Monday, 20 August 2007

The beauty of churches

I have been thinking about this subject since seeing the picture Sweet Irene did (Sweet Wood Talking) of the silver ball with the stained glass windows reflected in it. I thought this was beautiful, and reminded me of Christmas, maybe the reflection you would see on a silver ball on a Christmas tree in a Church. The picture, with its digital reworking, also had rather a contemporary feel, which somehow brought the stained glass windows (an ancient religious artform)up to date. The windows refected in the silver bauble are, for me, where the spiritual meets the sensuous side to the festival.

I know that Sweet Irene likes churches, and so do I, though I am not religious, so I hope what I'm going to say will offend anyone with cherished religious beliefs. I like the beauty of churches and one of my favourite moments of the year is when we attend the carol service at our local church on Christmas Eve. This never fails to send shivers down the back of my neck.

I like the way you see neighbours and people you know all venturing out onto the cold streets, one or two at first, then a few more as you go along, and then all joining together through the doors of the church, like so many streams joining together to make a river. Not quite the sea of faith, as most of them, including us, only go once a year, but still there is something drawing us in. I like the symbolism of the church, the spire reaching for the sky, the columns and arches inside also trying to reach upwards beyond the purely mundane to the sky blue ceiling. I like the alter with the cross and candles polished to a sparkle by the ladies who also dress the church with holly and greenery tied with a red ribbon. I always think these are nature's winter colours like holly with its red berries, or the robin, with its red breast a vibrant challenge to the grey bleakness of mid winter. Also seen are the sprigs of mistletoe, which hark back to the ancient pre-Christian religions and festivals.

We all get a candle to hold, which my kids like, as they think it is slightly daring. The lights are turned low and we sing the carols in the dark to candlelight, which is again a symbolic gesture. The carols are wonderful, and probably my favourite music of all, but not music that I could reasonably listen to all year long in my kitchen. 'In the bleak midwinter...' My kids walk around humming carols for a few days afterwards. I find the whole thing a sensuous experience.

I don't know why I am thinking of Christmas at this time of the year. It was looking at Sweet Irene's picture what did it!

6 comments:

Frances said...

Understand what you are saying. I was brought up to be religious, but it didn't last - my Grandma, who was very religious, always said everyone got blessed by going into a church whether they believe or not. I am like the majority of English people, don't think about it much, but there is some sort of spiritual side to things and churches do have a special atmosphere. Christmas is magical in some way. It is a mystery. Only narrow-minded bigots can be offended by people gaining something positive from aspects of religion.

Sweet Irene said...

I like the rituals in the catholic churches the best, although I have never been in an Anglican church and I guess they have their rituals too. I love rituals and I am a very ritualistic woman. There is something magic in them and I think in another life I may have been a magic woman or a shaman. Maybe I was a witch, but I hope I wasn't burned at the stake. I think I could be the minister of some small denomination and hand out wine and wavers and bless people all over the place and pray over them. I could see the magic in that.

Bobbie said...

Irene's image was wonderful wasn't it? I could not so eloquently describe the feelings it evoked, but perhaps what you described was it. There is a yearning inside me for these things. I was raised Catholic and even today have sudden urges (which I suppress) to return there.

Rima said...

I've always found the pageantry of the Eastern church fascinating (like the Greek Orthodox churches and services). I'm not one of the tribe (yours I mean), but everywhere in the world I've been, I've found beautiful churches and other places of worship. It's strange how humanity dresses up its need for a higher power - hasn't changed since Antiquity.

You write that you're thinking of Christmas at this time - we just popped in a Christmas CD yesterday (because I couldn't find anything else - long story) and the kids were very excited, listened to it over and over again. I guess it's the back-to-school feeling, now that fall is upon us. It's been a lot cooler all of a sudden, and some stores have started displaying Halloween stuff. It floors me.

Debi said...

I hope when Christmas time rolls around, you'll share pictures of your neighborhood decked out for the season. England and the Christmas Season seem to go together. Guess Charles Dickens had something to do with that.

I used to live down the street from a Catholic church. I am not religious either, but getting glimpses of the priests going to and fro, and the church bells ringing on Sunday always made me feel safe and good.

Frances said...

Being a severely lapsed Catholic myself, I haven't much to say about Catholic priests. I always liked the Franciscan brothers we knew in Malta.
Not as dressy as some of the priests....