“Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?” – my life in two rituals

A nephew visits for the weekend. I remember when he was born. He brings his newish girlfriend. She is lovely. At Mass I read the banns of marriage of a, younger-than-them, couple. To tease my nephew, I get out all the photographs – him as a baby, him as a toddler … and they want to see all the photos.

My life is surrounded by ritual. By ceremony. Every single day, Mass and Office. The pastoral offices, the liturgical rites of education.

For Jamie, my partner, and I, plainness, simplicity, earthed-ness have always been important. We barely celebrate birthdays. Rootedness, home, garden, meals, prayer together. This is what matters, undemonstrative. The privacy of our life carefully treasured.

Among the photos in our albums are the rites, just two, which have marked our life. The thirty-two years since we met. It is hardly anything, slips of paper, two pieces of A4.

It’s hard now to remember what it felt like in 1990. We had survived the 1980’s. We felt very much like survivors. Survivors of politics and of plague. And of the personal stuff. To say the 1980’s were difficult is an understatement. But they were also intense and joyful.

My most important spiritual mentor was Jewish. Vera Karoly, a survivor of Auschwitz, a gardener and artist. Her version of Rublev’s Trinity her gift to us and our most precious possession:

In 1990 Jamie and I faced a cross-roads. I was about to go to theological college. Without having words to describe what we were doing, but with clarity, we planned a holiday to Greece and, choosing a cove on an island, Agistri, we celebrated this rite together:

I think the type-face must come from the old Amstrad computer I had.

Much is owed to my Jewish connections, the lighting of candles, the sharing of wine. Even the acknowledgement of surviving. The sense of the ‘formless void’. What are we making? This was a long time ago. “In love we begin to create the world all over again.”

I had had two important conversations with Brother Roger of Taizé in 1982, in that space after evening prayer in the church when he, and the brothers, stand ready for conversation. I can’t remember everything he said. Intuition was the key word. Intuit the way forward, his instruction.

The spiritual-conflict, so much a part of my work with young people is evident: “Shield us from the social sickness of no commitment.”

Sixteen years later. Many of our friends had civil partnerships. Legally it was important. We celebrated this rite:

In the glorious art-deco of Wandsworth’s registry office no mention of God was allowed. To be subversive we had a reading from a woman priest. And also Walt Whitman, who is more priestly than him?

The illustrations, from the Tassajara Bread Book. Hospitality, home, at the heart of it all.

A private ceremony. Paul, who was with us the night we met, his partner. The registrar, no one else. Lunch together afterwards. Then a night camped at a micro-brewery in Hampshire. Beer, a rooted, English drink.

No criticism of those who push for more. Those who challenge the church and its boundaries. Obedience for me an important path to tread.

Twelve years later it still feels just right. Again that theme of re-creation in the reading from Carter Heyward. “To love you is to be pushed by a power terrifying and comforting”. “Let the revolution begin.” Years ago we had no idea where the journey would lead. We still don’t. The promises are simple: “Will you come travel with me?” “Shall we stick by each other as long as we live?”

Vera, who I loved, her voice in my head, alive still: “Tell the story. Bear witness.”

Finally, that reading, the final three paragraphs from A Home At The End of the World. No past, no future. The present moment, that liminality, still the most important koan of life.

“Something cracked.”

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

Life unfolds. Now.

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for this, Richard- there is something transformative about love which is so reflective and carefully balanced and yet shot through with joy and hope and beauty. It somehow shines more than love which is effortless and less-anchored in truth.

    Liked by 1 person

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