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 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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Poetry 034: The seat

A poem about a blind poet

Seated, he heard the foreign sounds
Of passing cars, of children, of hounds,
Of planes sailing through the clouds
Of silent moments, and of crowds.
The wind through the leaves whistled
The bamboo heaved along with the thistles
Distant worlds in torrents neared
But window blinds blocked out the mounds

Seated, he thought to find the nouns
For subtle smiles, for tickles, for frowns
For faces floating from the downs,
through greens, through forests, and through towns.
Deep within old cinders glistened
He strained his heart so it would listen
And the world without in torrents neared
But window blinds blocked out the mounds

© Denis Adide 2011

Poetry 033: Live!

“Let us make man in our own image
and in our likeness form him.”

Perfected yet dead; still he lay
void, recent from the deep.
No thoughts emerged nor receded
None pleaded for victory, none defeated,
And none rebelled: He was balanced,
inanimate, formed but still,
alive but perfectly dead.

Then breath, hovering over the deep;
the same that churned him from the mound,
approached from steep heaven
and un-barrened sea to seep
Awakening earth from death to sleep.

Inhaling, he embraced life – the gift;
drifting into the breath that once crept
into the crypt – fleshy heart at the mercy
of fleshed earth – made first animate.

Before him he saw his naked arms,
with naked eyes saw naked feet,
felt naked air be drafted in
and blown on naked skin.
Untamed wind within,
unchained wind without,
both whispering “Live!”

© Denis Adide 2012