“YOU agonise over bad choices in the past, and let those mistakes define who you are for ever.” That conclusion usually comes too late, serving only as an epitaph on a wasted life. But I am not quoting someone burdened by the weight of years or an accumulation of painful memories. I take those words from the essay of a bright 15-year-old, a student at Christ College, Brecon, where I have been staying for a week.
I have been doing the kind of things I did as a school chaplain, conducting chapel services and talking with groups of boys and girls about the big questions they still ask, despite everything in our decadent culture that conspires to stifle the spirituality of the young.
That perception, that our mistakes can permanently shape us, was one student’s response to a reading of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.
I listened — a little in awe of their insight — to what others in her class had to say about this luminous book.
Most of them had come to the unprompted conclusion that there is something Christlike about the Muslim boy Hassan, a key character in the story, whose innocence and selfless suffering in a society inhospitable to goodness is one of the novel’s most significant themes.
I was deeply moved by my meeting with these sharp young minds. They saw well enough that you do not have to be a Christian to be a Christian.
WE WERE lucky enough to get tickets for the last performance of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot at the Theatre Royal, Brighton, before the production moved to the West End. Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow, and Ronald Pickup: it was, I suppose, “a star-studded performance”. But, of course, as always with Beckett, we were not watching actors, but seeing ourselves.
Although I have frequently turned to the text of Waiting for Godot, I have seen very few stage productions. It is not a play I want to see too often. I do not have the moral courage to look in such a mirror more than, say, once every ten years.
In the interval, we overheard someone say: “It’s all far too clever for me.” No comment could be more mistaken. The pellucid clarity of Godot denies us the refuge of confusion. We wait under a tree. The one for whom we wait does not come. “Let’s go,” we say to each other. But we do not move. Nothing could be simpler than that.
I HAVE forgotten that the clocks had gone forward; so I arrive at the Quaker meeting just as everyone is coming out. Across the road from the Meeting House is one of Brighton’s many “New Age” health centres. I wonder whether they have any cure for being a wally, and wander over. I glance at the flyers in the window.
I am spoiled for choice. Lindsay (“Psycho-regression therapist”) will advise me on “chakra balancing” and “Australian bush-flower remedy therapy”. Rosemary (“Signature analyst and therapeutic dowser”) promises to help me “overcome difficulties for a happier future”. Carol’s hatha yoga classes offer me an “ambient and nurturing environment with eye-bags”.
Perhaps my problems will respond to Nathalie’s expertise in “Craniosacral therapy and lymphatic drainage” (“£10 off your first treatment”), or to Tanya’s skill in “Hopi ear-candling”.
I ask myself why Brighton should offer so many way-out ways of getting better. Perhaps it is because Brighton has more of the morbidly mixed up than most places. Certainly it has a great number of the clergy.
One day at a time
“IF THE Gospel omitted all mention of Christ’s resurrection, faith would be easier for me. The cross by itself suffices me.” Simone Weil’s words were much in my mind as I struggled to find something to say at the Easter vigil in Chichester Cathedral.
I had already preached in the cathedral on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Finding words on those two days was hard enough. But preaching about Easter while it was still Holy Saturday was harder still. The fact that the Bible reckons that the new day starts at sunset did not set my mind at rest. Even if Peter and John did race to the tomb, we should not be in too much of a hurry to put the cross behind us.
In the end, I tried to speak for the many of us who never quite make it to Easter Day. Whether our failure to do so is because we lack faith, or because we simply prefer to be miserable, is immaterial. We are in good company.
DURING that same service, I met my old friend Geoff. We bumped into each other in the baptistery. We had all adjourned there for “The renewal of baptismal promises”.
Geoff and I were both brought up as Baptists. In the University of Nottingham Christian Union, where we first met half a century ago, the issue of whether infants should be baptised was a topic of intemperate debate. Both Geoff and I sensed the irony that, all these years later, we should now be meeting beside the font in an Anglican cathedral.
We agreed that those ancient quarrels were all very silly, exchanged the Peace, and tried to figure out from our orders of service what was happening next.
The Revd Dr John Pridmore, a former Rector of Hackney, has retired to Brighton.