We weren’t allowed to play on Good Friday!
It was a day off from school, often a lovely spring day, when the other children in the neighbourhood were outside playing or organizing their annual hike to the grounds of what we were then permitted to call “the lunatic assylum”.
No, for my sister and me and our friends from the parish school, it was a terrible day, a day of fast and abstinence, with a horrible frightening mid-afternoon church service. There we would be lectured on the horrors of the crucifixion, and as if that were not bad enough, forced to meditate on every stage of it by following the stations of the cross.
We went home frightened and lonely, feeling a collective responsibility and guilt that made no sense but weighed us down with terror and anxiety. It is wrong to do this to children! It is very, very wrong… a form of emotional child abuse!
I did not raise my children in this tradition. Theirs was a good Friday… the day they got their bikes out of storage and worked together with their dad… checking tires, raising the seat and the handlebars, lubing the chain, and then setting off on their own “bike hikes”. The mobility and independence of wheels… freedom for nine and ten year olds started on good Friday.
I was reminded of all this at the Philharmonic concert last weekend, when Pergolisi’s Stabat Mater was exquisitely performed, accompanied by a children’s choir. I tried to just listen, to resist the emotional manipulation of the text and score, to listen only to the beauty of the music. This was hard to do. At school we always had to sing a plain chant version… in Latin… at the Good Friday service. Stabat Mater brought it all crowding back.
I chose the Salvador Dali painting because it looks at the Crucifixion from a different point of view. So do the other items I want to share to-day.
The first is this review of Philip Pullman’s The Good Man Jesus, and the Scoundrel Christ… “It is a fierce and beautiful book which, like the parable of the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov, will move even those who disagree with it.”
Here is another very positive review, by the Archbishop of Canterbury... who calls it a fable through which Philip Pullman reflects on Jesus, on the tensions and contradictions of organised religion – and indeed on the nature of storytelling.
And second is The Ballad of the Goodly Fere by Ezra Pound, who portays Christ and the Apostles in a credible, respectful, but very different way.
Ballad of the Goodly Fere
Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.
When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.
Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.
Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o’ men was he.
I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.
They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book I think
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.
If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”
“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead,” says he,
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
‘Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”
A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.
He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free,
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue
But never a cry cried he.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o’ Galilee,
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the grey o’ the sea,
Like the sea that brooks no voyaging
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi’ twey words spoke’ suddenly.
A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.
I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.