Saturday, January 18, 2014


‘Almost in spite of himself, (the godless poet, Philip Larkin) recognised that ‘the ghostly silt’* of a church can exercise a strange power over those who visit it.  Silt is the perfect word.  It suggests the slow accumulation of pain and regret, and their distillation into memory and mercy.  Because they have heard it all, these serious houses on serious earth.  Into their ‘blent air’* generations of the wretched have whispered their compulsions, and not always in the hope of having them removed, but simply to experience the relief of naming them.  Churches not only bear the memory of our dyings, they also carry the knowledge of the helplessness of our failings.  They are a haven for the homeless woman whose destitution is obvious, muttering to herself over there in the back pew; but they also accept the moral destitution of the confident man sitting in the dark chapel, gazing at the white star of the sanctuary lamp, heavy with the knowledge of the compulsions that have dominated his life and refuse to leave him.  Here both are accepted in their helplessness.  There is no reproach.  Churches do not speak; they listen. (...)  They understand helplessness and the weariness of failure, and have for centuries absorbed them into the mercy of their silence.  This is grace.  Unearned undeserved unconditional acceptance of unchanging failure, including biological failure, our last failure, our dying.  The unclosed church is the home of the destitute and the dead.  And since we will go on failing and dying, some of us will go on gravitating to those places that do not shut themselves against our need.’

* from Larkin’s poem Church Going

- from ‘Leaving Alexandria.  A Memoir of Faith and Doubt’ by Richard Holloway.  p. 253


Antonia said...

This is beautiful and powerful - and true. Thank you for sharing it.

(Mind you, I've been known to mutter to myself in the back pew)

John-Francis Friendship said...

I have always found the words of the hymn 'In our day of thanksgiving' equally moving; These stones that have echoed thy praises are holy, and dear in thy sight are the feet that once trod....'