When we’re knocking at the door?
With a thousand million questions
About hate and death and war.
I've never been a great church-goer. I remember being sent to Sunday school back in about 1965, running away from it and spending the afternoon hiding in a tree. Don't ask me why, maybe I was showing distinct pagan sympathies even then. Anyway, I found myself getting up early this morning to accompany Mrs Dave to her local church.
Notice I said "her" as she is a Catholic and I am not. Also, along with Father Dougal, I have a problem with all that "believing and stuff". However, despite not being a left-footer, I guess I felt guilty after spending most of dinner last night taking the mickey out of her. She had to read at church for the Palm Sunday service. There were to be three of them. Someone was reading the narrator, the Priest rather obviously, was reading the Big Fella's lines and she had to read all the other parts - Simon, the crowds, Pilate etc. I tried to get her to produce a range of different voices but mostly it tended to be of the Life of Brian variety along with John Wayne's "Awe, surely he was the son of God" ("A little more awe, John") from The Greatest Story Ever Told. So off to church we went this fine Spring morning after scraping the snow off the car.
I have obviously never been to a Palm Sunday service before in my life, certainly not a Catholic one. It must have been the strangest service I have ever been to. Now, as I have mentioned, I've never been a great church-goer. The last proper C of E service I went to must have been my father's funeral back in 1989, although my mother's was a C of E one but it was at the Crematorium and I chose the music. Every other church service I have been to since the late 1970s has been a Catholic one. I'm not a believer but I have done the real stations of the cross, visited yer man's birthplace (banged my head going down to it as they've built a church on top of it), stood in his tomb and climbed to Golgotha. But the most mystical and spiritually uplifting place I've ever been in is the Dome of the Rock at Temple Mount. It was nice shuffling about in bare feet amongst so many genuinely devout believers. Anyway, finding myself in church this morning, I, mercifully with merino walking socks and Gore-Tex boots on, realised that there's always something new to experience.
Firstly, all the crucifixes were covered over with shrouds, even the one on the stick at the front of the procession. It looked like they'd been spring cleaning and forgot to take them off. I think it's all the ceremony that I have a problem with. There was no music to guide our singing although a few people knew when to spontaneously start. Whenever I try singing in church I always think of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. That's me, that is. Evidently there was no music because of the weather - nobody had turned up. Palm Sunday is supposed to be one of the big services leading up to the Easter one but the church was fairly empty today. Still, we were given palms to wave about at the start, that was thoughtful as unlike the crowds waiting for Jesus, we didn't bring our own along.
So, whilst Mrs Dave was up on stage refusing to perform a range of voices which might have relieved the boredom for the assembled (small) crowd. At one point nobody knew what to do so there was a bit of bobbing up and down. I was bobbed up when I should have been bobbing down. But no one really got it right and on it went. Meanwhile, I did what I usually do in these circumstances - I start thinking about the big questions in life. What if there really is a God? When will we have peace on Earth? What shall I cook for breakfast? Whatever happened to Dwight Yoakham? Then my eye was attracted to the stained glass windows. They are quite nice ones from 1906. Under some of the windows were names of what I took to be Saints: Mark, the patron saint of notaries, Anthony of which there are several (my favourite being the hermit) but St MacDonald? Perhaps he was a wandering Scot who managed to be there in Jerusalem for the Crucifixion. They all have their own symbols: Mark with a book, Anthony of Padua a donkey and MacDonald a pair of golden arches?
After much speculation and deep thought, and a better look, I realised that it was probably the name of the artist who made the windows, Mark Anthony Macdonald. After a quick Google when I got home, I discovered this: The stained glass window depicts the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary and was donated by the widow of Mark Anthony MacDonnell, a former MP and a Medical Officer in Liverpool who died in 1906. So I guess it was someone trying to buy her husband's way into heaven. And these new glasses may not be right.
There was another slightly bizarre incident when a bunch of children came in with banners saying things like Hosanna and Yay! Jesus or something. Then they hung a naff drawing of Jesus on a donkey and lots of writing about people shouting "Crucify him!" over the front of the altar whilst the Priest prepared a quick breakfast. Obviously, I can't have any of that as I'm an infidel. We had to all shake hands and mumble, "Peace be with you" which is always nice and optimistic, especially with all the "King of Israel" stuff they sing about given the state of that strange country. The priest looked at a mother whose child had taken to screaming with gusto because of complete boredom with a look of benign contempt and then it was all over. After another hymn that seemed to start spontaneously sung a cappella we all trundled out into the snow.
Once again, an opportunity for Enlightenment passed by. No big questions answered, really. At home I decided to cook a full English breakfast and if I can be bothered later, I can always look up Dwight's fate. According to the news, there's no peace on Earth in the offing currently, I'm afraid.