Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Past Made Present - Glastonbury, 1985

On a family holiday, when I was fourteen, we visited Glastonbury for the day.  After a visit to Glastonbury Tor - where I had a most interesting talk with a stranger about how he liked to levitate there - we visited the village, including some of the more spiritual shops that have boomed there.  If I remember rightly I bought myself a book about occult exercises and practices. 

After lunch we visited Glastonbury Abbey which was unsurprisingly packed with tourists and coach parties.  Why shouldn't they be there - it's famous and a beautiful ruin.  Wandering off alone down some steps I found myself in St Mary's chapel - cooler, deserted at that time and with an atmosphere more powerful than the Tor.

This shouldn't be a surprise given the Christian and pre-Christian history of the site.  Looking online a moment ago I found this statement:  The Mary Chapel in the Abbey lies in the Vulva of the Birth-Giving Goddess of Glastonbury. This is one of the most potent places on the Island.  Make of that what you will!  People write all kinds of things about Glastonbury, based on all kinds of spiritual belief and practice, which is appropriate for somewhere that was such a centre for both paganism and Christianity.  I will leave it up to you whether Glastonbury really was Avalon, home of the Goddess.

Last week I was thinking about early experiences of "the sacred".  Without defining "sacred" I am pretty certain that I experienced it/him/her/them that day in the few brief minutes that I stood, alone, before the altar of that chapel.

Writing came as I sat in a cafe.  It's in the form of a sestina.  Six stanzas of six lines and an extra three lines at the end, with the last words of each line rotated through the different lines of each stanza.  There's an official way to rotate them but I was sitting in a cafe with no access to anything that told me the "right" way, so this may all be "wrong".  In any case it's not good poetry.  I hope next year to write far more - to learn something of the art - and eventually produce something decent.

Abbey of noise, far from Cistercian silence
Hurrying coaches, camera snappers seek the common view
Japanese tourism - the south-west in a day.
Here stood Arthur; Joseph planted his tree.
We must see it all, rush, rush, rushing
This, no holy hour of freedom to seek the monastic.

Abbey of noise, I seek God, I, monastic,
Walking alone, from tourism, tack, time, into a silence.
Underneath, under the crowds, root of cloistered tree.
Above, the teashop calling, the people still rushing
Below, place of prayer, of silent, silenced voices singing: God in view.
Below, presence of lost centuries manifests this day.

Away from shallow, short life, the longevity of the tree,
The chapel altar stands stark, a remembrance of the day
Monkish voices were squeezed, squashed, quelled in the rushing
Of a King seeking to rule God, abolishing the monastic.
The chants, the rich intonement, God's praises turned to silence.
Five hundred years, God unchanging, time cannot shroud the view.

I stood in profound riches, feeling guilt for not rushing,
Alone with the alone - but why not with camera pointed at that tree?
Inside, impulse escapes, birthing the thrill of the monastic.
In quiet, in immense living atmosphere, the sacred opened my view.
Minutes, just minutes, stretched like chant memory into a day.
Above, above, bustle, noisy chaos; but for me, long silence.

I would have stayed, could not stay, force to leave that view.
Moments of a life, just a glimpse of the eternal monastic.
Moments of a meaning, brief, all changing, revolutions in silence.
Come back, return to the wells that enabled this day,
Back to family, to that other deep rooted tree
Back to above, we too were tourists - more to see, onwards, rushing.

Years pass but still present to me are those moments, that day.
A moment of calm, stilling the rushing.
Whatever darkened horror appears, the beyond comes to my view.
In the deafening noises, a present past, a moment of silence
That set in place a yearning for a life monastic,
For timeless prayer roots, deepening of the tree.

Abbey of silence.  Gone but called to view.
I was not there a day but it's strong seeds became my tree.
I've lived, rush, rush, rushing.  But ever inward, turning to monastic.

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