most part vanished.  Of course in a traditional church like that, women priests aren’t part of the agenda.  They do have a lady deacon though and, as they’re in an interregnum just now, she was the officiant for Evensong, which I went to with my friend after we had a cup of tea together in her home.

And while we were drinking our tea, my friend (musing on the present state of this particular church) touched upon the limitation to women’s ministry there, not complaining but with a tinge of sadness and frustration.  As she talked about it, she spoke of the attitude of the lady deacon, who had said to her: “I know my place”. 

And those are the words that have lingered on in my mind: “I know my place.”

This morning (Sunday) I went to the 8am Mass at our church – which is Church of England but the Catholic end of things.  As I sat quietly in my seat before worship opened, being aware of the early sunshine flooding onto us through the coloured glass of the east window, and the carved wood of the new statue of Our Lady, and the pale stone of the pillars, and the rich cloth of the altar, our priest in his vestments and his lady curate in hers sitting in their stalls waiting for the clock to ring the hour, I turned those words over in my mind, “I know my place.”

I thought about our lady curate, now a deacon and in formation for priesthood.  She has chosen her place and knows it.

I thought of Amish women, under the authority of their husbands, living within the wisdom of the Ordnung in a world of segregated tasks.  They know their place.

I thought of the prioress of the Carmelite sisters with whom we will stay when we go to take the stained glass panel next month.  Her vocation seems to me very secure, and with humility she accepts the ministry of the priest who comes into the community to celebrate the mass for them.  She has no wish to usurp his authority, and embraces with reverence the hierarchy and dogma of the Catholic church.  She knows her place.

My mind looks beyond to Thich Nhat Hanh, revered leader of his community at Plum Village, books on the Buddhist way and practice streaming from his pen, advising with humour, wisdom, gentleness and experience how to conduct oneself according to the Noble Eightfold Path, the Five Precepts, the Triple Refuge and all the rest of it.  He knows his place.

I look back to yesterday lunchtime when the Badger and I ate with dear friends who spoke of the reservations their eldest son feels about the faith journey they have made, away from their conservative Evangelical roots to a more inclusive style of church, prompted significantly by the need to find a faith community that could offer a welcome to their youngest son, who is gay.  But their eldest stands firm on the ground of the traditions in which he was brought up.  He knows his place.

And as I turned these things over in my mind I realised, I do not know my place.  I’m not at all sure I actually have one; only a journey.  The impermanence of everything is very apparent to me.  I do not share the view that this earth is all illusion, but I see that in the eternal scale of things it is fragile and transient.

I attach no value (personally) to priesthood or monastic vows or Amish community – I mean, I revere them, delight in them and love them, but they are not for me.

Catholic, Evangelical, Church of England – I can see a value in the different worship streams, and I likewise hold very precious the dharma of the Buddhist and Taoist ways.  But I do not recognise in any of them what I would call “my place”.

If I had to identify a place for myself here on earth, there are some scriptures and old hymns that speak my mind:

How dear to me is your dwelling,O Lord of hosts!
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. 
The sparrow has found her an house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God. 
Happy are they who dwell in your house!
They will always be praising you. 
Happy are the people whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way. 
Those who go through the desolate valley
will find it a place of springs,
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
(from Psalm 84, the Book of Common Prayer translation)
I can identify with the sparrow, the swallow, that asks to make her nest under the eaves of that great establishment of God’s Temple on earth – the church.  In it or maybe under its wing, but not of it somehow.
Then there’s the hymn (Orlando Gibbons wrote the beautiful melody to which it’s set) that Henry Baker translated from an unknown source for Hymns Ancient & Modern in 1861:
Jesu, grant me this, I pray,
Ever in Thy heart to stay;
Let me evermore abide
Hidden in Thy wounded side.

If the evil one prepare,
Or the world, a tempting snare,
I am safe when I abide
In Thy heart and wounded side.

If the flesh, more dangerous still,
Tempt my soul to deeds of ill,
Naught I fear when I abide
In Thy heart and wounded side.

Death will come one day to me;
Jesu, cast me not from Thee:
Dying let me still abide
In Thy heart and wounded side.

“In Thy heart and wounded side” – that feels like something I could embrace as a permanent choice, somewhere of which I could say “I know my place”.

And this hymn, by J. Conder, that also found its way into Hymns Ancient and Modern, from the Congregational Hymnbook:
Bread of heaven on Thee we feed,
For Thou art our food indeed;
Ever may our souls be fed
With this true and living Bread,
Day by day with strength supplied,
Through the life of Christ who died.

Vine of heaven, Thy love supplies
This blest cup of sacrifice;
'Tis Thy wounds our healing give;
To Thy cross we look and live:
Thou our life! O let us be
Rooted, grafted, built on Thee.

“Thou our life! O let us be rooted, grafted, built on Thee.” Those words sometimes come into my mind as a prayer, and offer a concept of which I could indeed say “I know my place” – rooted, grafted, built on Thee.

But I can go no further than that really.  For the rest, the friend that speaks my mind is the writer to the Hebrews:
For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no abiding city, but we seek the city which is to come.  (Hebrews 13:11-14)

Another hymn comes to mind, that I knew only in childhood – we use to sing it at the primary school I attended.  They called it “The Seekers”, and it was not in a hymn book.  We copied it into our exercise books off the blackboard.
Only searching for the full text of it now do I discover it was a setting of a poem by John Masefield.  Our school followed Dyson’s substitution of “But the hope, the burning hope, and the road, the open road” and “the hidden beauty”, for Masefield’s original “But the hope of the City of God at the other end of the road” and “a hidden city”; and these words spoke to my soul.

Friends and loves we have none, nor wealth nor blessed abode,
But the hope, the burning hope, and the road, the open road. 

Not for us are content, and quiet, and peace of mind,
For we go seeking a city that we shall never find. 

There is no solace on earth for us – for such as we –
Who search for the hidden beauty that eyes may never see. 

Only the road and the dawn, the sun, the wind, and the rain,
And the watch fire under stars, and sleep, and the road again. 

We seek the City of God, and the haunt where beauty dwells,
And we find the noisy mart and the sound of burial bells. 

Never the golden city, where radiant people meet,
But the dolorous town where mourners are going about the street.

We travel the dusty road till the light of the day is dim,
And sunset shows us spires away on the world's rim. 

We travel from dawn to dusk, till the day is past and by,
Seeking the Holy City beyond the rim of the sky. 

Friends and loves we have none, nor wealth nor blest abode,
But the hope, the burning hope, and the road, the open road.

I believe that in the Buddhist way there is a concept, "Going home", which explores the phenomenon familiar to many of us that in the ideological journey we make in a lifetime, we often end up at the place we started from, yet it is not the same - not because where we started from is any different but because we ourselves have changed.

Going Home.  The hope, the burning hope, and the road, the open road.  Here we have no abiding city.  Rooted, grafted, built on Thee.  In Thy heart and wounded side. The sparrow has found her an house.  I know my place.  Or not.  Hmm. 

I'm changing
That's all it is
I'm just changing    (Sarah Joyce) 


365 366 Day 169 – Sunday June 17th

Actually to be fair I’m not sure this should have gone in the list, because we later decided that to make our living room comfortable we do need a sofa, just not this one.  But at the time it went on its way we had no particular intention of replacing it, so I guess it can stay in.  Things come and they go here.  We just try to keep it so that they don’t accumulate.

365 366 Day 168 – Saturday June 16th

I hung onto these books longer than most.  The one at the back, Living Buddha Living Christ, is an excellent work by Thich Nhat Hanh.  It’s gone to a friend training as a Methodist Local Preacher.  God bless her studies and her ministry.  The other two I hung onto as resource books because I did so want to write a sequel to The Clear Light of Day.  I had it all planned out and started.  But insufficient people bought that novel for a sequel to be required.   I don’t personally own a bicycle.  Sending these two books on cycle maintenance on their way was all part of a larger picture of putting a tired old dream to rest.

365 366 Day 167 – Friday June 15th 

The Badger did some research on our house insurance a while back and discovered that we could drastically reduce our premium by changing our insurers, but that the new firm would require a more challenging front door lock than the straightforward one we had.  This was my key to the old lock, but there’s more to it than that.  The Badger ordered a lock and keys for all of us from the locksmith, but when the man came to fit the lock he’d forgotten about the extra keys.  Of course we could easily go to the shop and get some, but I thought why bother?  If the rest of the household is out and the door locked, I can just as easily go in at the back door.  So when I threw away (metal recycling) my old front door key, I no longer had a key to the front door at all.  I think that earned it its place here.  It’s also here as an example of clutter that accumulates, in that at the beginning of this year I had several keys (I think  still have two) that had quietly gathered in my life without my being able to remember what on earth they were supposed to open.   There is an Eternal Mystery that is essential to meaningful life and a Pointless Mystery like having a key when you’ve forgotten what it’s for.  Avoiding Pointless Mystery is a happy by-product of chucking stuff out.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I can so relate to your post about "Knowing and not knowing my place". I think there are as many paths to God as there are people on this earth, and we all have to find our own way. In my experience, the spiritual journey is a lonely one, or should I say, a solitary one. I attend church here and there, but do it mostly for the communion with wonderful people. I no longer believe I can find God there exclusively, not any more than in nature or anywhere else. I turn inward during my meditations and try to listen to my inner teacher for guidance and insights. It is a journey, and there are days where I feel I take one step forward and six back. All I wanted to say is: enjoy your journey, it is the right one for you, and you are in the right place where you need to be. You have found your place.
Namaste, Ruth

Ember said...

:0) Hi Ruth - waving! x

Anonymous said...

Looking for our place? I must share Pen, that I find myself in complete solitude during this journey towards Our Savior. It has to be solitary, because each journey is unique to each one of us.

Right now mine is taking me towards church for the fellowship...but not exclusively.

I know that there is only one way, since He was adamant about sharing it with each one of us...but it is while walking that specific Way, that we need to go inward and hear Him fully.

by the way...thank you for your lovely letter and for the heart. It was such a joy when I received it yesterday :)


Buzzfloyd said...

I really like this poem! Many years ago, I told you that whenever I hear the 'no abiding city' passage from Hebrews, I always think of you, and you told me that you identify with it and tried to sing 'The Seekers' to me, but couldn't remember most of it. I had forgotten all about that until now.

Pilgrim said...

Maybe the idea of geographical place has always been important, but it seems more so, in a U.S. culture of increasing mobility. There are a number of writers who focus on it as a theme; Scott Russell Sanders and Wendell Berry come to mind.

Recently I've been thinking about the idea of place as a point in, or segment of time. Usually people speak of time and place, as if they're two different ways of orienting oneself.

I vaguely remember reading something by N.T. Wright that illustrated this notion--time/history being literary, and indidviduals appear and disappear along its continuum, as it moves along. We each have our place on the continuum of time.

Having become interested in the monastical "Hours", I find these two concepts of time play off each other in interesting ways.

I wonder if you think about time as having places, and if you know yours. :-)

Ember said...

Hi friends :0)

Maria - complete solitude? When I read your blog I see encouraging comments, and I know you have found encouragement from the journeys of others - eg the Innermost House conversations on Facebook. Sometimes it feels lonely, but I think there are companions on the journey. God bless you, friend xxx

Buzzfloyd - hiya :0) Yes, it was a difficult tune and I still can't remember it.

Pilgrim - :0) Hi friend - I think of time as spherical rather than linear, with the cross of Jesus at the centre focusing all that is in communion. Interesting to think about time as place. I'd like to hear more of your thoughts on that x