Monday, 6 November 2006

Sacred & Profane

My Bonfire Night was a curious mixture, but not easily forgotten.

My Mum died a few months ago, just after her 90th birthday. The vicar who performed the funeral ceremony, suggested that I might like to attend the All Souls-Tide service she carries out each year at her church, St Chad's.

Patsy123 and I decided it seemed the right thing to do. and so found ourselves sitting at the back of a surprisingly full church, joining in the hymns, when we knew them from years of school assemblies, (Amazing Grace; Morning has broken; The Lord's my shepherd; Guide me O thou great redeemer) and the call-and-response elements of the service.

The climax of the service was the Reading of the Names. The Rector and the Vicar took turns in reading out the names of those whose funerals they'd officiated at in the parish. We were invited, on hearing the name we knew, to go forward and light a candle and place it on a tray before the altar. When Mum's name was read out, I found it really quite moving to light my candle, with Patsy123 close behind me.

I'm not religious. Indeed, I'm mostly anti-religious, but I found the service quite affecting. Not, I have to say, convincing in the religious sense, but the taking part in a ritual, a ceremony, fulfilled a need for something to mark Mum's passing; something in addition to her funeral.

I came away with that sense I always have after church services. That feeling that I envy the congregation their certainty of faith. I sit in churches and wait for my Damascene conversion, but of course it doesn't happen, and I don't honestly expect it to. It's just that, in my rationalist heart, there's a romantic longing for a bit of superstitious inexplicableness.

My romantic leanings were amply satisfied after the service at St Chad's, when we walked back along to Saltwell Park and it's bonfire and firework display. The bonfire was a decent size and Patsy123's frantic search for a flashing blue glow-in-the-dark light-sabre was thankfully cut short by the start of the fireworks.

We Ooohed and we Aaaahed, following the unwritten form of this ceremony, and then wandered happily home to big bowls of spicy lentil soup, reflecting as we went that we must be the only country in the world that has a night of fireworks that doesn't really celebrate anything. Guy Fawkes? Who cares? Gunpowder Plot? Wot Gunpowder Plot? Why, it's just Bonna Neet, man!

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