Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Message from Dr. Bob.

So it's my turn to take on the august mantle of resident blogguer (Bloggiste?) for today. I have secretly been dreading this; not so much the fear of saying something stupid - which I am now well practised in doing - but of the whole technology thing. At heart I am a pencil and paper kind of guy. I have also been wondering what to say over the past few weeks and generally have drawn a bit of a blank. However last weekend was a bit of an Epiphany so I thought I would share it with you. Which means that it is a bit about my church but generally about THE church.

Last week end was the flower festival at our church - how Anglican is that! The weather was fine and the church which was first built in 1145 looked absolutely beautiful in that quintessentially English village kind of way. There was even cricket being played in the park across the road. The theme of the festival was Noah's Ark because we had been remembering the fact that a year ago the village had suffered from the severe floods that struck our part of Yorkshire. My major memory of last year was helping to carry five coffins across from the undertakers as their chapel of rest began to flood. For several weeks last year we got used to the presence of the dead lying at peace in our lady chapel - just by the tombs of George Washington's mediaeval ancestors.

The floods caused a lot of disruption and there are still people who have not been able to return to their home one year on. But last week was one of those times when the power of myth showed itself to be incredibly strong. The story of Noah -and the epic of Gilgamesh I suppose- clearly speak of some distant memory of a disaster in the Near East. It reads like a folk-tale but it had a resonance for the people of our village. It made me think about how those other improbable tales speak into people's lives. I often wonder how differently the story of the fiery furnace reads now to those who have survived the holocaust. How powerful poetic truth is in speaking to us in times of crisis.

But, to get back to the flower festival: it was beautiful and gentle and it drew people in to this quiet still place where God has been worshipped for nearly 1000 years. There is that sense that somehow prayer has soaked into the walls and touches those who visit. On the Sunday we celebrated God's creation by inviting people to bring their pets. The lion didn't exactly lie down with the lamb but there was a general sense of peace and well-being in the animal kingdom and even the humans behaved themselves. Although many brought stuffed toys as a safe alternative. But we all gathered around the altar, men and women, cats and dogs, and, because of the soft toys, bears, lions a tiger and many monkeys. And we gathered around the old altar that the parishioners had hidden during the reformation waiting for all the trouble to die down before they dug it up again. I suspect they forgot where it was buried since it took 500 years to find it again; yet there it is a little battered but still containing the relics of our saint. I felt a sense of strength and continuity and the presence of God with His people. Amidst all the disagreements and falling out that we read about in the church, where pressure groups and vociferous individuals try to claim that they are the only true expression of its soul. There I had that reminder of the truth of the Bible speaking into the concerns of today and that strong reminder that through all the centuries of turmoil God has never left his people. But perhaps that is what God told Noah in the first place.
(Editor's note: Doctor Bob is D.P.'s great pal and fellow sufferer-in-training. He no longer has facial hair!)