Monday, April 21, 2008

To die for.

"Why should our eyes with sorrow flow, Bosoms heave a sigh?
When Jesus calls the saint must go, Eternal gain to die."

There's not much so unsettling as contemplating your own demise. It's bad enough having to think about how it's going to come, let alone when. So imagine having the confidence to put the lines above on your tombstone - at least you'd be able to expect that, as long as it wasn't too painful or soon, you'd have the pleasure of waking up in the Elysian Fields feeling smug that you'd backed the winner when all about you, they'd scoffed at you for keeping your eyes shut during prayers.

I find myself being drawn back here quite often, wandering among the graves of the Hepzibahs, Azubahs, Ezekials, Hezekiahs and Jeremiahs sleeping soundly below, waiting for their triumphant wake-up call. It's close to where I live, disguised as a farmhouse
in a tiny hamlet and deliberately hidden away from main roads so that a watch could be kept against intruders. They built it in 1701 and, in its way, it's as inspirational as the soaring Gothic spires of the churches its builders were shunning. Non-conformism was heavily frowned upon still, and their version of faith, with its emphasis on a personal revelation through scripture, surely also meant that they rejected the well-ordered certainties of the of the State itself, as well as its established religion and ritual. It must have meant much to them, for them to have traveled so far for their worship, on foot or horseback, from towns and villages many miles away. They would have been people whose temperament led them to question the status quo, resent dogma, and find strength in their difference.

It's almost impossible, now, for us to understand how faith in the Bible could have been so solid and resistant to challenge. Today, we intellectualise our beliefs; subject them to test. Almost everything we 'know' is based on reliable evidence and, if it isn't, we are pretty sure it could be if we looked for it. But back then, 300 years ago, when people were every bit as intelligent and imaginative as we are today, it was still possible to believe in an afterlife as certainly as we believe we'll wake up in Edinburgh if we take the night train from Kings Cross.

I think I envy them, a bit. Maybe that's why I find my way to this place so often... on cold winter Sundays, to park at the end of the grove of sycamores leading to it, walk the dog around the fields, and return to sit in the car for a while with a flask of hot tea, until it gets dark and shadows flit between the headstones. Just to try to absorb some of the 'goodness' that seems to imbue it.

I won't mention its name. If you recognise the photo, you'll know it.


Glamourpuss said...

You know, I think we do still have the capacity for such faith, but we tend to place that faith in the ideology known as 'science', in the ability of consumer goods to make us happy, and in our relationships. Which is probably why most people are so dissatisfied. I'm no fan of religion, but faith has a place, for sure.


All Shook Up said...

Yep, and of those three, consumerism is the falsest god. And science is really nothing but discovery... so what's to place faith in there?