26 December 2008

Little Donkey

picture by publicenergy
Mrs Botogol loves a Carol Service at Christmas and because I love Mrs Botogol this year I agreed to go with her.

But which Carol Service to choose? Well, of our houseful of Christmas co-celebrants only one is a regular church-goer and it's the Catholic Church where he worships so, of course - it being Christmas and all - it was to the RC gig which we agreed to accompany him.

And of course -  it being family and all -  he bailed out at the last minute; leaving Mrs B and I quite alone to brave the warm, friendly, and somewhat enveloping welcome at the Church of St Anthony of Padua in Rye.

I determined to be completely inconspicuous, but I had reckoned without the sign of peace, and the constant standing, kneeling and gesturing of the Roman ritual, and suddenly it seemed to be extraordinarily hot in the small, bright church.  Worst of all: the congregation was, shall we say, short of stature, and every time I stood up, bobbing half a tempo behind, I found myself towering a full head above the little old ladies in front of me, and face to face with the startled priest. "May the Lord be With You" he said, looking directly into my eyes.

 .."And Also With You", I replied; just a moment too late. I think I was rumbled.

It was a Family Carol Service and so not the best occasion for the priest, you might have thought, to devote his sermon to a denial of the presence of any donkey or oxen in that holy stable 2000 years ago; but that is, in fact, what he did.

There must have been 200 people crammed in that tiny church on Christmas Eve, and 198 of them comfortable and secure in their harmless - if evidently misguided -  belief in that poor blessed donkey.

It was the kind of clever argument which, delivered enthusiastically at the dinner table, would have earned me a sharp kick on the ankle from Mrs Botogol but with no wife to restrain him the earnest Father Joseph ploughed relentlessly on:  there is no donkey mentioned  in the New Testament, he preached, and no ox neither.  Their placement in the crib is a misapprehension, he explained, begotten of a myth, by way of a prophecy. So there.

It was an inordinately nihilistic message from (the Catholic) God's representative in East Sussex and while the tiny worshippers filed up to Communion I thought of  - and preferred - the optimism and hope of that famous atheist, Thomas Hardy, on the same subject nearly 100 years ago.


After the service we repaired to the George where we were inordinately chuffed to be recognised as locals . . and rather nonplussed to be offered a regular drinkers loyalty card.

Then, while Mrs Botogol carefully filled in the application form, the Taproom bar slowly filled with our accidental co-religionists, also on their way home from the service, who nodded, waved and smiled to us across glasses of sherry and local cider.  "Look away, dear!", I whispered urgently but, to my alarm, I couldn't restrain Mrs Botogol from waving back and joining in.

A glass and half later and "Yes, I was with you in church", I admitted, helplessly, to a middle aged table of merry donkey-deniers "but really: I am not of you"

I'm not at all  sure I've made quite the right first impression in our second home.

1 comment:

Burgin Streetman said...

what a great story. i love walking outside of my element, especially on a special occasion such as christmas... alas all we did was gorge on sushi with no larger questions to be asked except... how much wasabi do I have to eat for my sinuses to get cleared out?

if we can't believe in asses, what can we believe in?