The Heathen Goes To Midnight Mass
Note: I thought I had posted this on Christmas Day, but it turns out not, so here ya have it now.
Spending Christmas alone (of my own accord), I thought it would be nice to go to Midnight Mass in my local church, St Mary in Kennington. I’ve been to the pubs and theatres in my area – why not the church? I even put on a suit.
Not being sure on timings, I rocked up a little early and so whilst being the first person there, I was privilege to the sight of various church worker bees prepping, discussing what hymns to sing. Gave 50p to light and candle and got given another one to hold during the service, with a little cardboard ring around it to stop me getting scaled with hot wax. They think of everything, does the Church. From my pew, 3/4 of the way back (the prime position for an aetheist imposter) I had plenty of time to gaze about. St Mary was built in the 1950s. It has tracings of archaic grandeur in the design that’s offset by the modern, myriad colours spilling over the ceilings, which put me in mind of one of the churches from Futurama.
By the time the service started, there were maybe twenty-ish people with another few trickling in later. Though church isn’t my racket, I felt a little bad for them. I mean, it all seemed to be A Decent Thing.
Somewhere to think.
It’s why I love the cinema and the theatre. Places to still the racing mind, whilst your senses are taken care of: Sound (hymns), Sight (candles), Smell (incense), Touch (offering neighbours a blessing of piece),Taste (the communion) all marshalled in the cause of Churchy Goodness.
There was seated behind me what I took to be a homeless man. Bearded, muttering about the war – seemed like an archetype of a Vietnam vet. He wouldn’t shake my hand but did say “peace, brother” at one point, so I think we’d be friends. He came up with me for Communion (we both got the blessing, but not the full wine-bread deal).
An hour after starting, the ‘audience’ all hymned out from four verses of Oh Come All Yet Faithful, and it was over. I took a moment to reflect instead of heading straight away.
I’m not one of those peoples who instinctively hate the church as an entity. I went to a CoE primary school, a Catholic youth club and my secondary school was all about, as its latin motto announced, work and prayer. It was a formal part of my upbringing and I have many fond memories of church going, mostly of belting out carols. As an institution, I find it relatively benign, doing more good than bad.
The prime currency of the modern world is certainty, and whilst people think they’re happy to move on from religion, I find most are not quite ready to deal with the “cold, hard look in the mirror” moment of bare existentialism in themselves, or in humanity’s future. Still, I don’t think that’s a reason to cling senselessly to religion. A life without God should be the aim – but what do we replace it with that’s not merely a negation? A certain type of culture that seeks knowledge as a religious person might seek the guidance of God. There’s a lovely Thomas Huxley quotation that goes:
The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of inexplicability. Our business in every generation is to reclaim a little more land.
Being comfortable with uncertainty is at the root of any search for knowledge, and I believe the same should be of this culture. Negative capacity, I think that’s called. If we can deal with that, we’ll take hardcore globilisation in our stride.
In my moment of reflection, I thought about what I did with this year. I guess it was mainly about becoming settled with myself. I was never going to be able to pursue a mostly solitary career if I couldn’t stand my own company for more than five minutes.
I also considered how I could shift the way I process my thoughts, such as on this blog. I will aim to be less vague about matters relating to myself. If it affects others, I’ll still keep the details sparse, but there’s no sense in my writing about my thoughts if it’s going to be wishy-washey. It robs my writing of clarity and lets me hide from honesty, so if I’m to do it at all, will attempt full disclosure as much as it is possible.
On a slightly fuzzy, Christmas worthy note, I will say that the person I’m seeing at the moment is slowly peeling back my coverings, letting me be more comfortable with affection and tenderness and not view it with immediate disparagement and suspicion. Hope this’ll make me a better person, and a more truthful writer. Guess we’ll find out in 2013 – Happy Christmas and a drunken New Year to all of you. Thanks for bothering with my warblings!