Sunday, 19 August 2012

Let us pray, kinda, Or: Women and religious tyranny

St Paul's - cathedral church of Barnet, oh yes!
A week ago on Saturday I found myself in St Paul's Cathedral for choral evensong. "Choral" will help to explain why: I am not religious but I do like a bit of church music.

I was wandering about after a meeting in the area - I do like to wander about - and couldn't resist popping in when I heard the bells summoning the faithful.

I found it a most moving experience. I am apt to supress feelings and on this occasion, a bit out of sorts and not sure of the proper way to behave, I found myself by the end having a good old weep - I have no particular idea why - and feeling much the better for it.

The staff at St Paul's have to put up with a constant traffic of tourists (especially when there's an Olympics on) and are probably used also to seeing atheists break down in tears as they hear the lovely music and reflect on how, if there is a God, they will spend the rest of the great hereafter listening to the sound of tortured screaming including their own, so the whole experience wasn't as embarrassing as it might sound.

There IS a link with Barnet in all of this.

Barnet comes - so to speak - under the Bishop of Edmonton, who is one of five Bishops in the Diocese of London, whose church is St Paul's Cathedral.

I didn't know all this a week ago on Saturday so imagine my surprise when I heard one of the holy people (I'm not very up on church hierarchy) asking us all to pray for St Mary's Church in Hendon, St Mary's High School, and Middlesex University.

I imagine that prayers are said for some area within the Diocese of London at each evensong and it had come the turn for Hendon.

Funny that I was there to hear it, if I hadn't been there I suspect that none of us would know that prayers were said in St Paul's Cathedral for Hendon by worshippers from all over the world... except, if you believe in the omniscient one, it doesn't matter, does it? The prayers are said for Him to hear, not for gossips like me to repeat to my (dwindling) congregation of blog readers.

I'm sorry if I sound flippant. One thing I never do is diss Jesus, after a small 'miracle' that happened once to me and my mum. As I am in confessional mood, I will share it now with you.

I was 12. We lived with my mum's extremely moody boyfriend. One day we wanted to watch the 'Jesus of Nazareth' miniseries (the one with Robert Powell in the starring role).

The boyfriend didn't say we outright couldn't (!), but he wanted to sit in the room with the television so he made us have the sound right down, I mean, so far down that you could barely hear it.

The television, for some reason, was on a table behind the sofa so to watch it you had to sit on the arms of the sofa facing backwards. My mum and I each sat on one arm of the sofa like bookends, straining to hear the television, but enjoying the pictures (wink, wink) of the life of Jesus the carpenter, while the master of the house sat in his armchair polishing a pair of silver candlesticks and savouring his warped power, I imagine.

Suddenly, to my ear at least, the volume on the television turned itself up so that the programme was comfortably audible.

I glanced at my mum who glanced at me, having evidently witnessed the same phenomenon; and we both glanced at the tyrant of the silver polish who had evidently witnessed it himself. He couldn't blame us however; and he was from an Irish Catholic family so perhaps he retained some fear of the Almighty, and he didn't dare say anything.

After we had enjoyed the rest of the programme, my mother and I did mention this 'miracle' to each other but only once - you don't want to push your luck.

Anyway, that's the - main - reason that I don't diss Jesus; Jesus, from where I sit, was a good guy, the friend of the oppressed and the confounder of tyrants.

Right, back to Barnet, kind of. As I stood in my kitchen this afternoon in the baking heat, not helped by having had the oven on full blast all morning roasting a chicken, cleaning the fridge, I caught... choral evensong on Radio 3.

I noticed that the main prayer is the same as that I had heard a week before, probably it is the same at all C of E evensong services. Wikipedia tells me that this prayer is The Creed. The most interesting bit for me was:
I believe in Jesus Christ...  
Who was...  
...crucified, dead, and buried: He descended into hell;  
The third day he rose again from the dead; He ascended into heaven...
Yeah, that's right, Jesus went to hell. Just like you and me, well me, anyway.

This makes sense, of course, because Jesus's life and death was about finding a way to avoid hell. If we believe in Jesus we don't go to hell. More or less.

Apparently, that reading comes from the Book of Common Prayer (1662). The Book of Common Worship (2000) has Jesus descending not into hell but, more gently, "to the dead". I don't know which is truer to the original text/belief/word of God (!). But it strikes me they are very different.

Anyway, today during the evensong service there was also a nice reading from the Acts of the Apostles (whatever those are), Chapter 1:
So from the Mount of Olives, as it is called, they went back to Jerusalem, a short distance away, no more than a Sabbath walk;  
and when they reached the city they went to the upper room where they were staying; there were Peter and John, James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Jude son of James.  
With one heart all these joined constantly in prayer, together with some women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
This sounds to me perfectly respectful of the women, who were fully involved in the religious practice. And so it should be: today apparently is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I was looking at the Bishop of Edmonton's Wikipedia entry (remember, he presides over Barnet) and he, apparently, opposes the ordination of women. He acts as a bishop for worshippers in other dioceses - Rochester and Southwark - that oppose the ordination of women. I find this quite upsetting.

Why should I care, though, since I am not a member of the Church of England, what one Peter Wheatley thinks about women, and whether or not there are women bishops? Well, it seems obvious that people like me ought to support the most liberal interpretation of religious belief and practice, in any and all religions.

All religions it seems to me have been reformed at some point and could stand to be reformed further.

On Friday, three punky young women in Russia were sentenced to two years in prison (and they have already been in prison for five months, including the two separated from their young children) for misbehaving in church, in this case the Russian Orthodox Church.

Here the power of the church backs up an authoritarian ruler who wants to make examples of Pussy Riot in order to deter other protestors and hang on to his fairly unlimited power.

Here is Amnesty International UK's Pussy Riot page for more information and to send them a message of support.

Let believers and non-believers turn religion against tyranny.

Oh, and while I am on a religous tip and while I think of it, Eid Mubarak!

1 comment:

Mrs Angry said...

The Lord be praised: Citizen Barnet has experienced an epiphany. Indeed, Jesus was the ultimate radical, and any socialist principles I have are because, being raised as a good Catholic girl, I just cannot understand how any christian, of any degree of compliance, if that is the word, can be anything else. It always amuses me to see ultra blue Tories try and contort their political beliefs into an unholy alliance with God. Can't be done, in my book.