As it turns out, this special day in the Church calendar is the first Sunday of my new life after abandoning England. The Feast of the Assumption of Our Lady has figured very prominently in my life ever since I became a Christian, first in the Anglo-papalist tradition and later as a Roman Catholic. While the feasts of Our Lady are generally times of joy and positive celebration of the Incarnation, I cannot help remembering an occasion on which the 15th August was darkened by a shocking experience when I nearly died.
In 1987 – in the Marian Year – I was in Medjugorje to celebrate the Assumption, travelling with two friends. I was on a bicycle and they were in a support vehicle, as I did a two thousand mile charity bike ride to raise money for a hospice. We all found Medjugorje a spiritually desolate and dark place, so we agreed to leave quickly and we missed the main Mass of the day. I cycled up into the mountains, heading towards the frontier into Greece. It was a long hot climb. I took a break and dived into a crystal clear mountain pool, only about twenty metres across but very deep. I disappeared for some time and my friends realised something was wrong. They dived into the pool and rescued me, lying on the bottom of the lake, drowning. Through skilled first aid, effectively applied by one of my companions who was a trained nurse, I was revived.
I remembered that experience particularly today, my first Sunday since deciding to quit England and having returned to collect all my possessions a few days ago, because the experience of this year has been an experience of the Cross. I have spent months proving my innocence against the random error of the authorities in confusing my records with another person, thus ruining my chances of employment and badly affecting my health in the exhausting fight to clear my name. That too was a death and resurrection experience. I feel liberated now: free from any obligation to the country in which I was born; a country which I have served in many ways, in its armed forces and its education system and its church, but a country that has now relinquished its right to any further allegiance from me. While the agency concerned continues to dig in its heels and stand by its offer of £500 compensation – a week’s wages! – I shake the dust from my sandals and look to a new life in another country.
On this feast of the Virgin Mary, I spent an hour after Mass looking at the Romanesque frescoes on the ceiling of the abbey church of St Savin. As much as I have always admired gothic art and architecture, now I feel more drawn to the warmth and humanity of these romanesque images in paintings and sculptures. The strict theology of the scholastics which defined every element of the 13th century art speaks too much of a system imposing a strait-jacket. The romanesque speaks of joy and simplicity.
The kind of joy and simplicity one finds in the act of introducing Dalie the donkey to Hop-Along the one-legged chicken. Born with a deformity, Hop-Along has to be kept separate from his siblings during the day as he cannot forage and is vulnerable to attack from predators. At night he goes into the hen coop and is happily received by the other chickens. Somehow, in this time of rest and recuperation, giving time and care to a one-legged chicken is a commitment to new life.
That was my attempt to get an ecumenical dialogue going between Dalie and Hop-Along. I may be here for another couple of weeks, then I will be starting a new life and a new job in another country. But I’m still reflecting on the old country too… Oh, and here’s Alley Cat. (A three-legged cat.)
Unfortunately, Alley Cat was not as trusting as Hop-Along and he thought I was feeding him to the donkeys, so I got badly scratched while taking this photo. Not as badly scratched as I would have been if Alley Cat was a four-legged cat, so once again give thanks to Our Lady for protecting the rabit piligrimin on her Feast Day today. Hail Mary, etc.
The photo looks very Franciscan, but after Alley Cat had scratched me on the face I told him to bog off, unlike St Francis who would have said, “Thank you for scratching me on the face, brother cat, for you remind me what a sinner I am and how the Lord rightly chastises me in His infinite mercy.”
Which is all very well, but I still think ‘bog off’ is better for getting the point across to the cat.