-It smells nice.
-I heard that they buried bodies in the floor of churches, and it covered up the smell of the bodies.
-Yes, there was that church in Bath where the floor was subsiding, and they had to remove a lot of bodies.
-It might need to cover the smell of the living!
-In the 1960s, it covered up the smell of pot.
-I thought it was prayer, an aroma ascending before God, said the Retreatant. Brother Herbert just smiled.
It smells nice and it gives you something to do. I used to serve at the altar: we used to walk perpendicular to the walls of the church, North-South or East-West, never diagonally. It makes the sanctuary special, other-worldly, different from outside; it is a way of showing respect, in that I do not walk the obvious way but a different way; it lets me do a 90° turn, and make my cassock-alb swing, which is theatrical for the watchers: it makes it special for me, but also for them, and deepens the experience of approaching the sanctuary from the nave.
It is the same with the thurifer, priest, and boat-boy who carries the Navicula, a metal container which holds incense. Preparing the thurible beforehand, with charcoal, then opening it, putting on the incense, swinging it correctly so it neither burns too quickly nor goes out, all the ritual around that, then censing the altar, priest, servers and congregation, is great theatre-business. Where I worshipped, we rarely or never used such things, but one of my earliest memories is being in a different Episcopal church with the procession going in, the colours and the robes. I might have been around four.
Brother Herbert’s reading was on faith coming from worship, and not the other way around. My summary, through my biases- opening up to God/the Other/ Reality by performing ritual and saying ritual words; and thereafter comes theology. It is like writing a poem, and then along come the dogmatists, to make a system or Understanding of it which can be taught and learned by rote; and then, some worship the dogma rather than the Reality.
-I heard “you have to take your dogma out for a walk”, show it round to a community, test it out with them.
A paradox! In the Eucharist, we recite the Creed: the Nicene Creed, which unites the churches, and standardises the dogma. (Again, Brother Herbert just smiles.)
We shall not cease from exploration. Relationship to The Other/ Infinite/ Whatever may grow, along with reading about it, as long as the words are a spring-board rather than a box, curtailing us. I said something like that, and the Retreatant nodded and smiled enthusiastically.
I was struck when sprinkled with holy water, on the top of my head: I did not feel it, and this brought on regret that I wear a wig, stronger than I have felt for some time. Then I reflected on the oddness of that: sometimes I regret, when I see the beauty of another’s hair, sometimes I think well it’s not all that bad, really, when I hear them complain about it, because few are entirely satisfied with their hair; perhaps this is a new reason to regret my need to wear a wig, and so the regret becomes acute again. I had thought I had come to terms with it.
We also discussed the Tao Te Ching. We love the Tao. It is a cosy little spiritual club we have here, quite delightful.