Nine_order_of_angels 1What is incense for?Nine_order_of_angels

-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.

8 thoughts on “Ritual

    • I agree with you. You quote 1Co 3:13-15
      13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest:for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is. 14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. 15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss:but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.

      which is the usual passage used to justify belief in Purgatory, but for me as for you the sacrifice of Christ is sufficient, without further burning.

      My father’s question was, how may we be fitted for Heaven, from the world, where we are sinful creatures: this is a mystery.


      • We aren’t fitted for heaven,except through Jesus Christ,in an incorruptible body,,not all will die,but all will changed.

        Every persons work/s, tested/ measured against Gods word,


  1. An early riser. A holiday spent on a farm in the middle of nowhere, but with glorious WiFi. I am surrounded by hills, mountains, fields, sheep, hens, not-quite-feral farm cats and I am transported to another world of incense within a religious context that is alien to me. I only understood that Catholicism is centred more around the Virgin than Jesus a couple of years ago. I also have no idea (but will find out) what Episcopalian involves. I am used to Church of England schools and my own faith, Judaism. So, this insight, focused on incense, is yet another slice of life education to add to my own. Thank you!
    I will use my quiet time before the world wakes, to read, to write, to sink into this oasis of time and space.


    • The Episcopal Church of Scotland is in communion with the Church of England- the Anglican Communion is the international federation of churches. Both have their origins in the national King seeking to control the church: Henry VIII of England, and James VI of Scotland. The Episcopal church supported the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stewart, in 1745, so was under political harassment in 1789. Then, the church in the USA, separated from the Church of England by the American Revolution, was without a bishop, and sent Samuel Seabury to Aberdeen to be ordained by the bishops of the Episcopal Church. So the US branch of the Anglican Communion is known as the Episcopal Church. I am baptised Scottish Episcopalian, and became Quaker in 2001.

      That farm sounds beautiful: may it refresh your spirit.


      • Thank you for the explanation on the Episcopal Church – like many things about religion of any stripe, it has a convoluted history! I went to a Quaker meeting once, at the Meeting House near Charing Cross Station in London. It was very calming for me at the time.


  2. Ritual serves a great purpose, to me, in that help set me in the proper frame of mind for Experience. As I’m merely growing my hair out, I hadn’t considered how a wig might interfere with sensing ritual elements. That gives me another thing to appreciate about my circumstances.

    Thank you.



    • The ritual is a route into the experience. As we repeat the ritual, we come more quickly to the experience.

      Wearing a wig, because I don’t have the hair to grow out, does not really bother me. I miss getting my hair cut, I like the attention of being groomed, but the wig is simple and practical. And yet however much people complain about difficulties with hair and “bad hair days” I would prefer my own hair. The grass is always greener.


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