Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Dieu et Mon Droit

This blog is all about God and Government.

Let's tackle government first.

Today's first stop was Runnymede, which certainly was runny . . . the country has yet to entirely dry out, so we ended up with muddy boots.

Runnymede, for those of you who don't know, is where they signed the Magna Carta, which was the lords laying down the law upon King John. It's mostly about boring things like inheritance procedure, but it's important because somebody bossed the king, documented it, and got away with it.

And all of that is very important and historic and stuff. But the little gazebo you see in the picture, and the plaques and signage, were all paid for by the American Bar Association, which is not about to let you forget it. It's carved into this site in like six different places. A little ways off is, I kid you not, a memorial to President John F. Kennedy . . . who also signed stuff, so I guess that's why he's there . . . brought to you by the American Bar Association. If I hadn't seen a copy of the Magna Carta last week, I'd be very worried that it might have been re-titled "The American Bar Association Presents the Magna Carta."

Well, lest we Yanks get all uppity with our Parliamentarian ways, our next stop was Windsor Castle.

'Twas the most beautiful thing in the whole wide anywhere.

Sadly, they didn't let us take pictures inside, so I cannot show you the palace's amazing china collection, or the amazing elaborate all-but-fully-functional doll's house, or the Order of the Garter on EVERYTHING. (Apparently the Order of the Garter is to Windsor Castle what the American Bar Association is to Runnymede.) I got to visit the grave of Henry VIII his-bad-self, and Wife 3 Jane Seymour, the one who died in childbirth and should be bally grateful for it, because it could have been a lot worse. I also saw the bullet that killed Admiral Nelson, because in the midst of a naval battle with splinters flying everywhere and wounded men lying screaming on the slippery, bloody decks and the ship pitching underneath them and Admiral Nelson bleeding out all over everything, some enterprising soul thought, "Hey, I'd better keep track of this bullet! It's historical!"

Also saw that lovely portrait of Princess Elizabeth that I've used in this blog before. It really was cool to see in real life. I didn't recognize it at first, and my brain was all "I know that person. She's got to be a Boleyn, right? The round hood, the square neckline, the teardrop pearls . . . too young to be Anne, though . . . and a redhead . . . oh, hey, it's Elizabeth!"

Here's some more castle-y-ness. It's all very crenelated. The sky was also ridged clouds from horizon to horizon, so I predict some nasty rain within the next two days. 

My favorite part of the castle, the only part I'd actually like to live in, was this great little housing complex for the choir boys and their families. So cute, and full of signs that actual people with actual little kids live here. Just . . . here. In Windsor castle. And they leave their bicycles on the royal lawn sometimes.

In addition to being a politically charged day, it has also been a day of holy godliness. Yesterday, in keeping with the finest tradition, Jo and I got our kicks by making way too much gumbo and chasing it with way too much cake.

Mormon Girls Gone Wild. For Tabasco.
Then the whole bunch of us got dolled up and saw La Bohème from the front row of the Royal Albert Hall.

And then we woke up in the morning and it was Ash Wednesday. We didn't have hangovers, but I was groggy from staying up too late getting in one last splurge of Facebook, so that's something. (By the bye, I'm off Facebook for Lent, so hopefully this blog will be much more faithfully updated. I'll still check messenger, though, so if you need me, call.)

In honor of the holy season, we visited Chalfont St. Giles, where Thomas Grey wrote his "Elegy in a Country Churchyard" and reminded us that "the paths of glory lead but to the grave." 

But at least there are flowers, so that's something, right? See, mortality isn't so bad.
And then we stopped in at John Milton's cute little cottage, where he went to just get away from it all.*

Again, no photos of the inside, sorry. :( But there were some very very cool, very very old editions of Paradise Lost, and one not very old but very cool one open for white-gloved perusal, complete with the passionate watercolors of William Blake.

For visitors' entertainment and edification, the statuary in the garden re-enacts the Fall of Man.

Heaven preserve us! She's NAKED!
And also, there is an enormous talking snake.
 We arrived home from our travels just in time for me to hustle over to St. Mary Abbot's for Ash Wednesday service. I've never actually attended such a service, though I've heard glowing reports from my bff Emily, who is much more knowledgeable about mainstream Christianity than I am. I'm really glad I went. Lovely music, lovely-smelling incense, lovely smiles and handshakes from folks, lovely and needful fresh perspective on the Atonement. Part of the service included a read-through of the Ten Commandments, with a pause after each one so I could admit to myself and to God the ways in which I have violated and am still violating that command. It was some pretty brutal soul-searching, there in that dark little gothic church in Kensington.

The Reverend Jenny (yaay female clergy!) spoke on the woman taken in adultery . . . about her humiliation and her vulnerability. And she said something that is now lingering in my head: Through the grace of Christ, I am more than the sum total of my failures. I like that. Really, my failures are all I have to offer to God . . . all my attempts at goodness that didn't pan out. And hey, I've got lots and lots of those. But I'm not going to become better by myself. Not even a little bit. And it is, in some way, nice to let my improvement be the job of someone qualified to perform it. Christ makes me better. I'm just along for the ride.

So now my forehead is marked with ashes. I haven't planned my lesson for tomorrow, or graded the quizzes for Henry IV, or written the quizzes for Hard Times or Tess. But now it is bedtime. I have walked and worshipped, bantered and blogged. I have done what I can today. Tomorrow, I will do what I can do tomorrow, masha'Allah. And thus it is. Amen.**

*And by "all," I mean "the bubonic plague," not "the stress of modern life." #twentyfirstcenturyproblems

**This spiritual insight is brought to you by the American Bar Association, the Order of the Garter, and the letter T.

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