Friday, 6 May 2016

Pocket sized alternative

This morning I set out to drive to Kenilworth, first visiting the place in Cyncoed where Laura has been staying throughout the years of her visits to Cardiff. She made friends with Sheila, a patient who had attended one of her clinics and she ended up staying with her, and receiving wonderful support in her effort to speak English fluently, so important for a doctor wanting to put patients at ease. We'd never met before, although there are people we know in common, so we chatted and drank coffee for over an hour before I finally set out. 

My mission had simply been to drop off with Sheila a small gift for Laura, who was out for the day, that I'd been unable to purchase before our lunch together on Wednesday. Yesterday I purchased a pocket sized English Book of Common Prayer to give to her, from the Churches Together Bookshop in Windsor Place. I knew that Laura was familiar with the works of Shakespeare, and wanted her to know one of the most formative documents in the history of our language and culture. As an educated Orthodox Christian she can read with an additional level of understanding texts embodying the generosity and breadth of Anglican tradition.

When I was young and zealous about liturgical reform and innovation, the 1662 BCP was the old family house of prayer from which I like many others longed to escape into something more modern and fully expressive of the classic inheritance of church teaching about worship and spirituality. Now after thirty years of creativity in the church, we have many volumes of diverse liturgical texts, more than enough options on offer, and digital databases of texts that can be compiled into leaflets for seasonal usage. 

All this takes up a lot of cupboard space, or else consumes a lot of resources in regular production runs. A far cry from a small pocket book of a bible, and an equally small prayer book, to carry in the other pocket, for use on all occasions, which stood the world in good stead for four and a half centuries, despite its limitations. Sure, I can have all those texts presented to me now on my phone, even lighter and smaller, but a book doesn't ever need re-charging, or paying additional usage fees to download new material on the go.  

Sure, the BCP doesn't voice some elements of Christian doctrine and spirituality as adequately as I'd like it too, and some necessary correctives in 20th century conservative revisions of the Prayer Book counter my reservations, but for the most part, it achieves what it set out to do, and offers everyone who can read a simple and direct access to the core texts and framework of worship and orthodox Christian doctrine. In practice there have always been users who keep strictly to the letter of its liturgies, and those who have seen fit to elaborate, in the manner of its performance and the personal devotion that goes with it. 

A book for most occasions in life and for all seasons, it is rooted in scripture and the common elements of liturgical worship which Eastern and Western, Protestant and Catholic expressions of Christianity have in common. Early text revisions showed how easily unresolved theological debate could make the Prayer Book an ideological battleground. Its imposition by the Crown in a set form at the time of Elizabeth I enforced compromise - get used to it, live with it, see what you make of it over time. This was discarded under Puritan rule then restored in 1662, along with the monarchy.

Its use continued to thrive also among American and other episcopalians dissociated from monarchy. Although its early acceptance was imposed, the sheer practical merits of the concept commended itself to free acceptance by new generations of users. It may be a cultural antique, but it still represents an important benchmark for English language and culture, and in a way that still challenges us in an era that tends to be over verbose, and which cannot deliver us a genuine modern language pocket sized alternative.

Anyway, the journey to Kenilworth went smoothly. The Worcestershire countryside was particularly beautiful with blossom adorning the trees and giant fields, bright yellow with oilseed rape flowers. I stopped to take a few photos, as I had time spare before Rhiannon was due home from school. The sickly aroma of the rape flowers was almost overwhelming, and reminded me of funeral parlours and crematoria.

It was good to welcome Rhiannon home from school, make her some scrambled eggs and hear about her day, before escorting her across the road to her old school for a drama workshop at six. After she returned, I found that there was a broadcast tribute to Prince on BBC3, celebrating his great gift as a song writer by assembling from the video archive clips of other artists singing his songs, some of which they made famous rather than he. An enjoyable cross generational hour in front of the TV.

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