A thread emerges running between the two Lent groups here. At the lunchtime sessions where we read long chapters from the King James Version charting the story of faith, we came to the Passion. And after the Prayer Book collect, we listened spellbound to the long ‘He was despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ from Handel’s Messiah. The phrase is repeated over and over, almost Taize-like, so it sticks in the mind.
At the ‘Compassionate Life’ course, we tiptoed into ‘Having compassion on yourself’, starting off by looking at how we can internalise bad images of ourselves (or how minority groups, outcasts, misfits and so on can think they are as bad as others make them out to be). It set me wondering how Jesus coped with being ‘despised and rejected of men’ – whether the bad-mouthing got to him.
It was interesting how we found the ‘befriending ourselves’ exercise tricky. Is it a cultural thing? Is it more natural for the British to denigrate themselves than to say, ‘These are my three great qualities’ or to have compassion on themselves because of their upbringing? (Cue Gee Officer Krupke from West Side Story:
Dear kindly Sergeant Krupke,
You gotta understand,
It’s just our bringin’ up-ke
That gets us out of hand.
Our mothers all are junkies,
Our fathers all are drunks.
Golly Moses, natcherly we’re punks!
But perhaps it was nothing to do with this, but just the similarity of the exercise to ‘personality awareness’ and so on that is now permeating the workplace. The last thing people want to do at a church meeting is ‘more of the same’. Even the sight of a flipchart can send a shiver of ‘Oh no, not here as well’ into people’s hearts.
Which brings us neatly back to the the King James Version. It’s glory is that it’s different. It makes devotion different. It makes church different. I learned last week that at Glenlamond College, the pupils have requested that Compline be said in the traditional language (well, English traditional, anyway), rather than modern. And sometimes 40-50 of them attend. Maybe it’s no bad thing for our spiritual lives to be jolted out of the everyday.