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Archive for December, 2011

Worshipping in a strange church on Christmas night could have been a good experience or a bad one.  It is certainly a lesson in diversity and a good way to examine oneself, and critically: what sort of Christian, let alone Anglican, am I? (more…)

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As a Christmas gift to myself I’ve bought the Essential Carols from King’s from iTunes and listen to it while at work.  They’re all there, from Once in Royal David’s City – I always get teary at the line,”Not in that poor, lowly stable…” – right through all the goodies to Hark the Herald Angels Sing which satisfyingly brings Midnight Mass to a rejoicing close.  Christmas is music, emerging from the darkness and holding it at bay.

Many years ago it was possible to sit in the row immediately behind the Decani choral scholars of an evening, simply by having an academic gown on (no-one in King’s ever seemed to notice that I was an undergraduate at St John’s and was wearing its distinctive gown).  So I heard the whole repertoire from one of the three or four best choirs in the world over three years, when Sir David Willcocks was the choirmaster, and still found time to go to evening service at John’s as well.

But it’s not until now that, listening to what are surprisingly old recordings, I fully realise how softly the choir has always sung.  Albeit with clear, superb diction, they sometimes seem merely to murmur the words and still sound so wonderful.  It’s the chapel, of course.  Its enormous acoustic takes and lifts the sound the choir and organ produce and makes it special.  To hear the echoes is to experience that shiver up the spine we yearn for.

For generations, the King’s choir has known about that acoustic and balanced themselves firmly but sweetly with it, and every year we are granted the pure pleasure of it.  Here, less is indeed more.

So to Stephen Cleobury, for whom I turned the pages all those years ago, and to all at King’s, Happy Christmas, and thank you again.

King's College Cambridge

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What happens to priests who journey to the end of the world and then cannot leave?  I can think of at least two films where this is shown.  Both are moving.

In The Nun’s Story (1959), set in the 1930s, the nun played by Audrey Hepburn is sent by her order to the Belgian Congo.  There, miles upstream in the great jungle, she encounters a priest ministering to lepers.  He has himself become a leper.  He knows he will die there.  God has ordained this.

In Black Robe (1991), set in 17th century Canada, the Jesuit played by Lothaire Bluteau is ordered to go and relieve the priest at a remote mission station on one of the Great Lakes.  After a perilous journey, he eventually reaches the station to find the priest dying and his frightened flock begging the Jesuit to stay.  He does.  His face shows what he knows: that he has no choice.  He will never be able to leave; he will die there in his turn.

What goes through your mind, Father X, as this realisation sinks in?  Do you lament?  Do you rail against God?  Or do you say:  it was all ordained that this was always how it would end?  If so, are you comforted?

It makes me all the more wanting to see the film Of Gods and Men, about the monks massacred in Algeria, but I know it will be hard to watch, particularly the scene in which it dawns on them that they will not survive.

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