Monday, August 27, 2012

A child's-eye Eucharist

I had an interesting experience at church yesterday - a first, I'd say, in 34 years. Instead of sitting in the front pew where I can hiss at the organist if he falls asleep, I was in the social area at the rear with an assortment of children. Two of them were with me; I'd taken the chance to have my granddaughters with me all morning and so was responsible for the smallest child present (Anna is 20 months old). As the older children actually do creative things during the service, I watched the tiny and joined in the singing in a faintly distracted fashion - and in a way, apart from greeting a different bunch of people at the Peace and going up to read because it was my turn, that was it.

Oh, I received the Sacrament, and it was lovely to have the weans blessed - but in fact I felt like a different person. Instead of being aware of every word, every nuance, every move in the Eucharist, I could hear practically nothing of what was said. My concentration was entirely taken up with the area around me and the small people in it, and if you asked me what the sermon was about I'd be hard pushed to tell you.Even the singing sounded a bit distant, and when I joined in I think I startled the children around me. What seemed important to me was that they were there, that they were happy, and that people seemed happy to see them. My two obviously felt relaxed and safe, and neither of them seemed inclined to make loud noises - not even Anna, who modulated her questions ("What's that?") to a suitable sotto voce. Catriona, the elder, who has just started school, was so engrossed in her colouring-in activity that she was still at it as the congregation came down to join them at coffee time; her only regret was that she couldn't dance in the aisle as her granddad played the organ.

So ...? So I think that the ministry exercised by those who work at the church experience for children is an amazing piece of giving - giving not only to the weans but also to the rest of the congregation, who are able to feel the joy of having children in church without the stress of wondering what they'll do next. So I think that if there is a facility like this in church, this is where parents of a young child should take that child rather than struggle with it in the pews where the battle distracts everyone around them. So I am really happy that this happens in my church, but equally happy that I personally don't have to do it every week.

For make no mistake: this is giving, self-giving with a vengeance.  And I thank God for it.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A trip worth making

I've been doing a bit of gadding this week. Two visits in three days to the Edinburgh Festival leaves this west coast resident a tad shattered, but before the madness of Cowal Games takes over (we usually escape, but that's another story) I felt the need to mention the concerts we attended. They were teatime affairs, an hour or so in the Kirk of the Greyfriars leaving the city-dwellers time to get to another concert and the migrants to catch the last ferry home. One was chosen on the basis of my preferences, the other for Mr B. The first was the wonderful Ricercar Consort performing Purcell and Blow, with the most stunning countertenor singing I've heard from Robin Blaze and Carlos Mena. I think I had a silly grin on my face for most of the hour, and the packed audience erupted in applause and foot-stamping at the end.

I was less sure I would enjoy the next concert, the world premiere of James MacMillan's Since it was the day of Preparation, performed by the Hebrides Ensemble and Synergy Vocals, but I need not have worried. You can find out about the piece itself through the video link above, but I'm interested right now in my own reaction to it. For a start, I wondered how much it mattered to me that not only the story but also the actual words were so familiar to me - and not just familiar, but important. John's Gospel account of the burial and resurrection of Christ triggers a movie in my head, one that ran gratefully with the music as accompaniment - would a piece based on Hindu scriptures have had the same impact? Throughout, I enjoyed the plainsong-like line of the narration - and then, during the final of several instrumental meditations, I was electrified to realise that the solo horn was playing fragments of the Exultet - this in a prolonged conclusion to the story that ends with the words "were every one of (the other things that Jesus did) to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written." The horn music kept disintegrating into incoherent burblings, even into barely audible puffs of air over the mouthpiece, so for someone who has sung the Exultet several times these phrases threw up an interesting train of thought - something along the lines that the Resurrection is a mystery that defies definition, but that nevertheless produces exultation.

The performance was wonderful. The singing was flawless, the instrumental music likewise. I loved the handbells (tapped, not rung, for the most part) as Christus sang, and the staging that had the tenor open the piece from halfway down the church. I'd have to hear it again to know how far it works for me as a purely musical experience - would I even hear the horn sighing, or the pianissimo cello, or would I wonder if something had gone wrong? - but I joined with everyone else in that (again) packed audience in rapturous applause at the end.

It had been worth the effort - even if we did have to wait 45 minutes for the last ferry.

Friday, August 17, 2012

This fasting caper ...

I wonder how many who are reading this saw the fascinating programme about fasting and ageing on the telly? I recorded it - presumably during the Olympics - and got round to watching it last night. Beginning with the aged (as in 101 years old) Sikh gentleman who completed the London marathon, who ate only child-sized portions of food and was very thin,  we were gradually convinced that it we were to cut out food altogether for 80 hours or so, or perhaps have two days a week with only one 500 calorie meal in each day - eating what we liked the rest of the week - we would lose weight, lower cholesterol, lower blood sugar: in short, we would become physically younger and fitter and less likely to fall ill.

Of course we know we in the West eat far too much. Apparently our bodies were built to expect lean times - perhaps we weren't fast enough to catch up with dinner for a couple of days - and malfunction if these days of forced fasting don't happen.  I was so convinced I was tempted to try the 500 calorie days idea - until I went through a day with it in mind.

Today I swam half a mile before breakfast, which I then felt hungry for and consequently enjoyed enormously. I worked with my brain through a three-hour meeting, ate some brown bread straight out of the machine along with 4 dates and a banana, then pounded up a steep forestry track for half an hour and down again, hurrying because I wanted to be at church in time. And then I cooked the above delicious dinner (salmon, spiced lentils, mint yogurt dressing, salad, glass of white wine) and wondered how I'd do this fasting caper.

I guess one has to find out if intense physical activity is possible while fasting, and to plan what mealtime you'd choose for your one meal of the day. I suspect mine would be the evening meal, simply because of the social conditioning that makes it a ritual pleasure.

How about you? Anyone?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Of broom pods, technology, and speed

After a week of glorious sunshine and pleasing photos, why do I post this pic of black broom pods? Ok - it's because it suits my mood at the moment. The bush in question is in Ardentinny, on one of my favourite paths through the fields by the shore, leading to the beach. Today, there was a notice warning that the brambles (not yet ripe) should not be picked because chemical spraying was in progress. The path was lined with the dead remains of plants that had, admittedly, been encroaching on the narrow track, but surely they could have used a strimmer? It looked so miserable ...

And then we passed the sign that says "No Camping. No fires." We came to the beach. I expected people - it's Saturday, and the weather all week has been glorious. But there were tents - at least half a dozen of them - and at least two fires, and noisy groups already getting wellied into the sauce. A north-east wind was blowing, the clouds were hanging on the hills just thickly enough to dim the sunshine that I knew was shining hotly in my own garden. It was depressing and horrid and we came straight home again. Black broom pods ruled.

And then one of these delightful technology moments came just in time to lift my mood. I had a video chat with Jurij, a musician in St Petersburg - someone I've known for ten years or so, but have never Skyped until today. The ability to see someone while you talk to them makes communication so much more effective than either emails or voice chat - if you can speak a bit of a foreign language, ask yourself how well you write it - and we were able to clear up some difficulties in arranging a concert in Dunoon (Jurij directs Voskresenije, the vocal ensemble who will soon be back touring the UK) with great good humour.

That, and Mo Farah's Olympic triumph, banished the black pod mood. On the other hand, the two events meant that a blog post begun 5 hours ago is now being finished at midnight. And I'm aware it's a tad scrappy. But at least I'm not mad any more. Let not the sun go down on your black pod moments ...