For Those in Peril on the Sea

I am planning another passage in Novalis along the northern coast of Brittany at the end of July and a week or so of August. I hope to sail from the Rance, past Saint-Suliac and westwards to the Ile de Bréhat.

The tides will be moderate, so we can only hope for fair weather and a calm sea. I take great care as an amateur sailor to avoid risky situations, though they can happen like on mountains and other wild places where man experiences his fragility and the limit of his influence. There are lots of rocks, and my trusty GPS chart plotter will give me accurate position checks to avoid them.

Of course the title of this posting refers to the famous hymn Eternal Father, strong to save. The Church has always shown its concern for sailors in the Navy, Merchant Navy and fishing vessels. They take greater risks than we amateur sailors in our little sailing vessels and a less than perfect knowledge of navigation and other essential skills. There is not only this hymn, but also the touching ex-votos in the form of model ships and paintings, usually offered by sailors who survived life-threatening situations at sea and express their gratitude. There are many votive chapels in Normandy and Brittany. Here is the example of Notre-Dame de la Grâce in Honfleur. There are not only model ships, but paintings depicting storms at sea, shipwrecks and miraculous rescues.

May be an image of indoor

Another I found very poignant is the Lady Altar in Saint Suliac, a quiet port on the Rance inland from Saint-Malo.

I know these places well because I go there in my boat. In the photo here, look at the carving under the statue. Shipwrecked sailors are reaching out for help at the point of drowning. The wrecked boat and tattered sails are on the right. I find it very moving.

Eglise Saint-Suliac et cimetière

Saint-Suliac was immortalised by the French TV series Entre Terre et Mer, about the Terre Neuvas that went to Newfoundland to catch cod and store them in salt. The story is extremely poignant. The fish were caught on hooks and lines from small boats, and many of these dory boats were lost at sea. Here are the six episodes set in the 1920’s.

We see the human drama about these lewd men who found employment in this way to support their wives and children living on the north Brittany coast. They had no one to count on other than God. It was almost a survival of life in the Middle Ages, the absolute dependence of human persons on the feudal lord and the elements, their simple piety. The Captain of La Charmeuse is portrayed as a just and kind man, concerned for his men as a commander who knows that motivation and self-esteem, not flogging, makes a man he can rely on.

One again, I will sleep in my cramped cabin, which is much more comfortable than sleeping in a dinghy on hard boards under a tent. I will be able to spend nights in ports and with mains electricity to recharge my 140-watt battery, or tied to a buoy in a little cove in calm water, and use my rubber dinghy to get ashore.

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Liturgical Nihilism

For those who read French, I draw your attention to Le pape François laisse entendre que l’attachement au rite tridentin constitue un produit du nihilisme. This is a fascinating article from the French Catholic periodical La Croix by the theologian Grégory Solari.

* * *

Also see Fr Zuhlsdorf’s More on Desisdeede – Desiderio desideravi. This time through a particularly vicious lens that might be at the core of the document. This article contains a translation of the Solari article.

* * *

The idea that RC traditionalists were nihilists seems quite absurd, but I could imagine that some might be twisted in their desire for the old liturgy and, above all, the “old” social and political order. Any kind of religious fanatic can be identified with a wider “spiritual narcissism” or caricature of something from the past for the sake of individual or group identity. However, my immediate intuition is that the same could be said of the followers of Pope Francis and the post-Vatican II status quo.

Most adepts of Christianity in one institutional church or another are poorly catechised and have little knowledge of theology, the liturgy and church history. Such people are unlikely to be committed to nihilism as a philosophical paradigm. Maybe nihilism can emerge as an un-named default attitude, maybe in some people, and for reasons quite unrelated to liturgical preferences. Nihilism is generally understood as the way we relate to values. Nothing has any intrinsic value other than exterior criteria, economical, political, aesthetic, sociological, etc. For Francis, traditionalists have recourse to a notion of tradition to compensate the symbolic deficit that characterises modernity. If we try to understand the thought of Nietzsche and apply it to this question, tradition is confused with the past. Value is based on a will to power. Only Christ gives this value through the link between the lex orandi and the lex credendi. Away from the Church, in what the institutional Catholic would call schism, liturgical forms are transformed into formalism. The “neo” imitation becomes another name of the nothing. It seems to be a sophisticated argument to suggest a sacramental theology that denies any value “outside the Church”. Only the Church escapes nihilism, and the liturgy only has meaning when expressed by the ecclesial institution.

According to the author of the article, the intention of Benedict XVI in his motu proprio of 2007 was to create a situation in which the two Roman rites would coexist and enrich each other in a process of natural healing and organic development in time. According to this reasoning, Pope Benedict was mistaken in his trust in the traditionalist institutes, and Pope Francis found that they refused the rite of Paul VI. Therefore the experiment had failed and attachment to the old rite constituted a rupture between the communion of the Church and the liturgical life. The question needs a long period of critical thought with no premature conclusions.

My own intuition is that the accusation of nihilism is a Jesuit sophism, something to be set into a whole world of clashing ideologies of the left and the right. I deeply regret the time I spent as a Roman Catholic, both as a traditionalist and a sincere effort to integrate into the mainstream Church. I perceived a toxic and diseased humanity in its quest for spiritual justification, to such an extent that I was brought to believe that I was the one who was unstable and disordered. Having had a similar experience with marriage, I set about the task of discovering myself from a clinical and a spiritual point of view. The progressivism of Francis and all the time I spent in the RC Church from the pontificate of John Paul II seemed at variance with what I sought. Perhaps I am the nihilist! I was also very ill at ease in the reactionary world of the traditionalists and their zeal to control. I am aware of my own fragility!

Over the past few days, I have been watching videos by exponents of other spiritual traditions and psychologists who are aware of the harm done by materialism and nihilism. Here is a relevant video by the gritty psychologist Richard Grannon.

Dr Ramani is specialised in the narcissistic personality disorder. I have often watched her videos in my own time of introspection and “fact-checking”.

I have no idea of whether Pope Francis and his advisors have been going along such lines of thought. If they have, they undoubtedly fall into the same narcissism and control-freakery as their adversaries. They blame liturgical rites, a pure red herring, from deeper human issues from which they believe themselves to be protected by a narrow notion of ecclesial communion.

I left that absurd and insane world, at least that is how I found it. “Cradle Catholics” would see things differently. I came from Anglican origins. I have nothing to be triumphalist about, but perhaps our liturgical diversity was a more successful expression of Benedict XVI’s idea and desire to calm the conflicts that was possible in the authoritarian structure of the RC Church. Anglicanism too is a mess, and our continuing Churches are still marginal and fragile. There are many diseased caricatures of Christianity in conflict with materialism and atheism. Both are destructive to the human spirit.

Before trusting others, we have to look into ourselves and seek the real meaning of Christ and his teaching. Spend time in nature and its beauty. Learn gratitude and a sense of wonder. I express my own love of the sea and I remember my many family outings with the dogs on the Fells of the Lake District. We need to go back to origins, the deepest meaning of the disputed notion and caricature of being born again. It is not merely the Sacrament of Baptism or an event that marks our conversion to Christ. That is too narrow and schematised in an ideology of controlling people. We need to make our own discernment and Tiefenpsychologie to find Christ within us, where he is within each of us. What will that do to our church life. Precious little remains of that unless we have the commitment and self-discipline of hermits. I think we should belong to some community in the way that I belong to the Anglican Catholic Church, aware that this is fragile – especially the further away we are geographically.

We may be tempted at times to give up that little that remains. One thing we can remember is that there is no positive alternative. Nihilism and despair are not the answer. We can all live with this contradiction in our own way, as best we can. Going to the Roman Catholic Church, its dull and boring Pope and its diseased clerocracy is no guarantee against nihilism. Being true to ourselves is.

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Behold the Sea!

This blog has suffered neglect over the past few months. The current polemics in the Roman Catholic and other churches do little more than prove the inadequacy of ecclesial institutions and the sinfulness of the most sanctimonious of the men and women involved. My life as a priest has been painfully affected by my pending divorce and the death of my parents. We are faced with the same great obstacle – the mystery of evil. It matters not what clever arguments we produce to justify evil and get God “off the hook”! The alternatives to belief are nihilism and a feeling of absurdity that leaves us in agony. I would advise more Christians to read Albert Camus to make a new approach to God that really means something more than vacuous words. We can then discover the mysticism of Jacob Böhme, Nicholas Berdyaev and Novalis in a world other than that of monotheistic fundamentalism.

Perhaps life in this world is to be compared with going to sea on a small boat, facing a vastness that reveals our insignificance. That is certainly my experience, though I take great care to choose the weather conditions that allow me to launch the boat and sail. In the following video, the sea seems benign, calm and contained by the surrounding land. The north-east wind howled between the Ile Ronde and Brest and the heavy chop made it very difficult to bring the boat about for tacking. That was the part I filmed very little for the reason of having to handle the boat.

I have not forgotten Fr Claude Barbarit, the priest for whom I crewed in a regatta in 2011.

If the sea of our ancestors inspired fear, our contemporaries seem to have mastered it. We think of those who work at sea, fishermen with reliable weather forecasting devices. Disasters still happen offshore and rescuers die helping a vessel in a storm. This saying “There are three sorts of people: those who are alive, those who are dead, and those who are at sea” is sometimes attributed to Aristotle.

Psalm 107 mentions the seasickness and the terror of those who work at sea:

They that go down to the sea in ships, * and occupy their business in great waters;
These men see the works of the Lord, * and his wonders in the deep.
For at his word the stormy wind ariseth, * which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep; * their soul melteth away because of the trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, * and are at their wit’s end.
So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, * he delivereth them out of their distress.
For he maketh the storm to cease, * so that the waves thereof are still.

You can’t trick the sea. It requires our truth ad loyalty. The sea is a place of courage. You have always to be available for the effort it can suddenly require from us. The sea is a place of solidarity. We challenge it together. The fraternity of the sea is experienced by mutual help, mutual respect and tolerance. The sea requires our care and attention to detail. Order must reign onboard. “Shipshape and Bristol”, the Royal Navy used to say. Disorder engenders panic. True seamen are the masters of everything we learn, and their experience is priceless. The sea is a place of beauty. Polluting it is intolerable, even the smallest piece of plastic, fishing line or spilled petrol! We are called to savour the constantly changing harmony and splendour of the sky and the sea. The sea is the most beautiful place, giving us a wide space of silence. If we are believers, our meditation affirms what we believe and opens our heart. The Star of the Sea above the horizon invites us to go that one step further. Remember that the sea is always the stronger.

La mer nous apprend la modestie”.

I leave my readers with a few lines from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman:

O vast Rondure, swimming in space,
Cover’d all over with visible power and beauty,
Alternate light and day and the teeming spiritual darkness,
Unspeakable high processions of sun and moon and countless stars above,
Below, the manifold grass and waters, animals, mountains, trees,
With inscrutable purpose, some hidden prophetic intention,
Now first it seems my thought begins to span thee.

Down from the gardens of Asia descending radiating,
Adam and Eve appear, then their myriad progeny after them,
Wandering, yearning, curious, with restless explorations,
With questionings, baffled, formless, feverish, with never-happy hearts,
With that sad incessant refrain, Wherefore unsatisfied soul? and
Whither O mocking life?

Ah who shall soothe these feverish children?
Who justify these restless explorations?
Who speak the secret of impassive earth?
Who bind it to us? what is this separate Nature so unnatural?
What is this earth to our affections? (unloving earth, without a
throb to answer ours,
Cold earth, the place of graves.)

Yet soul be sure the first intent remains, and shall be carried out,
Perhaps even now the time has arrived.

After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d,)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their
work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the
geologist, ethnologist,
Finally shall come the poet worthy that name,
The true son of God shall come singing his songs.

* * *

Ah more than any priest O soul we too believe in God,
But with the mystery of God we dare not dally.

O soul thou pleasest me, I thee,
Sailing these seas or on the hills, or waking in the night,
Thoughts, silent thoughts, of Time and Space and Death, like
waters flowing,
Bear me indeed as through the regions infinite,
Whose air I breathe, whose ripples hear, lave me all over,
Bathe me O God in thee, mounting to thee,
I and my soul to range in range of thee.

O Thou transcendent,
Nameless, the fibre and the breath,
Light of the light, shedding forth universes, thou centre of them,
Thou mightier centre of the true, the good, the loving,
Thou moral, spiritual fountain—affection’s source—thou reservoir,
(O pensive soul of me—O thirst unsatisfied—waitest not there?
Waitest not haply for us somewhere there the Comrade perfect?)
Thou pulse—thou motive of the stars, suns, systems,
That, circling, move in order, safe, harmonious,
Athwart the shapeless vastnesses of space,
How should I think, how breathe a single breath, how speak, if, out of myself,
I could not launch, to those, superior universes?

Swiftly I shrivel at the thought of God,
At Nature and its wonders, Time and Space and Death,
But that I, turning, call to thee O soul, thou actual Me.

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The Gas-driven Ferrograph

I have already brought up the subject of John Rothera (1916-1997) who was an alto songman in York Minster choir. The late Dr Francis Jackson (1917-2022) who was organist of York Minster remembered him.

John Rothera and his tape recorder

This anthology, containing music from the 16th century to the late twentieth, represents a part of the repertoire of the choir of York Minster in the daily sung services. The first five tracks were session recordings made by E.M.I. and issued on 78 r.p.m. Columbia records as part of the four part series An Anthology of English Church Music.

However, the majority of the recordings came about – one might say almost fortuitously – through the dedication and persistence of one who was a member of the choir for close on forty years and never lost a chance to make a tape recording of anything he considered of interest, and this included almost anything at any time. It is not easy to get at his reason for accumulating what in the end amounted to a bewildering collection of every kind of item that goes into the making of a cathedral service – not only canticles, anthems, hymns and psalms, but the reading of lessons or snippets of sermons. No stone was left unturned to procure the desired catch, and this is probably the chief attribute possessed by John Rothera (1916-1997) which enabled his amassing of things which were of interest to him, which included non-musical things such as ordnance survey maps (of which he had the complete set) countless photographs and even empty Woodbine cigarette packets (collected during his smoking days) and Bovril jars which he could not bear to throw away. This will make it clear that he lived a bachelor existence, and his activities extended far into the not-so-small hours of the night, causing his day to begin around noon, except on Sunday when he had to be roused – usually by a chorister – for the service at 10.30 a.m. His heavy Ferrograph tape recorder was permanently resident at his place in the cantoris choir stalls (where he sang for the whole of his songmanship), and a microphone slung between the two sides of the choir was a permanency for many years until it was pronounced unsightly and had to be removed.

Hence came the enormous welter of things recorded, naturally very varied in quality and always liable to be ruined by a missed lead, a flat or sharp note, coughing or other extraneous interferences but, on occasion, an acceptable or even an inspired performance. But all of them, perfect or not so perfect are the result of a live and meaningful act, not a studio product, all carefully edited, and this, one hopes, can be discerned whatever the quality of performance. Also one would hope for a certain measure of indulgence by any listener who may detect a flaw or two in a piece which was otherwise too good to reject.

It was the policy to use the best of music of all periods in the choir’s repertoire, and thus there was always a wide variety of style to feed the interests of the singers. It was also the policy to conduct items which were unaccompanied, but for the choir to look after itself when the organ was used. It is somewhat remarkable then that, unconducted, there was a high degree of unanimity for the most part, as well as inspiration proceeding from the knowledge, understanding and musicianship possessed by the individual choir members.

John Rothera’s interests were wide and varied and included taking up Greek at an advanced age under the tutelage of a student at the university who was a choral scholar in the choir. Astronomy was also one of his absorbing subjects, causing him to obtain a telescope which severely restricted his movements in his living room. He also gained permission to ride his bicycle in pedestrian areas of York on the plea of reduced walking mobility. A notice displayed on the cycle proclaimed the fact. He was always liable to make illicit recordings of orchestras, and on one occasion his persistence went too far and his tape was confiscated by the orchestra’s manager who had already issued him with a warning.

His eccentricities enlivened the scene wherever he was, and here his set purpose, his determination and staying power have left us with a wealth of material which, after the somewhat herculean task of playing them and choosing, affords us a glimpse of cathedral life and music which is absorbing and unique.

I knew John well when I was at school through our common love of English church music. One could go and visit him almost any time, and often he would be holding court with friends from the church music world, or indeed those with any common interest. He was certainly “on the Spectrum”, given his focused interests and technical talent. His machine was sometimes unkindly called the gas-driven Ferrograph. In actual fact, this was one of the most advanced and best tape recorders of its time. The recording level was set according to peak volume rather than the automatic level control on more recent recording machines, which gives a crappy result. It records via an external microphone in mono, and the type of microphone is chosen according to the intended use. John’s favourite was the “ball and biscuit”.This microphone (see the technical information if you are interested) took some of the recordings in a pair of CD’s of York Minster choir which were collated and remastered from John’s tapes. When John had to transport his heavy machine, he put it precariously on the back of his bicycle. I think I saw him do so on one occasion, but not by riding the bicycle, which would have been too dangerous. He would walk and use the bicycle as a trolley to bear the weight of the tape recorder.

Sound recording buffs often debate the virtues of analogical against digital recordings. I am not a sound engineer, and the difference of quality is extremely subtle. I have not listened to anything other than digital since a CD player took over in my life from a cassette tape recorder – in something like 1986.

Nearly fifty years after those days, I recently invested in a digital sound recorder made by Tascam, the DR-05X which was recommended to me by an English organist who is also a professional sound engineer. He was merciful on my budget! It is about the size of a mobile phone and can be hand-held or can be mounted on a tripod to avoid vibration noise.

It has given me some excellent results in my experiments in recording my house organ. Apart from stereo recording, it has all the refinements of the Ferrograph and more. There are other recorders on the market for comparison. It doesn’t flatten the rear tyre of a bicycle! It goes into a pocket and runs on two AA batteries.

On my YouTube channel Romantia Christiana, between my sailing videos, I have done some organ recordings with my mobile phone and a Logitech webcam with stereo microphone that operates through standard Windows parameters. I look forward to getting the adjustments right on my Tascam and using video editing software to synchronise the sound with a video.

Well, I am not John Rothera. My life is different from his was. People in fifty years time will have other devices – or none at all. I am grateful for the progress of technology. John taught me a lot about recording, getting the level right and the microphone in the right place – not too close and not too far. I remember the large loudspeaker in the corner of his downstairs room, which would do justice to the recordings when he played them back. “Ooh! You can hear the fundamental!” as the 16ft or even the 32ft pedal stops were caught on tape and faithfully reproduced. The fundamental is the basis of the harmonic series of any musical note. I remember that speaker as I bought a modern subwoofer for my own hi-fi. My world is digital, and John’s was analogical. Different times, different technologies.

The organist who recommended me the Tascam, Richard McVeigh, is a professional with sound and video technology. His house organ is amazing. See his videos. A full professional kit of microphones, cables and recording equipment will fill a car, let alone the back of a bicycle! The sky is the limit with the budget. I will never be a professional in this field, but I think I will get better results with my little gadget.

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Parish Catholicism

I have not written anything here since Holy Week, partly through discouragement, partly through laziness, partly through being taken up by other things. I have been trying to discern what made Christianity “work” in the past. Simply, it was the parish, a small unassuming life in a little place like a village.

Nowadays, the village has become a dormitory for people working in town and commuting by car, or a place for retired people to spend some peaceful years in the twilight of their lives. The local church is sometimes open, but more for the purpose of drying the place out so that is doesn’t deteriorate through excessive damp. A French diocese has only a few priests assigned to pastoral administrations of tens of parishes each, and it is all run in a bureaucratic manner. The daily round of Mass, Office and popular devotions is a thing of the past. My local church, a beautiful and very ancient Saxon style edifice seems only to serve for funerals (generally conducted by a lay person and without Mass) and the occasional visitor. Without this parochial incarnation, the Church is little more than an abstraction.

Someone wrote to me on Facebook and mentioned an article based on the magical story Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame – Mole, Anglicanism, and Rogationtide. He felt inspired to do so when I showed a photo of my sailing and coming up with the hackneyed quote: “Believe me my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats“. Spending a peaceful weekend on the Erdre with some other sailing enthusiasts in late May does seem quite bucolic.

To the writer of this article, Laudian parish Anglicanism seems the ideal and representative of a “bucolic” religious life of an era without electronics and few labour-saving machines. Quotes from Wind in the Willows are interspersed with quotes from the Prayer Book. There is something about Prayer Book English that suggests the plain language of Yorkshire folk, that odd sentence construction that jars with modern usage. Meekly kneeling on your knees – What else would we kneel on? There is a certain childish naivety, coming from the pen of an Archbishop of Canterbury and a theological scholar. Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort. Comfort is now the experience of sitting in a soft armchair, though the older meaning was about peace in our souls and an end to our anxiety. Hooker spoke about the peace, quietness, order and stability of religion. It is indeed an appealing notion. How many of us live all our lives in one place from the cradle to the grave. Last weekend, I was speaking to men in their 70’s telling me as a matter of pride that they had stayed in the same place as fathers of families and grandfathers for more than fifty years. Stability, like for Benedictine monks, is a virtue and something we seek against the transience of modern precarity. Stability comes from solid family roots, right choices made in life and a certain psychological health, being unconcerned with what is “above our pay grade”, but it can also lead to narrowness, intolerance, lack of imagination or sense of beauty – parochialism.

I have lived through a sequence of events in my life that have given me a more cosmopolitan attitude. Stability is a good thing, but so is the restlessness of a searching soul. I have my own memories. I can look at photos of the place where I spent my childhood, walked with my family, played. Would I want to go back to that life? Such a desire would be an illusion. It just isn’t the same word. I often daydream about times before my lifetime. What would it have been like to live in Georgian England or in the Romantic era? I will never know. I can only imagine the beautiful houses of the rich and the hovels of the poor. Our standards of health and hygiene were unknown to those long-dead people.

One great instinct of Romanticism is not to remain stuck in an immobile word, but to live eternal ideas is a succession of new worlds of imagination and beauty. I live in a beautiful place, but it is not the world of my childhood. It is how we can live with change. I have spent time in presbyteries of priests who had been in their parishes for as long as the fathers and grandfathers I mentioned. They became increasingly rare as they died or the diocesan bureaucracies pensioned them off as a relic of pre-modernity. The gap of irrelevance was increasing.

Much of modern institutional Christianity is just kitsch and ugliness. Some is based on American Evangelicalism, but the more widespread reference is corporate management, the collective over the individual and personal. It is all geared to mass urban humanity, run by and for machines. Very few people relate to such a form of institutional Christianity. We are not called to conform to it, but find our true selves where God resides. We speak of English gentleness. All we can do is to be such ourselves and not expect it from others, in particular from the “cancel culture” iconoclasts. Let us dream and imagine, for this is the essence of Christ’s Kingdom. Never mind what the others are doing!!!

I am not deluded enough to think that parish life can be restored. The whole sociology of villages has changed. I am very struck by the example of the Anglican Catholic Church’s pro-cathedral in rural England, in the form of a former Methodist chapel that became available for purchase. Bishop Mead hoped to obtain planning permission to put a very small church tower on the roof with a clock and a very small single bell. There were complaints from local people fearing for their quiet lives. The project has had to be abandoned. Unfortunately, this church is not the parish church of the village but a “foreign” community from elsewhere. Stubborn conservatism can be irrational and sometimes bloody-minded. English gentleness can be no more than an illusion. It would have been better to buy a building in a city – but with a much higher budget.

Parish life in cities is totally different, depending as it does on personal commitment rather than being a part of village sociology. City parishes are generally dynamic and well managed. Country parishes are dead, dead from the very stability that kept them alive. It is a tragic paradox.

What of the future? The tendency is towards collectivism and the abolition of the human person. We see this in populist politics of the left and right. As a social phenomenon, the future of Christianity is bleak. It no longer has the “medium” of the stable village community. It may prosper in contemporary incarnations of Romanticism, of their nature marginal, in the arts and philosophy. There are expressions of Christianity that are in themselves dynamic and vibrant, but to which I cannot personally relate. Do I have a moral right to look elsewhere? Am I being selfish when I look elsewhere?

Christ compared God’s Kingdom to leaven in bread, a principle of spiritual life in anything we do in life. St Charles de Foucault lived as a leaven in the desert, irrelevant in the midst of a Muslim society, like Bishop Mead’s church in a dormitory of middle-class English houses and non-religious people. Some would like to reconstruct Christendom, a Christian society through the ideology of integralism – the principle of the State being subject to the Church, itself political in its structure and purpose. Christ did not intend his teaching to become an ideology of force and constraint.

However, where an old-style parish is found to exist and survive, we should learn from it. It may be a seed of Christian humanity, a leaven in the bread and a mustard seed.

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Holy Week 2022

Jesus Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem

In two days is Palm Sunday and then the profoundly mysterious Holy Week containing ceremonies that we celebrate just once a year. I have to look through the ceremonies in case I have become “rusty” since last year. The space I have to do them in is radically reduced since last year. I have the tiny chapel, the landing on the top of the stairs and my library / bedroom.

Like last year, for my New Fire, I use an old cauldron with a bunch of candles glued with molten wax into a jam jar lid. It gives a small fire, but which is possible indoors without producing smoke or danger of burning the house down!

Palm Sunday will be quite straightforward with a simplified blessing of the palms and some chant from the Sarum books. The Passion of St Matthew will be read in English. Maundy Thursday is also straightforward, followed by the stripping of the altar. In the Use of Sarum, we don’t have the Altar of Repose on Maundy Thursday, but the Easter Sepulchre on Good Friday. That will be set up on the chapel window sill. I have the wooden crucifix for the Good Friday adoration of the Cross.

My Paschal Vigil will take a lot of thinking through, from the blessing of the fire and the procession of the single / triple candle from which the Paschal Candle will be lit during the Exsultet. I will read the four Prophecies from a simple metal foldable music desk. The first Mass of Easter will follow the Litanies which are quite different from the Roman one.

The alternative is to go to a Dominican-style community here in the Mayenne, the Fraternité de Saint-Vincent Ferrier. They use the old Dominican rite, similar to Sarum – – – but, they are Roman Catholics – traditionalists – and I am not. There is nothing wrong with attending services, but I fear their questions. Should I go in my cassock or completely anonymously, looking like an eccentric layman? They are good men, but they are what they are, and I am what I am, a worm and no man. Frankly I prefer to avoid the total humiliation and wonder if it would even be good for my soul! They know who I am, and I prefer to avoid the old shadows, bitterness and self-annihilation.

I shall worship in spiritual and sacramental communion with my Archbishop, with Bishop Damien and the ACC in the UK, with my brother priest in the Netherlands. I will serve in the dignity of my priestly vocation, in empathy with the suffering Christ and all who suffer and die with him at this moment. The Church is a sacramental mystery, not a political authority. She subsists even where the links are invisible and difficult to discern. The Mass and the Office build those invisible links of Communion that go far beyond institutions and human ambition. To stay in my little corner will do much more good.

I wish you all a blessed Holy Week from my tiny chapel and my solitude, asking your prayers in this wonder of the liturgy.

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Northern Brittany

I haven’t done very much on this blog for a long time, since I became preoccupied with the situation in the Ukraine. It is still a worry for us all, out of empathy in people driven out of their homes and victims of atrocities and war crimes, and also by the real possibility that this could lead to mankind’s worst nightmare – nuclear Armageddon.

Since my sailing school days more than ten years ago, I have experienced empathy, not only with suffering humans, but also with the natural world – and the wildest coasts around. One such is northern Brittany which rivals the fjords of Norway, the lochs of Scotland, the ragged coast of western Ireland, the inspiration of the Romantics.

I am presently reading Michael Martin’s The Submerged Reality: Sophiology and the Turn to a Poetic Metaphysics. I am finding that the theological and philosophical paths I have followed since my university days in the 1980’s concur almost exactly with this American author. I intend to contact him and ask his advice for many things. This book and Sophia in Exile are illuminating. Romanticism is a northern European expression of a much wider inspiration in the human soul in both time and space.

Last weekend, I went for my “Lenten retreat” on the sea in my stout keel boat.

This was my first real sea passage this year – to replace a Dinghy Cruising Association rally that had to be cancelled because of poor weather allowing only two days sailing. Saint-Malo is a lot nearer my home than the Rade de Brest. We will do a short tour of the Rade de Brest towards the end of June. The DCA people are truly great company, and several of us members live in France.

This video is accompanied by a part of Grieg’s Peer Gynt suite conducted by Herbert von Karajan, not that I was in the Norwegian fjords, but on an equally wild and Romantic coast.

I launched Novalis at Plouër sur Rance with little time to spare with the lowering tide. I spent a peaceful but very cold night there in the port. I was prepared, with warm clothing and bedding. I was only able to offer my Office for Passion Sunday morning before leaving Plouër sur Rance. I reached the EDF hydro-electric dam for the last lock until the next rising tide. I sailed along the Dinard coast with the wonderful houses on the cliff tops facing the sea. There were several sandy beaches. I reached the double bay of Lancieux and the islands being careful not to get near any rocks. Sunday was a lovely sunny day to sail to Saint-Cast-le-Guildo with mainsail and genoa. I spend the night docked at Saint-Cast-le-Guildo,

I returned to Saint-Malo on the Monday morning, in a stronger SW wind. I also met a heavy NW swell, and I rigged with my little jib but with full main to avoid the risk of broaching. The weather remained dry, but the wind became increasingly gustier. I sailed into the haven of Dinard to get my sails down before motoring over to Saint-Malo. On the way, I had a nasty broadside wave from a passenger boat that combined with the swell and was about to break. It tested the stability of Novalis because I righted immediately from a near knockdown. My stuff in the cabin went everywhere, and you will see the state of my cabin in a later part of this video. Fortunately, nothing got broken or wet. I motored into the port of Saint-Malo in the whistling wind and agitated water even in port. I managed to find a berth far inside the port.

On Tuesday morning I motored to the dam to get back into the Rance and calmer waters. The wind was calmer than on Monday afternoon, but all over the place, very unstable, so I motored all the way back to Plouër sur Rance. I was right to end the cruise there, because the wind has freshened considerably today, even inland.

I am grateful for this brief contact with the sea, mindful that more clement weather will bless us amateur sailors this season.

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Is Putin a Romantic?

I found it quite difficult to recollect myself for Mass this morning as a thought kept stabbing into my mind – the similarity between Aleksandr Dugin’s ideas, representing Russian and European New-Right traditionalism and Romanticism, at least on the surface. Are the Woke people right in cancelling everything, culture and difference, in their lust to dominate? Is Putin a traditionalist? A Romantic?

As far as I am concerned, there is nothing in common between even someone like Lord Byron who fought against the Turks for the Greeks, and Putin who has shown himself to be a bloody tyrant!

Had he lived today, Byron would have gone to fight for the Ukrainians against the Russian army.

However, there may be some foundational ideas that seem to narrate a myth. I haven’t gone into Dugin’s thought enough to know what he thinks and knows about Romanticism as it developed in Germany, post-revolutionary France and England.

At a superficial level, Dugin would seem to be contrasting a “traditionalist” Russia emerging from the Soviet era against a western world that would be nothing other than coldly scientific and materialist. However, Dugin rightly criticises the development of some western agendas like LGBT, gender issues and Woke. It goes beyond tolerance and shows a face not dissimilar from that of Robespierre. It becomes an ideological war against which traditionalists invoke Catholic or Orthodox tradition and old values like the nation and the family.

Russia was not very traditionalist during the Soviet era, and America is quite religious and sometimes extremely zealous in conservative issues. For Dugin, Russia never had an Enlightenment. Cough! Splutter! Cup of tea sprayed all over the place! What about their nihilism, the Underground Man, the denial of God and adoption of Marx? Two things are missing from modern Russian society. We have neither reason nor will. What does that mean? Dugin rejects the idea that Russians might be irrational or lack intellectual capacity, but offers the idea according to which they give priority to faith and religion over the idea that science and materialism are the nec plus ultra.

I would rather advance the idea that what Dugin extols in the Russian soul actually came from the west. Russian Orthodoxy has had its mystics and saints, but someone like Nicholas Berdyaev gave much more importance to Jakob Böhme as did Novalis in his time, and Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. Even in the USA, there were men of the Transcendentalist school like Emerson and Walt Whitman. Even the USA was (and is) not devoid of humanity. This is not to deny what is good and noble in the Russian soul, but it is not alone.

Traditionalism is not about aggressive politics, but what happened in France at the extreme end of the eighteenth century and Russia in the early 1990’s before the gangsters and oligarchs came on stage to get what they could get out of it. The idealism did not last for long. Dugin can make a caricature of the west, as we cry “Borscht for brains!“. There is both good and evil to be found in Russia, Europe and America.

We all have progress to make towards that ideal that is not a monopoly of Russian Orthodoxy and the Patriarchate of Moscow. That ideal was found in Lutheranism, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism and every spiritual expression, even if not explicitly Christian. As an immature youth, I imagined that Germany was Bach, England was Elgar, France was Fauré or the philosophical and literary equivalents of those musicians. The nobility of spirit we yearn for in other people and places has to be found within ourselves. We need to stay put for a while to make that discovery within ourselves of immanent divinity.

The idea that Putin is a traditionalist or a Slavic Romantic is nonsense. He is a gangster. Power has gone to his head. He is killing people, murdering child and widow alike as well as young mothers – and giving the most discredited justifications for it. He is a multi-billionaire and plays God with his wealth and arrogance. I am glad that the western sanctions are hitting him harder than in the balls – in his wallet and bringing down the oligarchs. This is a real Russian Revolution, to free humanity from this monster, not only the person of Putin but what he represents. The same problem exists in the west too in the form of oligarchs, people like Bill Gates and Elon Musk who find themselves the butt of conspirary theories. The latter at least is actually a humanitarian and wants to use some of his wealth to help.

Romanticism essentially had the same message in the wake of the French Revolution and extreme rationalism. The nineteenth century was a miracle in terms of reviving Christian faith and values, just as in Russia with Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy among others. Sometimes great evil comes from sublimity, and this can happen in any of us. He who goes high will suffer a greater fall. I naively believed in Putin until this invasion happened.

Perhaps this clash between Russia and the West, if it doesn’t bring on the nuclear winter and the death of us all, will help to bring out a new humanity and appreciation of truth, beauty, goodness and love.

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Pushkin, not Putin

I try to understand the present crisis in philosophical terms. I am alarmed about Russia and its culture being “cancelled” and demonised. Like most people in the part of the world where I live, I believe that Putin is wrong and is doing wrong by his lack of care for the innocent people who are dying under the bombs and bullets.

I invite you to watch these three videos:

An interview between Freddie Sayers and Marlene Laruelle who has studied Aleksandr Dugin and the “soul of Russia”

Another interview, this time between Gabriel Gatehouse and Aleksandr Dugin about ‘truth’, a new Cold War, and media control.

Bernard-Henri Lévy and Aleksandr Dugin as defenders of the Enlightenment and counter-Enlightenment. This dialogue is introduced by Rob Riemen of the Nexus Institute in the Netherlands.

The latter two videos date from before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. There is the prevailing thought that Putin may be influenced by Dugin.

For many years, I have admired the depth of thought of Russian philosophers going back to Dostoyevsky (and beyond) and his reaction against nihilism and what became Communism. I find the influence of German mystical Romanticism in this Russian traditionalism and integralism very interesting. When I was at seminary in the early 1990’s, I entertained the idea of going to Russia, once I would be ordained a priest, to minister as a Roman Catholic priest and celebrating in both Byzantine and Roman rites to people emerging from the yoke of Communism. It went no further than a few Russian lessons from a book and a tape, and of course, my love of Nicholas Berdyaev and others.

On the surface of things, I remained in the western world close to home. Are the things that inspired and enamoured me now to be cancelled? Is the Romanticism that motivates me to a new understanding of Christian spirituality a root of nationalism, fascism and the will to crush the human soul in favour of the collective? In the mind of Soloviev, is this not the salient characteristic of the eastern soul, the total passivity of the Slavic people?

Following a joking suggestion from the first video, I made it into the title of this piece. Pushkin, not Putin. The evil committed in a country, and even in that country’s name, should not cancel out the beauty and goodness in that country’s history. Should I hate Bach, Schumann, Beethoven, Novalis, Göthe and so many others because of the period under the Nazi tyranny of Hitler, Hydrich, Göring, Göbbells and the others. Germany lived under the shame from 1945 until now when the decision was made to help Ukraine by providing weapons to fight the Russian army.

We run a terrible danger of repeating the same nihilism of Dostoyevsky’s Demons or Notes from Underground as we collectively encourage and foster the Borderline and Narcissistic personality disorder.

When I was at university, I seriously considered conversion to Orthodoxy as I became disillusioned with integralist Roman Catholicism. Like culture, Christian spirituality and philosophy have to be detached from that lust for power and domination. The same temptations subsist in Orthodoxy or indeed any religious and political institution.

I have walked by intuition, and my eyes are being opened by this clash of two ideologies, neither of which are mine. The Woke movement shares many of the characteristics of the Russian nihilists of the 1860’s. This shadow must be faced within each of us if we are to hope for a future. I see more and more evidence that we as a people, humanity, are becoming conscious of something that will bring our salvation. May God, Our Lady and the Saints make it so, and may we heed prophecy and walk the ways of God.

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The Long Table

A number of journalists have wondered why Putin only talks to people from each end of an enormously long table.Perhaps it is to avoid assassination by poisoning, something for which the Russians (or at least the re-named KGB and dark personalities) are past masters, or to intimidate the foreign politician trying to negotiate with Putin. There may be other reasons…

I am something of a James Bond fan, and I notice that the long table as a symbol was present in this film from the 1970’s The Spy Who Loved Me. If you remember, it is about a billionaire villain who captures British and Russian submarines loaded with nuclear missiles in order to destroy the world, and create his new world under the sea. This clip is the final confrontation where the baddie meets his Karma.

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