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Church And Hymns And The Call To God On A Sunday Night

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An evening church service is a favourite of mine – even as a child. However, it has fallen out of favour and is no longer regularly offered.

Trusty Google helped me find one last Sunday. Not only an Evensong, but a Choral Evensong. And not only choral, but it was dedicated as a Remembrance Evensong. I was coming in, out of the cold, in style.

It was held in St. George’s Church – also know as the Round Church for its shape. www.roundchurch.ca

I had been in the church as a tourist, but not for years. A 5pm service in November got me there at dusk. It is a large church, complete with upper balconies. It is close in proximity to the Halifax naval yard, and I wondered if there would be some military presence. As it was, an officer in uniform read a lesson, while a military chaplain gave the sermon.

Not having been to an Evensong for decades, I don’t know if it was a large or small congregation. My guess is there were thirty or so people present, plus 10 in the choir, plus 2 ministers, 1 verger and the organist/choir director.

I would say that Evensong is a modified Morning service, perhaps more fitting for the time of day. In addition to a choral choir singing selections on their own, there were hymns that are favourites of mine. “Oh God, Our Help In Ages Past”  “Abide With Me” and three (3) stanzas of “God Save The Queen”. How close to heaven can one monarchist get?

As an added surprise (which would have made my father ecstatic) it was a High Church Anglican church, and even had incense. Perhaps that explained the choral choir.

At the end, after the procession had left, the large and booming organ belted out a selection by César Franck – Pièce Héroïque“. Members of the choir returned and sat in pews to listen.

When it was completed and people started to leave, I had a tiny ageist and sexist lapse. Two little, white-haired ladies got out of their pew to leave. Walking slowly before me, they talked of the music. I thought they were going to complain about the (admittedly) lengthy organ recital.

“Oh, that music,” said one.

“Yes,” said the other, nodding.

“It’s one of my favourite pieces.”

“I know what you mean.”

DE

Christmas Is A Pagan Feast Upon Which Jesus Smiles

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“The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.”

~ Clement Clarke Moore

 

Christmas is a fake that has taken root like the holly, and it survives tenaciously. It has become a goodies grab fest, and helps keep our commercial society stable. Perhaps reason enough to exist.

The wily Christians conquered the outnumbered Celts, and supplanted their winter festival with the birth of their God. The wily pagans live on in the numerous traditions the Christians stole, so perhaps it is a fair trade. And no doubt those wily pagans chuckle over their cups o’mead, noting that this celebration of reverence has become a surfeit of greed.

I have been no fan of Christmas for decades, but its mixed legacy encourages me not to abandon it. My Christian background enhances my enjoyment of the music and traditions. Most commercial intrusions can be muted or turned off. I do have some personal traditions I follow religiously.

I do not even rail against Santa Claus. I heard his sleigh bells one Christmas Eve, when I was four. I saw his sleigh runner tracks in the snow a couple of years later.

I have even been mistaken for Santa a couple of times. Once, in the line-up in a bank near Christmas, a two-year old pointed at me. Unfortunately, my presence terrified him, and he started to scream and cry. I was wise enough not to go Ho Ho Ho. Another time – but this happened in early fall – a family approached me as I walked in a park. A boy, who looked to be six or seven, stopped in his tracks, then ran back to his parents. “Santa Claus!”  He pointed. Happily he did not cry. They walked past me in silence.

Also, for decades, I lived close to a residence where one of the very first recitations of ‘Twas The Night Before Christmas happened. The author of that stirring piece, Clement Moore, who wrote it in 1822, sent a copy to his godfather, the Rev Johnathan O’Dell, of Fredericton New Brunswick. However, the poem was not published until 1837.

But, this year, I heed the whims of Christmas Present, who snicked me up the side of the head in a grocery store on the weekend. I went looking for milk, as the in-store sound system blared “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Clause”. When I took out my container of 2% partially skimmed milk, and looked at the best by date, it said December 24. Christmas Eve. Still magical after all these years.

I hummed along about Mommy and Santa and then purchased a personal Christmas treat, which I would normally get a week before the day. Italian Panettone Classico, a fruit cake chock-a-block full of raisins, candied orange peel, eggs and sourdough and (they tell me) natural flavour. I have already had a generous slice.

Why wait for Christmas?

And, I’m not a total Scrooge, as I have written some Christmas tales.  Here is a wee segment from The Elephant Talks To God:

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“I want to see you,” said the elephant, and the words raced from his mouth. “I don’t have to see you, you know that. I’ve believed even before you talked to me. But I want to see you, it would mean so much. I wasn’t around for the Baby, but cows and sheep and things got to see Him. I can’t explain but it would … ”

“Go home,” said the cloud.

“You’re not angry with me?” said the elephant.

“No.” The cloud started moving away. “It’s an honest request.” The rain stopped falling. “Thank you for coming.”

“You’re welcome,” said the elephant.

“Sing some carols,” the voice was distant. “I like them.”

The elephant turned and started through the woods. He ignored the tasty leaves within easy reach and the tall grass near the brook. He wanted to get home as quickly as possible so he could join the singing he knew was happening later in the evening.

He turned along the trail, snapping a branch here and there in his haste, when he noticed the stillness, the hush which had overtaken the forest. He slowed down and the stopped in his tracks. He turned his head, his small eyes squinting into the brush. There was movement coming toward him, and when the trees parted, he went to his knees with a gasp. Tears rolled from his eyes, and a golden trunk gently wiped them away.*

*Last line edited from an error in the book.

The Elephant Talks To God on Amazon: http://www.amazon.ca/The-Elephant-Talks-Dale-Estey/dp/0864924593

DE

 

Scaring Shit Out Of Kids At Halloween

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I like Halloween, though I am more prone to appreciate its origins and the additions imposed by those wily Christians, than either on its own. This blend with the new, upstart religion actually keeps alive the foundation of the old. Druids became priests and all’s well with the world. Amen and pass the hollow turnip.

I once had an apartment at the top of a darkened, high-ceiling flight of stairs. Even people who knew me, and came to call, commented that the entrance could make them a tad nervous. It was perfect as an entrance for those trick-or-treaters who dared to try.

As the gates between death and life nudged open a bit, I replaced the usual light bulb with a black light. I spaced a few candles from midway up the steps. I had a prominent jack o’ lantern sitting on a chair at the top landing. I placed a speaker  in the vicinity of the grinning pumpkin and favoured loud Satie, Night On Bald Mountain, Gregorian Chants, and like-minded music. I also had a nice bowl of treats at the top of the stairs, and all who reached it were welcome to take what they wanted.

I had few takers.

One year, when the weather was warm enough to leave the top door open, I sat and listened to the passing traffic of costumed trick-or-treaters. At one point four or so teens clustered at the bottom door. They were in conversation.

“OK. That’s spooky.”

“What’s that music?”

“Are there any other lights in the window?” [Actually there were – candles.]

“You going up?”

You go up!”

“I don’t think so.”

“Hell, no.”

And they didn’t.

DE

Kites Fly Over Religion And History

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I was writing the last quarter of a novel. Lots of intensive work in the course of a day. I usually try for a couple hours of walking outside, but it doesn’t always happen. One day, in a later evening than usual for me, I set out for a wander in the immediate neighbourhood.

A reasonable walk away is a small park, run (it is obvious) by the Roman Catholic church. Three park benches, one picnic table, trees and flower beds. There is also a statue of the Virgin Mary in blue vestments. At the foot of the statue are two objects from the Halifax Explosion. One is part of one of the ships that collided and caused the conflagration, the other is part of a church destroyed in the explosion.

Now this is a pleasant place to sit regardless. However, it does hold two connections to my novels. In one novel, I have a significant and spectral occurrence happen at the foot of the statue of a Blue Angel. In another novel, the Halifax Explosion plays its part. I had written both these novels before I ever saw this small park.

So, I sat myself down. I imagine I go there four or five times a year. It is quiet and encourages contemplation. I contemplate. I doubt I have ever seen more than three other people there at any time. I was alone. I assumed that I would remain this way.

I was wrong.

In fifteen minutes or so a gaggle (or a giggle) of young girls appeared. Easily two dozen. None looked older than ten. They were accompanied by four adults. They all held a kite of identical construction. They were let loose to fly them.

A few of the girls were wearing a sash, and a couple more had badges on their shirts. I assumed they were some sort of Brownie troupe. Don’t Brownies fly up? At any rate they all started to run about, encouraged by the adults. If nothing else it was great exercise. It was a windy evening and they had some success with their kites. A handful got the hang of it and kept their kites more aloft than not. Of course, I got hit in the head by one of them. The child apologised. Otherwise I was ignored.

I bet with myself how long this activity would last. I won. Less than fifteen minutes. Then the girls banded in twos and threes and talked. As did the four adults. One girl started to do cartwheels – quite successfully. The girls walked around in groups, talking and giggling. A few sat on the grass. A few did try the kites again, but not for long. One girl somehow got the string leading to her kite caught in her hair. Two of the adults tried to untangle it, with limited success. I heard one of them say they would have to use scissors when they got back to the church. Then, being told to hold hands with their ‘partner’, they all left the park.

I followed soon after. I might not have got my usual bout of contemplation, but my mind was still occupied by other than my usual thoughts. A fair exchange.

DE

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