As is our custom, we walked to our 13th Century Knight’s Hospitaller Church for 12 readings and Carols.
In timbre and resonance alone the older men were the best readers, searching for meaning where the youngsters mainly lurched from clause to clause. The texts were another matter. First up, in all its barbarity, was the Genesis story. As this tale has it, a man eats an apple from the tree of knowledge, faces divine castigation, blames it on the wife, who in turn blames it on the serpent. The snake is cursed with reptilian motion, the woman with painful childbirth, the man with agricultural toil. The fable is an assault upon intellectual curiosity. How can such a foul creed be given any credence, let alone be repeated with such reverence? From whence commeth this obstuse arrogance?
Yes, every sacred text has always drawn a swarm of subsequent mollifying commentary, trying to soften the rough edges of a vengeful god. We are urged to understand the ancient use of analogy, the limitations of translation, the deeper meanings of the underlying message. Perhaps it is a spoof, and ironic comment on the management of guilt. But the bald message remains: “As to Knowledge, you may go thus far and no further”. Religions are always a cobbling together of disparate elements, and a dash of absurdity may serve an essential purpose. It sounds daft to the even the most devout believer, so to convince themselves they set out to make converts, or so theories of self-justification would have us believe. The sillier the premise, the more urgent the need for new believers. And belief is a vault of faith over the merely factual.
The gem of the service was a recital given from memory, from a distinguished senior with white hair, his health not good this past year, but his voice firm and strong, his hands clenching as he intoned the thunderous words of Isaiah 9: 6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this”.
You know where you are with such language. Someone is in charge.
I commended him afterwards. An ex-Navy man, he looked at me with mild surprise, and then muttered by way of explaining his achievement "Well, it was short". His wife confided to me later: "I had no idea he was going to do that. He doesn't like relying on his glasses".