Tuesday, 3 March 2015

A spiritual frame of mind

Many years ago, when Eddie was still small, the prospect of being taken to church of a Sunday morning brought about tantrums. He did not want to go. Yet when on holiday in Przemyśl, friends of ours suggested we all go to a Greek-Catholic Ukrainian mass, Eddie came too, and at the end of the mass he wanted to stay for the next one, so entranced was he by the whole show.

In particular the music. When I first watched Michael Cimino's The Deer Hunter in the late 1970s, one scene struck me as being entirely unconvincing. The portrayal of the Ukrainian-American community certainly squared with my British-Polish upbringing, but... this church? This singing? All too Hollywoodsy - the choir must have been professional singers. And yet when I visited Ukrainian churches in Poland, the first thing that struck me was the wondrousness of the music; polyphonic, otherworldly, intensely mystical. A different world to that which one hears sung in Polish Catholic churches. Then there's the decor, the feeling that one is sharing in a profound mystery behind the gilded iconostasis - something incredibly uplifting.

Certainly having the Catholic mass in the vernacular (post Second Vatican Council) takes away from the majesty and communion with the eternal. (And the change from the King James Version to the New English Bible has had a similar effect, replacing majestic, well-loved wording, so deeply embedded in the English language, with something that reads like government health and safety guidelines.)

Before moving to Poland in the late 1990s, I'd take Moni to Ealing Abbey, a Benedictine church, where one mass each Sunday was said in Latin, and the singing by a choir of monks was quite different in quality to the tones heard at the Polish church down the road.

And while children's masses are family-friendly, when hordes of screaming four year-olds are tearing around the aisles squirting Ribena at one another, it is difficult to get into a spiritual frame of mind.

And it is this that's needed for one's consciousness to reach out to God. The right atmosphere, one conducive to prayer, leaving a space for dialogue, being open to that elusive back-channel.

For me, a 13th Century cathedral, be it Anglican or Catholic, in France or England or Poland (with a decent choir) does the trick. Modern churches, shorn of the decorated stonework, without the stained glass, with oaken pews replaced by bean-bags, and filled with angular, gimmicky modern art fail me in this extent.

Frankly, I find it far easier to communicate with the Infinite in the countryside or outdoors on a starry night.

Ritual without the right spiritual attitude, to me at least, has no intrinsic quality. Doing for the sake of doing, rather than genuinely seeking communion with one's Maker. A genuine search for spiritual meaning requires concentration, and an mind uncluttered by external distractions.

This does make me ask whether it is possible to seek God in the presence of many people, or whether it is a solitary quest.

Thus endeth the second week of Lent.

Link to previous post in this series: Speaking to God, listening to God

This time last year:
Sunday in the City

This time two years ago:
God's teachings

This time six years ago:
A week into Lent


AndrzejK said...

The choir (six members) at the Orthodox Church in Krynica Zdrój is absolutely amazing. They sing acapella but you have the impression of there being organs in the background. And yes give me a plain English church smelling of the ages any day over the monstrosities the Polish Catholic Church has inflicted on the landscape. For 14 centuries or more church design was fixed as to floor plan with all elements having a symbolic meaning. What the Świątynia Opaczności in Wilanów is meant to represent is probably only evident to the architect. How one is supposed to commune with the eternal in such a cacophony of architectural styles is anyone's guess.

And of course my pet hate is the way that "Barka" - Pan kiedyś stanał na brzegu has been turned into a dirge sung at one third speed in six different keys and to three different melodies at the same time. Bring back Gregorian chant say I.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ Andrzej K.

Yes - dirge is the word. Easter, a time of joy - and what does one hear? Dirges.