Into the Deep - Part 1
I sat with a stranger for lunch once. She wore beads and braids and the dark skin of her old African homeland. She, like I, was a preacher's kid who no longer practiced Christianity. She described her year-long initiation to her Yoruba Orisha. Our conversation, in just half an hour went deep in a way that made the rest of the world--in this case a bustling food justice conference--recede into the background. Before we parted ways, she told me that her father, a retired preacher like mine, prays every morning for his next divine appointment. She said, "Adam, we just had one of those."
There's so much in what you've shared here, Dougald. The church within a church. The state of un-belonging. Thank you for laboring to gather these potent words.
This really comforts me and I can’t fully explain why. The metaphor but also the idea that we physically build within the crumbling walls new ways of worshipping the Earth and slip backwards to reclaim what was there before those big churches came. There is a truth here, a simplicity, a homecoming and I find the thought of it so beautiful. I’m looking forward to the next part.
Thank you for this one - I didn't realise your father was ordained! which denomination if I might ask? One other thing - the upturned boat image for every church (most...) is not just that the church is a boat, it's that the church is an ARK :)
Chimes with a sermon I once heard given by a retired CoE vicar to a small N Yorkshire congregation. 'Maybe we shouldn't worry about what happens to the CoE. Maybe the CoE continuing isn't in God's plan. '
Even at the time, I thought that was a profound statement of faith.
When an article of yours appears in my inbox, I always feel a quiver of excitement and read it before anything else. Yet it has taken me this long to comment - sorry about that, because you are one writer for whom I believe it matters to hear from your followers. I'm wresting with my own writing at the moment! Anyway, this idea of "taking the roof off" is important in order to air what lies beneath, (the palimpsest), before building something new and humbler out of salvaged materials, as with the church of St. Andrews at Covehithe. Many years ago someone wrote a particularly offensive racial slur on the road in front of our house (not intended for our family but hurtful to others in the community). The municipality scrubbed it off right away, with all intent to erase its memory, yet leaving it still faintly visible beneath the surface. Over winter rains and traffic wear, it grew less visible but after all these years I still remember what was once there; a palimpsest no longer starkly drawn in white paint yet still serves as reminder of words that harm. Those of us living now must be prepared to "take the roof off" of modernity, raise what lay beneath, and see what good to salvage from the ruins. There's actually a lot of good and you are SO good at leading the way, Dougald!
We've been trying to grow woad on a farm not to far from Cove Hithe, on the road between between Halesworth and Laxfield - so called because of the flax, or linen you write about.
We've not been successful! Lol.
Wakelyns, the first agroforestry experiment in the UK, is now doing great work with hemp.
I love the practicality of the villagers rebuilding the smaller church. It makes me think of the Weald and Downland Museum, how these ancient homes can just be packed down, erected and with some mud manure and horse hair made anew. There is a story there of one of the houses that relates to this hinterland or transitional space . It's the house of a cobbler which was erected on the commons illegally but on the border of 3 parishes. It makes me smile. The combination of a useful craft and a question of jurisdiction saved the house from demolition for hundreds of years, it's bones standing renewed to this day.
My partner has the recurring image of the eye of the needle. The bible stories sit amongst us like all the great tales, to comfort and instruct about an older knowledge that's always present. Christianity seems to hold its own test of significance in that needles eye.
Thanks for writing this Dougald. Please keep exploring this aspect of "new-ruining"? "up-ruining"? "re-ruining"? It brought to mind the old Welsh chapel pew which we bought in an auction when the chapel closed some years ago and have outside our front door for putting our boots on. It used to be prayed on and now it's used most days to put boots on. I shall ponder that signficance next time I'm sitting on it to don my muddy boots!
A church without a roof is no less a church.
Avebury Stone Circle, many hundreds of years older than all our churches, still gives a feeling of peace, to me at least.
There is a feeling in a place. Is it made by man or nature? I don’t know. I have felt it in a cathedral, and a mosque. and amongst the stones.
Amazing, inspiring piece, Dougald. Thank you
Thanks a lot, dear Dougald, for these deep thoughts and sharing. In fact, somehow I sensed that you were “headed into these waters” as long as I started reading you. Being myself a catholic priest, one might say that I am sailing out to the “divine deep” from the opposite shore. Yet, I sense that we are somehow together on a common journey.
Do you know this song? It comes to mind...
Thanks for a stimulating piece of writing and thinking. A real conversation of thoughts!
What is Federico Campagna getting at with the idea of "making good ruins"? The way I'm thinking about this is through a notion of inverted scaffolding: it's what good ruins bring to the post-future. Speaking in metaphors, the ruined church is a potential scaffolding because what is collapsing is the exoteric dominance of its presence. Ivan Illich was glad to be living in a time of failing scaffolding, for him it promised the liberation of hope from the aspirations of power. Religious institutional collapse is a scaffolding through which its esoteric heart can emerge. To my mind a good ruin is one which is capable of sheltering and evoking the emergent gnosis of the post-future. May be we need good ruins to access the "mundus imaginalis"......
Very evocative and thought-provoking, Dougald. I especially like your speculation about the vessel being turned upside down. It makes me think of things which were previously hidden coming to light, and things which previously supported from below becoming that which stirs the imagination. Also, I can't help thinking of the ark in the Bible that saved Noah and his family from the flood; the Christian tradition is full of images of arks that save, but the hull which becomes a dome goes all the way back to the creation account. Your meditation on the ruined church has, in other words, prompted me to recall the expanse that came into being on the second day, which always makes me think of an opening where forms may or may not materialise. All the best with your anticipated writing projects!
I'm still reading this.
Midway, I had to look again at my letter-poem to you, Dougald.https://theheronhouse.substack.com/p/palimpsest
The best poems are either empty pages or wild mysteries. This poem is the latter. If I understood it fully I'd be kidding myself.
I wonder if you were thinking of stave churches, which, while not literally overturned boats, were built by Viking shipbuilders as a sort of boat in reverse: https://link.medium.com/aIKnCCHfSCb
Gorgeous. Ache. Thank you for writing and sharing this.