Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Alfred Twiddles His Thumbs
Cold Pork Pie

            “It is not good for man to be alone,”[i] said Alfred reflectively; the problem being that Mother had gone away for a three day personal retreat with Grace Whittington at Magnolia Blossom Spa.  The Scottish housekeeper Agnes Findlay had left Alfred, at his request, with a lovely slab of cold pork pie, some sweet gherkin pickles and a generous slice of Cheshire Cheese.  Alfred carried his tray out to the ornamental iron table in the back garden and provided himself with a bottle of Guinness.  Pippa the frou-frou dog was lying at his feet under the table. 

Truth be told both Alfred and Pippa were moping because Mother had gone away.  Alfred sat back in his chair with his elbows resting on the arms of his chair and his hands slightly raised in front of him with the tips of his fingers touching.  He looked down.  “Oh, no!” he said aloud.  He was actually twiddling his thumbs.

He thought to himself, “I really don’t do ‘alone’ very well. ‘ It’s not good for a man to be alone’, and it is certainly not good for me to be alone either.”  He reached down under the table and gave Pippa the last piece of Cheshire Cheese, took up his tray and headed for the kitchen.

Alfred had a long standing habit of rising before Mother and generally treasured a time of solitude at the beginning of the day.  In the last few months he had begun to read from the Book of Psalms along with a reading from the Old Testament or an Epistle, and always a reading from the four Gospels.

That was all well and good but Alfred was not a recluse and he needed company, particularly Mother’s company even more than he needed those early morning times of solitude.  He went into his study, picked up the phone and dialed the number for Horace Whittington.  It rang and rang and rang, and in the end he put the phone down, sat down in his Churchill Barcalounger, turned on his Samsung UNF3000 television and idly scrolled down through the selection of available programming. 

He frowned, “No matter how excellent the TV, it is still the same old programming.”  He finally settled on a PBS program on Royal Palaces.  He watched for a few minutes, then turned it off again.  It only made him think of Mother.  Just the kind of program she loved.  He called Pippa and ambled back out into the quiet of the garden.

It was there that a very unusual thing began to happen.  He felt a presence, not just any presence, but the Presence of Him who had died for him and rose again. The night sky with its myriad of stars shone brightly in the garden.  The garden seemed packed quite full with love as Love Himself came and filled the very place where Alfred and Pippa stood together.  Love in all His warmth and freshness came filling the very air that Alfred breathed; and as he breathed, that Love above all other loves, entered in.   It was strong hands upon his shoulders.  He was enfolded, loved, calmed.  

He thought of that line from the Book of Psalms, “You strengthen me more and more; you enfold and comfort me.”[ii]  It was good, very good!  But he still missed Mother.  Thank goodness she would be back tomorrow afternoon.       

[i] Genesis 2:18
[ii] Psalm 71:21 BCP

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Sing to the Lord a New Song

From the other room Alfred hears the voice of Mother raised in song, “Sing to the Lord a new song,* for he has done marvelous things.”  He picks up his Namiki Falcon fountain pen and begins to inscribe a sonnet in his Moleskin notebook; which for Alfred is much wiser than rushing in where angels fear to tread.

Is This the Sound of Singing That I Hear?

Is this the sound of singing that I hear?
A sweet melody lights upon my ear;
Melodious notes floating in the air,
Oh sweet joy now joyous beyond compare.
How I tremble lest I should dissemble
And by too ready hope disassemble
Pulling petals from the rose ere it may bloom
In my eagerness to try its sweet perfume.
How patiently we must meekly stand and wait
While grace alone determines another’s fate.
To surrender even now my own true hope
And not intrude beyond my proper scope.
For my eager heart might too rashly act,
And kill the blossom by a lack of tact.

Having so far restrained himself, Alfred sat back in his chair, tamped some Captain Black into his Meerschaum pipe, lit it, and blew one perfect smoke ring in the air and thought of Biblo Baggins sitting on his bench outside Bag End in Hobbiton.  Then he recalled the advice of Gildor the Elf lord to Frodo, “It is not wise to meddle in the affairs of wizards.” It occurred to Alfred that it really wasn’t wise to meddle in the affairs of the Spirit of Grace either; especially where Mother was concerned.

Agnes Findlay appeared at the door of his study with a tea tray and a small plate of McVities Digestive Biscuits, “Ach!” she said, “I dinna ken, when I’ve heard the Missus quite so happy.”

“You are right, Agnes,” said Alfred, “But I dare not spoil the mood by being over inquisitive.  I’ve discovered that it’s sometimes better to let things rest a while before intruding.”

“You’re right about that, Colonel,” answered Agnes.  “It’s like making tea.  It takes patience.  First you measure the tea, one teaspoon for each cup and one for the Brown Betty, then you start to bring the water to a boil, swirl a little in the bottom of the Brown Betty, pour it out, and while the water is just coming to a boil you pour it in the pot.  Then you wait.”  Too much haste and you will spoil the tea.”

“So right you are Agnes,” said Alfred.  “Sometimes we spoil another’s mood by rushing in before due time.”

Mother appeared at the door humming “Jesu, Jesu, Fill Us With Your Love,” then she broke off saying, “That was a wonderful choir hymn sing and party here last night Alfred.  And Father Goodfellow’s wife Cecilia is a dear.  Grace Whittington and I had such a lovely talk with her after the hymn sing.  I’m so glad we joined the parish.”

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever.” Psalm 136:1


Friday, October 11, 2013

Live and Let Live?

Lalique Jamaique Ashtray
“You know, Alfred,” said Mother, “There are two things that are very important to me; being right, and having everything right around me.”

Alfred looked up suspiciously at Mother and thought to himself, “I wonder where Mother is going with this?”  Before him was his collection of fine pipes, a Lalique Jamaique Ashtray, his Rodgers Rosewood Chancet pipe knife, and a small pile of chenille pipe cleaners.  Alfred always thought pipe smoking was more of a hobby than a habit.

He put down the Ashton Bent Billiard Briar pipe he was cleaning and said, “Yes, Mother, but life isn’t always that simple.”

“Yes, I know, Alfred,” said Mother, “and that is why I have made a new resolve.  I have decided to live and let live.”

“Well, Mother,” said Alfred, “that’s very handsome, but it seems to me that it’s easier said than done; at least I find it so.  The ‘live’ part is easy and I think we do that rather well, although there are times when I wonder if we don’t do it too well.  But the ‘let live’ part is very difficult.  Just how do you mean ‘let live’?  That flies in the very face of the need to have everything right around us.”

“Well,” snapped Mother, “Anyway that’s my resolve, and I mean to keep it.”

“Oh, don’t misunderstand me,” said Alfred.  “I think it’s a fine resolve and even one that I might embrace myself.  Sometimes I find it difficult putting up with our dog Pippa.  I found her wandering around with one of my Red Velvet Albert Slippers in her mouth this morning.”

“Oh, say it isn’t so, Alfred,” said Mother laughing.”

“It certainly is so,” huffed Alfred. “I paid $235.00 for them and I don’t want Pippa chewing on them.”

“Alfred,” said Mother crossly, “that’s not the worst thing that could happen.”

Alfred thought for a minute then said, “There seems to be another problem with your resolve.  By ‘let live,’ do you mean we have no responsibility for others around us?”

“No, of course not Alfred,” said Mother.  “It’s just that I have resolved not to let little things bother me.  Everything doesn’t have to be perfect.  Sometimes good enough is good enough.”

“Mother, that’s quite a step,” said Alfred, picking up his Damiano Rovera briar and gently reaming out the bowl with his pipe knife.  Then he finished by running a chenille pipe cleaner through the stem. 

“That’s better,” said Alfred, tamping some Captain Black tobacco into the bowl and lighting it up with a sigh.

Mother watched as some sparks flew up from the pipe and faded in the air.  A fine white ash descended gently to the table top.  Mother pursed her lips, then finally blurted out, “Alfred, I know that’s a very fine pipe, but I can’t help thinking that pipe smoking is a very nasty habit.  Just the other day I threw out one of your Golden Fleece dress shirts.  One of the sparks from your pipe had burnt a hole right in the front pocket, but I said to myself ‘Live and let live!” but it did annoy me, and just look at that mess in the ash tray.”

Alfred looked at Mother and raised his eyebrows, “That is unfortunate Mother, I will try to be a little more careful; but it so very difficult for either of us to ‘live and let live.’’

“Alfred.  Enough!  I don’t want to talk about it anymore!” said Mother.

“Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins” (Eccles. 7:20).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Niceties of Tea

A Tea Field in Uganda
“Now, that is a fine cup of tea, Mother,” said Alfred,” what kind is it?”

“That is Taylors of Harrogate Yorkshire Tea,” said Mother, “that they also make Yorkshire Red and Yorkshire Gold Tea.  Both are similar to this one, but this is their standard tea.  Even though it is not the most expensive, it is the one best suited for our water,”

“I couldn’t help noticing Mother, that you always pour your milk in the cup before the tea, whilst I always pour it in after the tea; that make you a pre-lactarian, and me a post-lactarian.”

“Oh, Alfred, said Mother, “it probably doesn’t make any difference.  Mildred McCauley pours the milk in before the tea because she doesn’t want the hot tea to crack the china cup.  Just between you and me, I think she had better buy better tea cups.  I commented to Mildred that she was obviously a pre-lactarian.  She looked at me indignantly and retorted, ‘I am not!  I’m Church of England!’”

“Oh Mildred,” said Alfred laughing, “What would she know about tea?  If you ask her what time it is she would probably answer, “Wednesday.’”

“That reminds me Alfred,” said Mother, “that Peter Goyle made an odd reference the other night at Bible study.  I thought he was talking about tea, but I think I might not have heard him correctly.’

“What did  he say, Mother?”

“Well, he made some remark about Calvinists arguing about Prelapsarian and Postlapsarian points of view.”

“I know, Mother, I know,” replied Alfred, “then he got off on Supralapsarianism and Infralapsarianism.  Peter can be quite tiresome at times.  I have no idea at all what he meant.  Horace Whittington can be quite witty.  He turned to Peter and remarked, ‘Peter, do your best to eschew obfuscation![i]’ then he changed the subject.  Good thing to!  I like Peter, but really!  He has a great deal of left over Presbyterianism in him.  But I did ask Horace later what Peter was referring to.

“Horace said, ‘Prelapsarian and Postlapsarian are obscure ways of referring to the Fall of humankind, which in that terminology is the ‘lapse.’  I noticed, Mother, that you have been reading C. S. Lewis’s book Perelandra.  That story is set in a world where the Fall hasn’t happened, that’s a Prelapsarian world, if you like.”

“Good grief, Alfred,” said Mother.  “Did Horace say anything about supra-whatever-on-earth-it-was that Peter was referring to?”

“Yes,” said Alfred, “He said don’t worry about it unless you’re planning on arguing with Calvinists.”

“Humphh!” said Mother, “Most people are too argumentative anyway.”

“That is simple proof,” said Alfred, “that the world we live in is Postlapsarian, after the Fall.”
“Well,” said Mother, “That’s all a little too complicated for me.  All I know is that it would be hard to argue with whether or not The Fall ever happened.  You know I dabbled in Christian Science, but it didn’t seem very scientific to me, after all, everywhere I look I see signs of sin, sickness, and self-centeredness.  It’s sort of like the Fall of Adam and Eve divided the world into pre-stupid and post-stupid.”

“Mother, I agree with you,” said Alfred, “Although I rather like the medieval idea that if Adam didn't eat the apple Mary would never have been our Heavenly Queen.”

“Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin,…  so death spread to all men because all sinned … But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many” (Romans 5:12-15).  

[i] Eschew obfuscation = avoid confusing terms!