It’s a funny thing about having a “quiet” weekend planned; how often it turns out to be nothing of the kind… Although gardening, shopping, washing, sewing, and cleaning don’t in themselves sound terribly overwhelming, nonetheless I feel this week as if I need a break after my time off. Not that work is providing it – it has been hectic so far, yesterday and today. I’ve had a nasty bout of cystitis, too, which doesn’t help matters, but that is now easing off. I gave myself a thoroughly stiff back gardening for most of Saturday, as well as getting badly-scratched hands and arms (lots of brambles) and breaking most of my fingernails. But it felt wonderful to get out in the open and get my hands in the dirt. The weather was fine and dry, and more rain is forecast for later this week, so I started clearing the ground and put in some annual seeds – I have more to plant as soon as possible, but simply ran out of time (and lumbar strength). I discovered we have the dreaded Fallopia japonica aka Japanese knotweed, aargh, so that was A Bad Thing; but also found a small and runty Kerria japonica aka batchelors’ buttons or Abraham’s buttonhole, a funny straggly flowering shrub that I happen to be very fond of and intend to nurture, and some self-sown calendulas, which were A Good Thing. Having a garden to work in is going to be marvellous, if exhausting, and a time-consuming challenge to my desire to do more creative work – but then, gardening is creative too, isn’t it?
Sunday night I was sitting doing some peaceful sewing and drinking glass upon glass of water (really the only measure that works with cystitis), and playing some music. I decided to have a little lieder recital and played several of my favourite baritone’s cds, one after another; I think this probably qualifies as the musical equivalent of wallowing in melted chocolate! I finished off with a Naxos disc recorded some years ago, of songs by Vaughan Williams, featuring Favourite Baritone singing alongside Anthony Rolfe-Johnson (not Favourite Tenor, sadly, but I guess Mr Langridge can’t be everywhere). But I had to stop just over halfway through the disc because I was so blown away by one particular group of songs that I didn’t want anything more after that.
The item in question was the setting of Five Mystical Songs by George Herbert. It’s odd, I’ve heard this recording before, yet suddenly I was simply knocked out by this particular section. I suppose it was partly because it’s spring, and the first two of these are Easter songs, with spring imagery of flowers and sunlight and celebratory praise; and partly because I had been out in the garden, which always puts me into a rapturous and mystical frame of mind. The third song, “Love bade me welcome”, is so beautiful, and so beautifully sung, it is heart-stopping, and the ecstatic joy of the final Antiphon (“Let all the world in every corner sing/ My God and King!”) was so uplifting I wanted to leap up and dance (but couldn’t because my lap was full of needlework).
It set me to thinking, and has been on my mind ever since. Oddly enough, there is an article in today’s Grauniad about the same issues. Wish I knew how to paste a hyperlink in here - but in my continuing ignorance, I can only offer the address
What the heck is a person with a strong spiritual pull in their heart to make of the world's big religions, when each one contains issues that they simply can’t adhere to? I ended up declaring myself a pagan; but over the years I have found paganism, rambling and disorganised as it is as a tradition, to be just as riddled with ideas I can’t handle, insipid bullshit, and sectarian sniping between different groups, as all the Big Guns of organised religion. Most of the other self-declared pagans I have met promptly assume I must belong to their particular sect or thread or path, and then take issue with me when I don’t. Other religious people either tell me I am damned, or else expect me to be some kind of fundamentalist anti-male nutcase who spells women wymyn or wummon or womb-in and wears long robes and dreadlocks (& oh lor’, don’t dreadlocks look naff in white people’s hair?!), and carries a crystal-studded staff, and attends a coven; and I’m not, and I don’t, and I don’t, and - Oh boy what can I say?…
I don’t think God is a woman, any more than I think God is a man, and I cringe at the saccharine New Age usage of "Spirit" (as in "Spirit guided me to this") to mean God because we-mustn't-say-God-anymore; although I’m certainly a feminist I’m not anti-men, indeed I actually like men; I think writing “wimmin” and suchlike variations is a silly bit of tokenism and a ridiculous attack on the ever-developing and beautiful corpus of my native language; I’m no more comfortable with a lot of pagan ritual than I am with any other, and am acutely conscious of how much of it was written less than twenty years ago by well-meaning Californians with far higher embarrassment-thresholds than mine; oh what the heck am I, spiritually speaking?
I wish I did not have such a problem with Christianity; give me something like those Five Mystical Songs, passionate meditations on divine love and the beauty of creation, and I have no problem at all. I gallop gladly through that paddock – but then give me someone telling me I have to accept Jesus as the son of god, and my personal saviour, and my reason balks at the jump; and let them tell me I have to obey (- obey anyone, pretty much), and I throw my rider and flee, snorting with a mixture of dread and derision. Conceptually speaking, obedience and I do not get along well together. It’s a fundamental problem, since clearly “Jesus as my personal saviour and the son of god” is something of a central tenet of Christianity, and I can’t accept it; yet the ideas that the gospels report Jesus as teaching ring true to me.
Fiddlesticks, this is too complicated for a blogg entry. Forgive me; I am rambling nonsensically, and should learn to control my tendency to be prolix.