Matins in a country church

In a lifelong search for meaning, I have found little to compare with matins in an English country church, on a quiet summer’s morning.

According to Google the word is Middle English:

A service forming part of the traditional Divine Office of the Western Christian Church, originally said (or chanted) at or after midnight. A Christian service of morning prayer, especially in the Anglican Church

from Old French matines, plural (influenced by Church Latin matutinae ‘morning prayers’) of matin ‘morning’, from Latin matutinum, neuter of matutinus ‘early in the morning’, from Matuta, the name of the dawn goddess.

The words to the service are contained in the Book of Common Prayer, an anathema no doubt, both to the evangelicals and to modern man in general, sacred or secular alike.  For those with a more ancient and academic set of mind, there is nothing more glorious.

Ripple Church, Kent
Ripple Church, Kent

I had walked there across the fields from home; three local churches were in view but on this morning only one of them had an organist and those magical words on offer.

The congregation was 6, while organist and cleric brought the total number to 8.  Perhaps one was my junior in age, but most were my equal or senior. The words and music rolled over me, even the responses were sung.

The Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 51.  Ancient, croaky voices in an ancient and sacred setting.

It isn’t the god-stuff which takes my breath away.  It is the sheer beauty. The quiet. The stained glass, the art, the meditation. Yes, the ancient loveliness of it all.

And a return (in my thoughts at least) to my childhood.  To the beautiful and ancient church of my early years and the little prep school choir where I sang for 5 unbelievably old fashioned years in Charles Dicken’s Broadstairs.

We won’t have it for much longer.  The churches are shutting their doors, the ancient parishioners are the last of their breed. They aren’t making organists anymore. It is living history; revel in it, marvel at it while you may.

And why should I care? I am as puzzled as the next man by my devotion to such anachronism. Is it because somehow, somewhere I have a small, quiet shred of belief in this ancient religion?

No, not in any literal sense.

The address surprised me: “Some say there are many roads up the mountain. That is not so, there is only Jesus Christ”.

How could I possibly subscribe to such abject nonsense, such narrow minded absurdity? Are millions of Buddhists to be denied “salvation”?  And what of the rest, including the atheists?

And yet this ancient service always brings me solace.  There is “something” as opposed to “no thing” and I always feel it in such a setting. But that something probably bears little resemblance to the “something” worshiped by Christians.

I’m sorry to say that Jesus “Christ” is not going to bail us out of our unholy mess.  Good man though he was, he is long dead and gone.  Although in a sense his “spirit” remains, even if only in our memes and memories.

A post Darwinian world of plenty and justice is something only we can achieve. We are not going to be able to rely on supernatural intervention.

Science, education and awareness might eventually achieve heaven on earth if we work hard enough at it. It is at least worth trying.

I seek the numinous, like so many others, but it is to be found within, not without.  It is to be found in a profound alteration of consciousness and it is not going to happen quickly.

Trans-humanism is a slowly emerging reality.  If I have any creed at all, it is the belief that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, by means of science and technology.  Together with a good measure of the philosophies of kindness and goodness we find in all of the world’s better religions.

I attend matins occasionally, or sometimes evensong not because I believe in a divinity or his offspring, but because the calm beauty makes me realize what is important in life. And how to live it.

I attend matins not because I believe god or Jesus is going to save me, but because the embrace of the culture soothes my fractious mind.

So good old Church of England I hold you dear.  I shall miss you when you have gone. I must attend matins in a country church much more often.

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