Tuesday, May 20, 2008

My Great Britannic Adventure, Day Nine

Saturday, 25 March, 1989
Day Nine, Holy Saturday

Another session this morning, which I wasn’t particularly keen to go to. The handout had a poem in it, and I had to make myself see my apathy in that I couldn’t even identify with it, though the situation the poet described could be considered very close to my own. "That’s his problem," I tend to think.

But the sun was still out afterwards, and I walked to the beach at the north end of the island, joined for awhile by Marie*, one of the other women in my dorm room. Today you could see the peaks of Mull, with one tallish one all covered in snow. And I could observe the horses out running, and the red-feathered chickens, and the sober black-faced sheep, and the shaggy Highland cattle. A lark was singing high overhead, the first I’d ever seen or heard.

Marie* turned back when we approached the beach, as the sea air breezes give her sinus trouble. But I went all the way down to the rocks and looked out at the little islands across the water. There were cattle grazing among the washed-up kelp and sea gulls crying overhead. This is what I came to Iona for . . . instead I’m spending most of my time so far sitting in church and not in particularly satisfying church, either.

After a hurried lunch (I was late getting back; it was vegetarian again) I did more handwash. Only this time the spin-dryer really got off balance and the plastic baffle affair you put on your clothes really got chewed to heck. At least it’s only that and not the machine itself.

Finally got around to writing Daddy a note for his birthday. Took it down to the village to mail it, borrowing a piece of tape from a store clerk when the envelope gum refused to stick.

There were children in the lane playing with pieces of styrofoam insulation that the wind had blown away from the Center construction materials depot yesterday. No telling where the rest of it is now.

Stopped into the Abbey bookstore and only bought a few postcards. Christine MacLean was there and I told her about the spin dryer baffle. She said not to worry; she doubted it could be that bad.

So I came back and did my best to destroy it some more, doing more wash that wouldn’t fit in the first time around. Actually, I have gotten the hang of how to stop the machine before too much damage is done.

I’m not sure what to make of Karen* and Therese*, the two other girls in my dorm. Therese* is a vegetarian but she smokes, so I suppose her motivation for not eating meat is concern for animals and not care for her own health. Karen* puts on the most outrageous airs and tells whopping tales that you simply can’t believe. Where they are as Christians I can’t tell at all, because although they seem to be into things that smack terribly of New Age spaceheadedness I couldn’t say if they’d go along with the rest of the N.A. program or if they simply have certain ecological, etc., concerns in common with New Agers. And I haven’t got the energy to get into a debate about it.

Besides, I find they have a streak of cynicism about the whole programmatic structure here that I find all too easy and amenable to identify with. They cheerfully sleep through anything they please. I have punted a seminar or two already but I don’t feel too confident about it.

But I tell myself I can sit in church meetings anywhere, and these aren’t particularly effective or fulfilling church meetings, I feel so out of fellowship here (
Palm Sunday service in March was much better). But only here (in light of my schedule) can I walk along the hills and beaches of Scotland, and that’s what I came here to do.

If it would stop blowing and sleeting for an hour together!

Yes, it started again this afternoon, almost as bad as before. I’m glad I dug out my silk longies at the last minute before I left Oxford.

Saw the film The Mission in the chapterhouse of the abbey this evening. I’d been wanting to see that. Problematic picture. One knows that love is more powerful in the long run but still I found myself wanting to root for the priests who chose to fight, who left the way of peace. Maybe it’s because I’m rather angry right now, at things in particular, and those people were doing what I felt. More objectively, it seems as if the people in the story failed to ask the essential question. And that is, if we have to cease to follow Christ in order to preserve the Jesuit Order, what the hell use is the Jesuit Order?

Or any church institution, for that matter?

Marie*, who also saw it, thinks it was done from a liberation theology viewpoint and of necessity would glorify the priests who chose to fight. I didn’t see it as quite that severely slanted but she has a point, anyway.

She’s a funny person. She’s going through a divorce, or has just gotten one, I’m not sure which, and her emotions are extremely volatile. At one point she’ll be telling you how incredibly high and happy she’s feeling in the experience of being here and two hours later she’s crying her eyes out. Or she speaks of how calm she feels-- but confesses she’s been chain-smoking since she arrived.

There is something in the way of an explanation, though. She also has a friend attending the abbey program, who, like Lukas*, apparently hasn’t been acting all that friendly. But it’s worse for her-- she confesses she has been in love with him and he knows it. And seemingly he’s attempting to squelch it in that disgusting wet-blanket male way.

It was enough like my situation that in the tea time between the video and the vigil service at 11:15 PM I pointed out Lukas* and told her why I could empathise with her problem, even though mine isn’t exactly analogous. I was even so reckless as to admit that though I don’t fancy Mr. Renzberger* in that way there is another Coverdale* student I wish I could, except that he’s thoroughly taken . . .

But I think that was mostly to keep her from thinking I did like Lukas* the same way she likes her recalcitrant friend Seamus*-- as well as for the sheer pleasure of speaking about Nigel* even without actually naming him.

The rotten thing is, the more Lukas* acts like a complete jerk and вопреки, the more important he’s becoming to me. He didn’t come to the video and I found myself regretting his absence. And seeing him across the room with his new friends, acting as if I didn’t exist, made me want to slide into the attitude of a dog eagerly waiting and hoping for the least crumb from its master’s table. I try to shake myself out of this by taking the superior position that well, obviously he hasn’t learned the lesson of the
old Girl Scout song:

"Make new friends
But keep the old;
One is silver
And the other, gold."

But in the general frame of mind I brought with me its very hard to maintain that. I keep thinking it’s me, something I’ve done to offend him, and I feel myself craving his notice and approval to reassure me I’m acceptable and forgiven.

It sounds as if I’ve got this all analysed out and intellectually settled, but I haven’t at all. Somehow his present caddish behavior is throwing the memory of what a dear, caring person he can be into bright and high relief, making me want to flee to that Lukas* for comfort and warmth and security-- but instead I find only this cold, heedless, aloof reality, and my sense of loss is doubled. If only he would--! I am tempted to think, and the responding "Never!" falls into the deep pit of all the other "nevers" in my limited life, a pit that threatens to swallow me up with them.

Hope of some vague, unfocussed sort does insist on rearing its head, however. Both
last Saturday walking along the Backs behind Nigel's* old college of Clare and now here in this wild weather I am nudged to recall the Robert Browning poem, "Never the Time and the Place." I wonder if the abbey library has a copy of it. God, it would be wonderful if I could be sure that

This path so soft to pace shall lead
Through the magic of May to [him]self indeed!

But how and with whom, I haven’t the least idea.

But now it was time for the Easter vigil service. I can’t say I really like this night-before celebration business, it seems a bit previous to me. I suppose I need the sense of anticipation brought about by sleeping on the thing, both at Christmas and Easter. Anyway, here it was.

The service had more drama and no preaching and little if any Scripture reading, again. I guess they assume everyone here knows the Easter story, because a lot of it was pantomime, in the American sense, and not all that well done.

I was somewhat taken aback when in a Scripture quotation used as part of a litany the Holy Spirit was referred to as "she." I’d be awfully interested in knowing what the exegetical basis of that is. But at the moment I shall assume it is merely a fashionable affectation and like disco and polyester leisure suits will eventually blow over. There’s nothing I can do about it here and now and besides, it is only a ripple in the great pond of my isolation here . . . isolation caused not so much by evident doctrinal disagreement with most people here as by, apparently, some fatal flaw in myself. I seem to be losing all ability to make and keep contact with others, and Lukas* and his avoidance of me is a glaring, blaring symbol of my alienation. If he will not come forward and accept me as a human being and a friend, how can I ever expect anyone else to?

Well, a little early (11:55 PM) but close enough the service got to the point where the Lord could be officially declared to be Risen and the abbey bells tolled and tolled. A great continuing chant of "Alleluia" arose and the church was gradually relit, the candle flame being passed from one person to another. The ornaments were brought back as the black draperies were stripped away.

And last of all, as I’d expected, dear Lukas* himself grandly bore the silver cross back to the altar and placed it there as offstage (appropriate term) cymbals clashed and the altar spots came back on for the first time since Thursday night. And I, neither wanting to succumb utterly to my misery nor to allow myself to feel too proud of him, despite his actions toward me, dragged a bit of grim, cynical humor out of it all, thinking, "Well, his mother obviously gave him a good Swiss upbringing-- he puts things back where he found them."

But it didn’t help a great deal, as the last of the printed songs and responses were sung and the piano banged into "Lord of the Dance" and he and the other people in the worship group began to dance in the aisles. If it’d happened at my home church I would’ve said, "Great!" But here, even though I was singing along with the choruses I was growing more and more distant from it all. If Christ is risen, he is not risen in me, not tonight. Not yet.

My candle blew out at the cloister door, and with it the last of my own warmth and light. Out in the cloister people were grabbing one another in great hugs and crying, "Happy Easter!" If the greeting had been, "He is Risen!" answered by "He is Risen Indeed!" I could have coped with that. That is a statement of fact. But "happy"? That is an emotional state that has nothing to do with me.

The wind and rain were still howling, otherwise I would’ve gone straight back to the Center. But as it was, the prudent thing was to head back to the tea table in the abbey seminar room and wait for the weather to die down.

I was making my way through the crowd in the cloister, not far from where Lukas*, with a very unSwiss lack of reserve, was hugging everyone in sight. Goodie for him. And all of a sudden he was there before me and was enfolding me in his arms, exclaiming, "Happy Easter, Blogwen!" and I-- God help me, I held him tightly as if by the mute pressure of my hands upon his back I could tell him how much I needed him to acknowledge and accept me as a human being and a friend. And then I grew frightened, because if I continued I might not be willing to let him go. So I held him apart from me and asked, "How is it going with you?" meaning this week at the abbey, meaning last week in Liverpool, meaning he himself (when he is himself). He took the first meaning only and politely said, "Oh, the week’s been great. How do you like it?"

"It’s all right," I said noncommittally, knowing my attempt to break through had failed. He released me completely then and turned his attention to others, while I made my way through the painfully joyous crowd, feeling so estranged and alienated but far too present as well. I couldn’t even find any of the people from the Center program. I could no more wade in and embrace those people than if I’d been made of stone.

I am bullheaded in my way, though. I hung about in the cloister passage till Lukas* made his way out of the celebratory embraces and tried again to engage him in conversation. I tried humor, since my emotions had to be kept down at all costs. "I see your mother trained you well. You put things back where you find them."

"It is not a matter of training. It’s a matter of spirituality."

Oh, shit. Does he always have to be so blasted literal? Yes, I realise now it was bad taste to make a joke about something that happened in the service. Just because I was feeling out of it doesn’t mean he was. But he never can tell when I’m joking, and I don’t think it’s the language barrier, I think it’s his lack of imagination. It’s not me. I made another joke in front of one of the Englishmen a little later in the tea room and he got it and laughed immediately.

Hung around in the tea room reading the paper, playing with building blocks, and making polite conversation till 2:30 DST. Lukas* was back to being Mr. Aloof again and I was trying not to give a damn.

Then I and a few others made our way back to the Center. I revised the poem I wrote yesterday . . . Then was in the process of crying myself to sleep with the aid of Schubert Lieder when Karen* roused and informed me the music was leaking out around the headphones and could I please turn it off?

Sure. Right. Whatever you say.

1 comment:

Sandy said...

Oh dear Blogwen. I am so sorry.