Catch up: Part 5 (a)… First March of the Penguins

Though I had Ironed it on the first night of the retreat, I ran the steamer over it once more on the eve of the ceremony. My black suit was spotless and crease free – apart from the intentional one on the trouser legs (my ex-military dad had taught me how to iron and my residual nerves had ensured absolute precision: even samurais are not that sharp). The clerical shirt was immaculate and I could see my face in the spit-shined shoes. If God was going to reject me, it wasn’t going to be for my garments. Maybe for the shoes… maybe.

When I bought the shoes, I thought it funny that they were made by a company called ‘hell leather’. Yes, I knew they were what I would wear to my ordination; Yes, I hoped the people who would be directly behind me would see them; and Yes, on the day of the ordination I knelt with sharpened ears, ready for the ghasp from a holy person about the unholy thing they had noticed about the soon to be deacon. The length of my cassoc, however, scuppered my plans: dresses can be quite annoying.

It’s a weird thing, waking up on days like these. Light, not the clock, woke me up. Gently it trickled in through a small gap in the curtain. It was just enough to give the room a glow: or maybe a child was excited about christmas. I didn’t yawn or stretch. My eyes went from sleep to wide awake in the space of seconds. My mind brought the rest of me up to speed. Fresh in memory the conversations I had had with my fellow ordinands over a 12 year old Aardberg the nights before we went into silence. Fresh in memory the brief interview I had had with the Bishop the day before: brief and encouraging. Fresh in memory the gentle thump of my heart as I tried to fall asleep the night before – dreaming of what was to come while simultaneously being thrust back into the dark room I was to try and rest in. It had felt like a kind of baptism, a kind of tomb. Perhaps part of me was dying. I don’t know. Truly something was going to be slightly different tomorrow, that I knew. My heart wasnt game for a wrestle against the tide, against the time, against what felt like destiny. My bones were aligning and that was good; and I knew that. I knew it well. I knew it in the place one visits when they honestly shut their eyes and look in. There was no trembling here. Just the gentle thump of a peaceful excitement. Today was a big day, there were things to do. Within minutes my bed was made and everything I didn’t need was packed and ready to for check out.

A drink of water can refresh the outside of a person. This morning the cascade of droplets pelleting my face and skin felt like little drums chiming in the horizon. With their pitter patter they soothed me and prepared me for what was ahead. What they said, the cocoa butter sealed in. Awash with peace I dressed up.

There is a thing about uniforms that make them ridiculous. When you wear one part of you is hidden and part of you comes to the fore. No uniform ever captures the totality of the individual (like the extra bits of the fajita that wont fit into the over filled wrap). looking in the mirror I had to laugh.

“Clerical shirts are not good for anything else”, I thought to myself. “Can’t use a normal tie with them”. With a brief smile, recognising the somewhat hilarious confluence of my uniform and branded shoes, I slipped my collar in. After debating whether to wear the jacket with one button or two done I left my room, cassock bag folded over my left arm; ‘normal stuff’ bag slung over my right shoulder; no button done.

We looked like a bunch of penguins sipping tea. Whoever thought giving a group of clergy white tea cups and saucers was a genius. In the sea of black, all you could notice were the moving cups and collars. But one couldn’t laugh could one? No! oh no! One was one of the penguins. One could smile though. Partly because it was the appropriate Christian face for the day (everyone apart from the retreat guides wasn’t in a place to be pastoral so panic face or sad face might have been ignored by the potential church leaders in the building: ceremony first, service later).

At this juncture I’d like to point out for legal reasons that the description put forth in the preceding parentheses are the author’s own and may not be representative of the wider troop.

After tea begun the march of the penguins onto the coach: some kind person had brought chocolates to share. Then the drive to the cathedral for a final rehearsal and the Bishop’s charge. Then lunch at the Bishop’s digs. Then Family time (which I valued greatly) before returning for the final robing and ceremony.

It’s funny how nothing changed… and yet…

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Catch up: Part 4… Yes Retreat, Yes Surrender. 

Even though I’ve grown to love silence, it is sometimes very difficult to work out how to make it a resource when reflection is actually necessary rather than practise. It can be like those odd moments where someone tells you not to think of an elephant and you try to obey. Once the gavel rained down telling us to be quiet all I could do was notice the noise in my head and heart.

I hadn’t been a regular retreater so this was a somewhat unusual thing to be part of. most of the times I had taken to do some reflection involved very long walks/ hikes/ bike rides. I always had something physically exhausting to do which allowed me to think. Being in one place, and worse being still, didn’t really work for me. Neither did the surrounding city streets. So this ordination retreat was going to be awkward, even more so with that blasted elephant I had to try and barge out of my head (a thing not helped by the elephant’s penchant for trumpeting and hip hop based interpretive dance).

Once the train ride was done and we had found our way, bags and all, through to the east of the city, we alighted and carried our wares to St Katherine’s retreat centre. I was nervous. The bag that my cassock was in was white, noisy-plastic and quite cumbersome. It kept knocking against my knees. I had hooked the hanger on the strap of my football kitbag which was looped over my shoulder: my kitbag had my other clothes. The more we walked, the more foolish I felt. The more foolish I felt, the more nervous I got. The more nervous I got, the more the feeling that this role to which I was supposed to step into after this retreat was one which I was neither capable nor qualified for. It would only be a matter of time before they (whoever they are) would see through the facade and expose me as the fraud I felt I was. To compound the whole thing I didn’t offer to help one of our party with her bags coming down the steps from the train station (insert poop emoji here).


[Just to say… Our faith is one that is chuck full of hypocrites. Not because we profess to be something we are not, but because we are something we have no right to be. Righteousness is a gift given to those who cannot attain it. Accepting the gift is quite a hard task, especially because ever unction from within us rejects the gift: simultaneously also stating our need for it. This whole priest thing isn’t exempt from the struggle of self acceptance – acceptance of the self as God declares it to be. If you are facing a similar predicament, looking at the privilege and wondering whether you fit the bill then hear me say this… You are fit for it because you are not fit for it. You are fit for it because God makes you fit. It is fit for you as gift, like that blasted technicolor dream coat which repulses part of you because of the unfiltered and unexplainable hope. You wont be comfortable with this until the right time, and those parts of you that are impoverished, and trying to escape the drought rediscover this aspect of you seated in prime position in Pharaohs courts. Be patient. Trust God. Trust him more than you trust yourself. Oh… I digress. Let’s return to the regular programming.]

The tranquility of the retreat centre was as welcome as an oasis would’ve been to Lawrence of Arabia (hyperbole). Finally having a room to enter and a place to put my bags down meant, at the very least, space to breath. I took off my shoes. I was tired of hiding my nerves by joining in the niceness of the troop. I hate smart shoes. There was still dinner to endure followed by the silence for which I had downloaded episodes of Rev onto my iPad (apparently the final part of my theological education). The retreat schedule lay open on the small table, one for each room I assumed. I read over it as I unpacked my bag onto the bed, freeing my cassock from its confines. My Darth Vader costume was well pressed (Vader of Cheam) but my new and unused clerical shirt still had the new-shirt creases in it. It would need ironing before Saturday (when the force would be at full strength).

After a few seconds staring at it I tucked the collar into the inside jacket pocket and then by the hangers lifted everything off the bed and placed them in the wardrobe by the door. It had doors which, thankfully, meant I could compartmentalise that part of my future for now. The full size mirror hanging on the outside of those blasted doors weren’t helpful. There I was. In full ‘colour’; the dreamer in technicolor (HD). I couldn’t look myself in the eye for too long. Priesthood… lol (insert tear drop emoji here). The story behind me was a full and enfleshed one, my heart wouldn’t let me turn back even though my stomach desperately willed it. It was too late now.

I cannot capture in words the depth of gratitude I have for our retreat guides. The balance between the seriousness of the task before us ordinands and the truth of a joy filled life on display not only filled me with courage, it inspired me past the cobwebs of my shaken self concept and into a place of deep trust in the God who was gently beckoning me forward. The pre-dinner introduction was fantastic. it gently teased me into laughter by making the experience I was about to have a corporate one: the nerves were shared equally between the 30 odd ordinands on this retreat. The stories that our guides shared made what seemed like a dark thicket at first turn into a well trodden path whose pitfalls were well documented, avoidable, and survivable.
Permit me to straddle two times here.

This post should’ve been sent shortly after Catch Up 3. The reason for the delay is the great disruption that was Brexit and its equally devastating aftershock TRUMP. I put my silence down to a broken heart. All of a sudden the world I thought I lived in took its mask off and once more revealed itself to be negatively complex. Worse still it didn’t understand itself as it was appearing. There were friends, close friends who I felt were contributing to the this negative complexity and as such I didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t understand their positions. Neither could I understand my own hearts. I couldn’t write about what I hadn’t understood, mainly because I didn’t have a clear ethic to apply. The lessons captured in the book of Barabas needed to seep in. The bitterness to which those lessons spoke into needed to be digested so as not to pepper every expression with the same blotches of red (or whatever colour grief takes).

At this juncture I must apologise to those who listened to me preach ‘in those days’. #Gosh.

“That morning” one of the retreat guides said to me in a moment of prayer. He was referring to the end of the ordination ceremony. “Look out the great west doors to the cathedral. Look out into the world to which you are called”.
At the time these words lifted some of the weight I had felt thrust upon me by the little black boy. They refocused my mind away from questions surrounding my capacity and aptitude towards the clear image of a God who went before those whom he called. The shepherd was good and all I had to do was follow him. Simply true, and traceable through the life I had thus far lived. I was where I was due to a stupid bumbling into obedience. God had made use of my errors to make me who I was and was now about to do the same in leading me to life, and with that others also. #SolaGratia

Then came brexit… and trump.
To the ordinands out there slowly marching towards their ordination I share this. The world is messy. That makes the calling both complex and life giving. Complex because people generally do not realise their rejection of Jesus and each other (it is one of those things the bible attests to).

Complex because the effect of it all is heart ache (and I suggest that a lack of heart ache indicates an unknown resistance to Christ: because having compassion and being confronted by its subjects will always break hearts). Complex because the nature of the compassion and the nature of the people who need it most make embodying compassion extremely difficult.
Life giving because the banner we bear is the only one with a realisable hope at its core. There is nowhere else other than in Christ that the world finds resolution (both existentially in the present but also in eschatological terms). Life giving because the same place of deep frustration at the seeming ineffectiveness of compassion is the same place of understanding God’s gracious unconditional compassion towards you. Life giving because for a brief moment at different frequencies, there will come a moment when the banner and uniform will grant access to the privileged place of helping others see that compassion from God as centred upon them – and that is magical.

In the face of these things, it is definitely worth recognising early that the rank your joining is one you’ve already been apart of. You are being set apart to be who you are and no more. There may be other responsibilities but the tip of the spear remains the same: proclaiming Christ the crucified and resurrected forever servant-king of kings. It remains being his witness to a world that doesn’t know him or even understand the impact of its blindness to him. Our proclaimation will work against a vast and seemingly endless tide but, in the words of a very wise group of people, “we are on the winning side”.

Embarking on my retreat, all I had was the petty nervousness that was born of a small world. A world that encompassed only my own perception of myself. Now, about to embark on another retreat (priesting), I am assured of a bigger world into which I’m being sent. If this was as clear to me last year as it is now, I might have dealt with the heartbreak a lot better than I did.

When the time to be silent came, I plugged in the iron and brought out the shoe polish. With each crease I took out of my clericals, I recognised the flawed nature of the institution I was soon going to represent; I recognised the flaws in me that these well pressed garments would either cover or highlight; but most importantly I recognised the reality that God had chosen to not reject either. In his mercy and wisdom he had chosen earthen ware to carry his Holy Spirit. I wasn’t with Simeon, who after patiently waiting to see the Messiah now sought peace. No! I was with simon peter, who through error and betrayal and blasted cockerels (or elephants in my case) was now being asked to feed lambs and sheep; who was being asked to fish men into an eternal net; who was being granted the privilege of watching them draw their first breath once out of the waters of baptism.

I didn’t watch Rev in the end.

The book of Barabbas

Chapter 1. (New Revised Standard Edition Anglicised.) 

Lamentation’s answer. 

1While an encampment that human beings had erected in order to survive their journey away from death was being torn down (because of external decisions), another – longer standing – encampment of human beings who journeyed in search of a better life was deciding its direction. 2The world that could choose was choosing, the world that could not choose was watching and waiting to learn if its future had hope or darkness. 3Beneath the discourse a slight whisper from the hearts of those who themselves couldn’t hear. 4Words, very clear and chilling to the ears of those who were attentive: “am I my brother’s keeper?”.

5Those who heard it, the same who hold the memory of blood from the shepherd’s head-wound dripping on the rock now dropped by his brother, wept. 6They wept alongside the tent pegs that had been left behind when the bulldozers came; 7they wept beside the old men, sifting through the rubble of the old city for signs of the lives they were in denial of loosing; 8they wept with the mothers of sons who were criminalised, lived under the threat of death and its worse sibling twins – incarceration and slavery, sons who were shot before tasting grey. 9They wept as their tears were projected onto the endless feeds as pictures that mocked justice by pointing to guilt that would go unpunished and unchallenged 10(for those with the power to act, didn’t react – the threat never close enough to warrant lifted hands). 11They wept bitterly, tears bursting the underdeveloped levies and washing away their home: 12how were they to call home the place that their stronger brother had claimed for his own – even without birthright?

13These were the days when judges were scarce; when prophets were silent and pharisees were loud; when the widows were hungry – portions served to false kings; 14and the fatherless uncovered – squatting in the shadows of hillside mansions. 15These were the days when no one noticed the wind – no vanes were erected nor sails raised 16and none with oars left the harbour and nets were swapped for fig leaves. 17These were the days when the third crow was unheard, heart unhurt, and stomachs stretched as far as the blood-soaked heaps of coins would allow. 18No one ventured into the wilderness, by the river where the death that saved awaited: opting rather to skirt the edge of the greens on the journeys from fortresses to fortresses. 19Those who bore the truth had arisen and headed to Tarshish by land leaving the outcry of the infants – whose blood also stained the sacrificial rocks – to rise. 

20Then spoke the Lord to the old soldier’s son,

“Gather your garments,

take off the sackcloth;

rinse your head and be clean.

21Cease from your weeping and rejoice,

for now you know my deeds –

my thoughts in the silence

22when with feeble knees I stood,

half alive from the lashes

wearing my crown of thorns

and my blood-soaked robes of glory,

23watching as they chose

to make Barabas their king.

24Come, stand with me in love,

and love from this place beside the tree

till darkness fails and every knee

bows”.

Let him who has ears…

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Catch up: Part 3…The Little Black Tourist

By the entrance to the crypt a sentry stood.

“I’m here for the ordination retreat”. I almost whispered.

Right this way Sir!”, the reply, with an arm extended toward the well lit hollow.

I lifted my bags so they wouldn’t hit the steps. Inside one of them was a bottle of Aardberg which I had been advised to take with me (as for the contents of that bottle, what happens on retreat stays on retreat!).

The last time I came to St Paul’s Cathedral it was for my confirmation service. I managed to find myself a seat upstairs and secured some for my family: who had come to support me. About five minutes prior to the service, my sister’s nose began to bleed. One of the vergers, who I came to learn later was a cannon (cracking Job title by the way) had let us down some steps into the crypt. That was my first time down there.

I had once, before writing Talitha Koumi, aired some of my frustrations about Christian  obsessions with buildings. Stone altars was the series of blog posts through which I  mused on the place of symbolic structures in the life of faith. At that point, as with now, I was passionate for people to know God as one who did not need the many buildings, and all the ornate things within them, in order to touch the heart. Because of this, the history of St Paul’s Cathedral and of all that was within its walls – specifically the crypt, weren’t a fascination.

Today, as the outstretched arm of the Sentry pointed me down into the crypt, I hadn’t lost that sense of non-wonder (and this has taken a while to understand). It wasn’t the building that I was walking into that had me trembling, it was the life I was leaving behind. Going down the steps felt like leaving the autonomy with which my journey had been peppered: I was one amongst many traversing the busy London streets. It felt as though with each step down my life was stopping being my own.

At the end of the ceremony to come there would be a prefix to my name. One that denoted my connection to the institution that this building represented. It would denote my connection to a whole plethora of people. I trembled because I knew how complex my own sense of identity was (#It’sComplicated). How could I then enter into the space of representing? Would I lose who I was and become something else? If yes, then what if I did not like who I became? There were too few steps and too many tourists going up and down them for any of these questions to have had answers by the time I got to the room we were supposed to congregate in.

Bags down I was glad to see some familiar faces. I was also glad to see some new faces, each with that Nicky Gumble christian smile. It was daunting, but somehow also safe. I could trace in each face I met – of the ordinands – internal turmoils of a similar texture. There was a quiet, subtle, undercurrent of care for each other which made – even the silences – a good thing.

About 40 minutes passed with us, the group of ordinands, doing things not worth the blog-space (apart probably from the pre-quasi-seminar coffee, which was good). When all had been said that needed saying we donned our cassocks to head up for the rehearsal. The cafe in the crypt went silent as soon as the door to the room we were in opened. Cups were put down, some even did the sign of the cross as we – in single file like soldiers – marched out towards the set the same steps that had ushered us individually in. Lifting my cassock so as not to trip on the steps I slowly ascended back out into the sunshine of the courtyard. The faces, now turned towards our cohort of oddly dressed individuals, were filled with wonder and confusion in equal measure. We went up the steps, through the side doors past the tourists into the nave.

Part of what we would have had to do in the service was walk in that same single file up the aisle to the front. There was a slight commotion in the nave as the many tourists who were in the building gathered around close to the font, where we were, in order to see what was going on. Our names were called out so that we will be in the right order when our march begun. Like a good schoolboy I listened attentively for my name, suppressing every instinct towards mischief (I know… it happened). When it came, resounding with echoes, I walked toward where I was supposed to stand: my stomach slightly churning. I lifted my eyes from my shoes and that’s when it happened; that’s when I saw him. I’m certain however, that he had been watching me a while now.

He was short, just tall enough for the rope that demarcated the ‘no access’ area to pass across his shoulders. His hair was combed, dark like his eyes – which were wide open. There was a look of wonder in his eyes that both confused and encouraged me. It was a look mirrored by his mother, who was standing beside him. Hers however, had a tinge of pride: the kind of pride that God likes; that expresses a gratitude mixed with joy and affirmation. No one else had the same look these two had. For most of those surrounding them, the look was more of surprise and intrigue. Somehow, within that moment, I had become his – a memory to savour. He too had become mine. Both our eyes glistened at the realisation that we were no longer just tourists, misfits in a place we didn’t belong. We represented each other from the other side of the rope: I could be him (in fact I was him once but in a life that – till fairly recently – was empty of the counterpart in a cassock), and he could be me. Once innocently colour-blind little black tourists in a sea of white, now priests to each other. Me, evidence of a new possibility; Him, a reminder of where I came from and the privilege I was now to hold: the privilege of who I was becoming.

Stopping short of going to embrace him, I nodded and waved. He slowly raised a hand, still with wonder in his eyes, and gently – almost with a tinge of embarrassment – waved back. With that we were called forward and I had to leave the scene.

Being an ethnic ‘minority’ (and I hate some of what that word might imply) had never really been a thing that I focussed on. Being and ethnic ‘minority’ in the Church of England was also not a thing that I had particularly focussed on. Being a Church of England ordinand from an ethnic minority was also not something I particularly mused upon. For some reason – and do think it is from him – God had somehow blinded me to the fact that I was usually one of perhaps two black guys in most of the churches I had been involved in. Looking back now, with the added experience of my sending church, I can see quite clearly the correlation between the affluence of the particular churches and their ethnic diversity (quite a sad thing to ponder really).

Only once during the discernment process had cultural mis-translation proved an issue for me: even then it was only slight. I barely noticed my ethnicity at my B.A.P (selection conference), and only slightly – on rare occasions – had it become a noticeable thing at theological college or in the placement churches. But this wasn’t because issues regarding race and culture weren’t alive in the undercurrent. No! It was because they were the aspects of my own experience that I had chosen, sub-consciously and consciously at times, not to reflect on. For so long as doors kept opening I kept walking through without pausing to ponder the scars and wounds from the journey.

This moment, then, was important because it helped me realise that I had a tourist’s understanding of my presence at the cathedral. Somewhere between church, the discernment process, theological training and all that had led to this point, I had suppressed the truth of my blackness and thus wasn’t really in the space to recognise the fact that I belonged where I stood. I had forgotten the wonder with which my eyes met my sending incumbent – a young black man serving as a priest. I hadn’t recognised the permission he had given me, permission in my deepest recesses to dream. He had given me the sight of a future I could occupy, like the sight I had here given the little black tourist. I had had the fortune, in the sea of middle-class white males (a generalisation, but also a kind of reality), to have found someone who looked like me, spoke like me, had a story like mine, who was doing what I felt God was calling me to do. My dream had possibility.

To recognise my belonging meant recognising the moments when I was a cultural outcast, smiling in groups when I didn’t understand the references or appreciate the same genre of music or films being used (unintentional exclusion by my God-loving peers). It meant recognising the loneliness of culture-centric pleasures and joys that I couldn’t share: they would neither be appreciated fully/ understood nor enjoyed. It meant having to recognise the struggle to find a barber shop that did afro hair while my colleagues had short walks to theirs. It meant recognising that I didn’t know how to begin to express my hurt when I was made a victim by a racist shopkeeper (my colleagues would have cared for me but they may not have understood the pain – real untranslated empathy heals in a way unparalleled). It meant recognising that I was going to be ordained as a black man.

If I didn’t allow the authenticity of my experience to kneel before the cross, I wouldn’t be healed; neither would the others from my background for whom our shared experience would be an avenue through which hope would flow. As Rev Azariah France-Williams (my sending incumbent) was for me, so I had to be for myself first, then for others. I suppose this was why Jesus had to be fully human, so as not to be a tourist but a priest.

The rest of the rehearsal was a blur: my thoughts overwhelmed me. I was occupied for the days of reflection that followed and have been since. The young boy ensured my commitment to a deeper reflection on the part my ethnicity plays in this great adventure God is leading me on. It’s not easy. Keep me in your prayers.

….

I couldn’t post this without this minor appendix….

In the diverse city that London is, I was the only black person ordained in 2016. There were a few from other ethnicities but in total we were a small percentage and I suspect didn’t represent the make up of our city. I don’t think this is an issue whose root rests solely in the majority male-middle class white clergy. What God blinded me to, other’s see and are afraid. Had I seen it myself, I might not be where I am. We must together share the burden of cross-cultural translation. I think it is at the centre of the term ‘incarnate’. Difference is not to be feared but to be embraced. Sin will mask our fear in apathy or the illusion that is the assurance of our being untouched by issues of race and culture: do not allow it to take root. Repentance, specific to this, looks like a real interrogation of the sub-conscious biases that exist within us. These are not just about race and culture but also include gender and age. Kneeling at the foot of the cross means just that, accepting that our minds need transformation and our whole lives conforming to be like the God who reached out to the uncircumcised.

(More can be said, more will undoubtedly be said.)

PS: Pontiff sed hi.

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Catch up: part 2…#Pilgrim

About a month had passed since the valedictory service. Some of the faces and memories are referred to in my last post was still fresh my head. I hadn’t quite began to miss things because it all sort of felt like an extended break. Somewhere within, I was convinced that things would resume at a certain point and the rhythm that I had grown accustomed to would return. This illusion was kept in place by the fact that we hadn’t moved from the house we had lived in while in Bristol. The place we were to take up during my curacy was due to be worked on – maintenance and repairs. What this meant was I would have to take my stuff for the ordination retreat with me all the way from Bristol and after the ceremony return to Bristol. This wasn’t particularly ideal: but that’s life. To be honest I was more daunted by the prospect of ordination than I was with the discomfort of travelling.

I suppose there is something about the pilgrims journey being the pilgrims journey. If one does not own the destination as their own, where does one draw determination and the hope to persevere – or even the courage to attempt the journey in the first place.

Close to 3 years prior, I set off from quiet house in West Sussex to make the three-hour trip across to Bristol to begin my theological education. I stress that ‘quiet house’ because it was empty. There was no one to share my anxiety and excitement; no one to encourage me; no one to pray for me – I had needed it badly. Then, and in this moment I am here reflecting on, it felt as though God clearly wanted me to understand my sense of calling as my own. In as much as there are so many people he had placed around me to nurture me and encourage me through the journey, it seemed important to him that I knew that it was my journey first. That it will be me that would be shaped, tested, carried, refilled, thirsty, bruised, strengthened, and approved. So when with the retreat beckoning I placed my bags in the boot of my Little VW, that sense of solitude – positive solitude – was one that I recognised. This journey was for me.

There is something about the M4 that’s both charming and frustrating. Over the time spent in Bristol I have had to make numerous trips to and from London. Both the night time and the daytime journeys always gave me time to reflect, time to dream – obviously not while asleep at the wheel, and time to ‘defragment the hard drive’. The morning  drive was east into the sunrise, the evening drive west into the sunset; and the night’s peppered by a cascade of headlights. One grows accustomed to the red of the rear lamps. (If you are doing the London to Bristol trip, the Membury services have a drive through Starbucks #BroTip). On some days you might be lucky and there are no roadworks slow you down. But on other days, most days are really, at some point you have to slow down to a creep because hundred or so drivers decided they wanted to have a look at what was going on the other side of the motorway. For the many trips I had taken, I had grown to know the different curves and distances between the junctions; and how many songs would get me to which point.

This journey was different. For some reason  It had a feeling of finality to it. Almost like the beginning of an end. This was more than just a ‘you will no longer live in Bristol’ kind of end. Or a ‘you will no longer be a student at Trinity’ kind of end. This was a ‘your life is about to change’ kind of end. A ‘brace yourself’ kind of excitement washed over me as I buckled in. I started the ignition as that kind of smile you smile when you see the lion in the zoo and recognise how small you are, washed across my face. Needless to say I was parked up and a few steps away from the train station in Chiswick when I realised that I didn’t even put the Radio on for the two hour road trip.

The headphones were in and the music soundtracks for the cascading scenes and faces as the train took me deeper into the big smoke. The same Waterloo station that I had frequented in my freelance days now took on a different sense of wonder. Light interrupted by rows of steel ushered me forward. I slowly walked past the National Theatre and the BFI keeping away from the river because I knew what awaited me. But with a sense of inevitability the buildings peeled away. I could see it across the water, that great survivor who had welcome me into her arms once before and now towered above all so she could do it again.

When Wordsworth talks about spots of time, I think it’s things like these that he refers to. The memory is etched, maybe seared in. I can almost count the contours on the stems of the trees that line the embankment, their broad leaves slowly swaying in the gentle breeze. In front of me the tourists with their big cameras trying to catch little scenes, little glimpses to take home with them. And then there are other joggers, pilgrims themselves; and those on benches unpacking their sandwiches. I must have fitted right in with my travel bag and cassock carrier.

Slowly, as I approached Millennium bridge, all other buildings began to shrink. The cathedral grew bigger with each step, and so did the tremor from within. I was hungry but knew I couldn’t eat. It was all made worse by the fact that I knew I was afraid, wanted to turn back but couldn’t: I just couldn’t. I should have bought the sugar coated peanuts from the vendor on the bridge. There were steps to ascend gradually as the paved path from the river to the courtyard opened up. I wished I had memorised a song of ascent: there was a song playing through the headphones that I can’t recall – in truth I wasn’t listening.

With one last look up the steps at those daunting West doors I turned left as had been instructed. By the entrance to the crypt a sentry stood.

“I’m here for the ordination retreat”. I almost whispered.

Right this way Sir!“, the reply, with an arm extended toward the well lit hollow.

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Left onto Stoke Lane

The sun shone brightly,
it’s warmth tempered by a deep cooling breeze.
The days weren’t as long as they had been,
the grasses were browning from summer’s green,
And I could see, as I drove in,
that the leaves were desperately clinging to the trees,
Soon all would fall and a new thing would begin.

It had been a quiet drive,
Serene and subtle deep,
The slower speed now meant I could perceive
the acorns and conker seeds
knocking in the wheel arches.

Left onto Saville Road from Parry’s Lane,
then right onto Stoke Road down the hill,
I’m sure its here I should turn in.

There are indeed some scenes that stick
like the big rocks at the bottom of clear streams,
or words vividly spoken mid-winter dreams,
that lay claim to a past and form the present’s meaning
while conquering future schemes,

She was one of these,
The tree’s – like her veil – did peel,
her brick work sealed by the gardens (Big up Dave Snell).

Intimidating, her beauty was to me,
Shyly I walked into her open arms
and within her embrace I blinked.

Then with a blade, dipped in love she touched me
Hurting to heal, healing to teach,
teaching to give me more than I had dreamed

There are indeed some scenes that stick,
like the big rocks at the bottom of clear streams,
or words vividly spoken mid-winter dreams
that lay claim to a past and form the presents meaning
while conquering the future’s schemes.

How indeed, will I now with eyes open
Full of hope release the grip of her embrace?
Even though the grasses are green,
and the flowers pristine,
And the trees themselves in bloom,
And my real calling is to serve her groom,
How will I, without tears, this very long journey resume?

Well, I must bid these faces adieu,
Treasure the spaces and rooms,
The calories burnt and consumed,
The songs sung in and out of tune,
The comedians, The d.j’s,
and the tears shed in the old swimming pool.
As they go from present meaning to past anchor,
securing my future schemes
as I turn left one last time onto Stoke Road,
and up the hill.

The light brightly shines through the clouds,
the sun they slightly shroud in drizzles will win,
His warmth, seeping in through the slight chill
will bless the new leaves and fill the trees,
And lay claim to a past, form the present’s meaning,
and conquer the future – once a dream.

© Denis Adide 2016

PS: All mistakes are on purpose, they frustrate those who notice. Those who notice… know!!

 

https://www.trinitycollegebristol.ac.uk/blog/kingdom-living/left-onto-stoke-lane-a-poem-from-one-of-our-leavers/