On Good Friday

Stations of the Cross #5, "Simon of Cyrene carries the cross", Notre-Dame Basilica, Geneva.

Stations of the Cross #5, “Simon of Cyrene carries the cross”, Notre-Dame Basilica, Geneva.

On Good Friday I sat in church, watching and listening as most of the congregation followed the priest around the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The woman with the walking-frame, stoically devout, completed the circuit with the others, while her white-muzzled black dog hobbled back and forth up and down the nave, stopping to receive attention from some of those who, like me, had remained in their pews.

Meditations translated from the words of French poet Paul Claudel were spoken gently by a man known for his work as a broadcaster. Between the meditations, periods of silence were terminated by spells of difficult and discordant organ music – some strident, some morose – which I could have done without.

I had earlier told the woman who had welcomed me that my parents had been married in this church, and that I had been baptized here.

I will return to St Peter’s on Willis on Easter Day, looking forward to the Eucharistic ritual I have not shared in since Midnight Mass at Wellington Cathedral on Christmas Eve.


The tradition of moving around the Stations to commemorate the Passion of Christ began with St. Francis of Assisi and extended throughout the Roman Catholic Church in the medieval period. It is also observed in Lutheranism and Anglo-Catholicism. It is most commonly done during Lent, especially on Good Friday (from Wikipedia: Stations of the Cross).

Wikimedia Commons includes a page with links to images of twelve of the fourteen Stations of the Cross by sculptor Jean-Bernard Duseigneur. (This page gives his name as Jean-Baptiste Du Seigneur, and he is elsewhere known as Jehan Duseigneur; eg, on Paris Sculptures.) Born in Paris in 1808, Duseigneur studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and in 1831 achieved renown when he exhibited Roland Furieux, often regarded as the first romantic sculpture (now in the Louvre). Soon afterwards he turned almost exclusively to the production of religious works (adapted from a brief article in Wikipedia).

PS – Easter Day: The old black dog, Emma, was there again today; she, like the other “regulars”, was wearing her name-tag. 


Giving up the past

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

A little piece I wrote back in 2010 – Sanitation? … or sanitization? – has been receiving a bit of attention from blog-readers in recent times, so I took another look at it myself … and it seems quite an appropriate topic for the season of Lent (which began last Wednesday (05 March).

Responding to a comment on the original post, I explained that “The between-the-lines inferences and implications of my post [had] to do, on the one hand, with destroying incriminating evidence, hiding my inner life … and, on the other hand, with holding on to mementos and souvenirs, and maintaining a record of things I [wanted] to remember.”

A bit cryptic – to say the least.

In the original post, I quoted something from A. Whitney Brown: “The past actually happened but history is only what someone wrote down.” (A. Whitney Brown, in The Big Picture)

What I didn’t make clear, in that 2010 post, is that what happened in the past is still in the past – nothing of the event itself is actually happening now. In effect, all that’s happening now is that a voice in my head is reading aloud what got written down in the past, and maybe reminding me about the wrong I have done and the good I have not done … and maybe I’m cringing, feeling guilty.

An act of contrition is one thing; getting rid of the rubbish is another. But this is not a lenten sermon, so back to the crux of the matter: “Giving up the past”.

In my experience, the inclination to clutter is often the outcome of either of two impulses: at one extreme is the Proustian urge to document everything (see note 1 below); at the other end of the scale, I hang on to things I cannot find the inner resources to attend to, process, or deal with.

Of late, I’ve been managing pretty much all the day-to-day chores and commitments, but there is a persistent residue that is harder to shift. A high percentage of that stuff still clutters my living-space; the remainder clutters my mind and my heart. The physical clutter is the manifestation of inner states, and its persistence is invariably anchored in the past.

The prophet Isaiah – who, by the way, had some worthwhile things to say about fasting and repentance (see Note 2 below) – said: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.” (Isaiah 43:18, NIV). Whilst digging around on the interweb, I found a nice paraphrase: “When your past calls, let it go to voice-mail. It has nothing new to say.”

So I have plenty of work to do – giving up my past, and putting out the psychological and emotional trash.


1/ Proust, who claims to have no memory, keeps track of everything. His letters (there are several thousand) provide a running inventory of his bodily functions – letters to his mother providing an update of his respiratory condition, letters to his doctor listing the details of his menu, little notes handed to his housekeeper every morning reporting the number of times he coughed the night before. (Rebecca Comay, in Proust’s Remains)  

2/ The symbolism of the familiar Ash Wednesday ritual – a cross smeared on the forehead using the ashes of palms gathered up after the Palm Sunday procession – connects back to repentance practices in Old Testament times – see Isaiah 58, for example. 



          out of the silence 
          a murmur
          out of the darkness
          a glimmer 
          out of the murmuring
          a voice — my voice

and the shuffling swaying dance

and the murmured measured chant


          between my outstretched hands

          a swirling nest of fragrant smoke
          a glowing web — first morning light on spider-silk
          a glittering orb of gold and silver flakes

and the shuffling swaying dance

and the murmured measured chant

and the pulsing glittering fire


          out of the fiery web
          flakes fall

and the fallen flakes form
          faces          flowers          animals          trees 

and the sweepers come
          and sweep away the dusty flakes

and the sweet smoke swirls

and the images dissolve in dust

and a voice within me says:
Make no attempt
to grasp or hold this light

and the fire

and the dance

and the chant

and the sweeping …

This draft for a new poem was written following a recent dream.

Hosanna in excelsis

Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus Sabaoth. Pleni sunt coeli et terra gloria tua. Hosanna in excelsis.

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts. The heavens and earth are filled with thy glory. Hosanna in the highest.

Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem is a work I know well; I’ve studied it in detail and sung in it — and have adapted text from I Corinthians 13 so it could be sung (at a wedding) to the tune of the Pie Jesu. In short, I thought I knew the work quite well.

Hearing the Requiem on the radio this morning, I was surprised and delighted to catch, in those words, Hosanna in excelsis, something that hadn’t really impacted me before: a sudden sense of the donkey-ride into Jerusalem (Matthew 21:9), and of its significance within the context of the Eucharistic Prayer.

“Ride on, ride on in majesty / In lowly pomp ride on to die,” says the second verse of Henry H Milman’s well-known hymn. “O Christ, Thy triumphs now begin / O’er captive death and conquered sin.” Then, in the third verse, we have an image of the angel armies “[looking] down with sad and wondering eyes / To see the approaching Sacrifice.”

PS: The version was by The Sixteen with soloists and the Academy of St Martin in the Fields, recorded live at the Barbican’s Mostly Mozart Festival in 2008. The Times review says: “… despite the odd vocal glitch, this is a Requiem gently sculpted as smooth and tactile as glass. As the clouds slowly lift, the sense of an ecstatic movement towards paradise is tangible.”

Fauré’s setting includes the Sanctus and omits the Benedictus. But the Sanctus ends with the words, Hosanna in excelsis.