Lighten our darkness

File:Thomas Cranmer by Gerlach Flicke.jpg“The iron entered into his soul” is more evocative because it is perfectly ambiguous: the sword pierced his soul, and he steeled himself. It is Psalm 105:18, in the Book of Common Prayer. Yet it is a mistranslation: the NIV says “His neck was put in irons”, even the King James version says “he was laid in iron”. I find similar ambiguity in “Lord now lettest-thou thy servant depart in peace”: at least to my 21st century ear it is both Indicative “you let”, and Imperative, “Let me!” Let, as in “let or hindrance” means impediment, still the first definition in Oxford even though described as “archaic”.

“Lighten our darkness we beseech thee O Lord, and by thy great mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night, for the love of thy only Son our saviour Jesus Christ.” I love this for the trust and fear. The Darkness is dangerous, yet we are protected. The eight Horae Canonicae of the monasteries were distilled into Matins and Evensong, a prayer for the people to participate in together. The Latin was familiar: the mockery “hocus pocus” for “hoc est corpus meum” missed the mark as people hearing it weekly would come to understand, and come to Worship through familiar words- yet letting us worship in our own tongue brought us closer to God. Any cultured European should know the Latin mass, for a greater appreciation of our music, but we should talk to God as we talk to each other.

The language is so wonderful that we still talk to each other as we talked to God. “Moveable feast”, “in the midst of life we are in death”, “peace in our time”. It is simple and direct. Cranmer was a great poet. God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy holy spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy Holy Name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. I don’t say those words, any more, and recounting them now for you brings me back to the moment of settling into the hour of worship, like a great relaxing out-breath. They are more evocative for me than the first notes of the Emperor Concerto: I heard them weekly, before I could speak.

It is such a long, melancholy withdrawing roar. The idea that faith is a humanist rather than simply religious virtue has shaken me. It feels like the place where ignorant armies clash by night: all the terror of the darkness without that consolation. Though there are Quakers who call “mercy pity peace and love” human virtues in our material, evolved being, and even the Collective Unconscious need only be a symptom of how we are one species, with our brains all wired in so similar ways. The Consolation has to come from Reality, not from groundless hope, and my religious community retains its value: and my Spirituality retains its value.


I wrote that, and now (three days later) it seems that I lost trust in my moorings- in my religion and world view- quoting Dover Beach, forsooth- and I came to add to it, something like- Now, three days later, I regain equanimity. I know Faith, Hope and Love have value, and I will add, just for me, Reverence for What Is.

When I wrote “My Spirituality retains its value” I was whistling in the dark. But just now, three days later, faith, hope, love and reverence are enough for me, without (at this precise moment) needing a relationship with God the Father. Relationship with The All is enough.