Friday 30 March 2018

Four Secret Stories from Calvary

I can't believe it's an entire year since I did that passion installation. But it is. So this morning it was Good Friday again, and this morning, I was asked to read Luke's account of the trial of Jesus.

For some reason, I found myself thinking of the other stories, the everyday stories that have become secret stories.

I thought about how Pilate was said to have confiscated the seamless garment of Jesus that the soldiers had diced for at the foot of the cross, and how the story goes that he had spirited it away. An account is that he was taken to Rome, to be disciplined by the emperor, and that he wore Christ's seamless garment to the hearing, and that everyone who spoke to him was at a loss, as long as he wore it. He was asked to remove it, though, and then he was in trouble.

And I thought about Longinus the Centurion, with the cataract in his eye, and how he thrust the spear into Jesus's side as an act of mercy, and how the blood and water went in his face, and healed his eye. Longinus kept the spear, and became a Christian himself later on. There's a novel in that.

I thought about Veronica, who kept safe the shroud of Jesus, that had been imprinted with his face.   

And then, for reasons I can't quite fathom, I found myself thinking today of the chaplain at my school.

Father Philip was a high Anglican priest, a celibate. I am certain now that he was gay. He was one of the very few people in that awful, benighted place to treat me with anything like compassion or respect. He wasn't liked, widely, and many of the straight boys accused him of being a pervert or a weirdo. He wasn't, or at least if he was, he did not try anything around me. So I don't know. I know of no actual accusations. But even the popular teachers, the kind ones, were kind of tainted in that place, like Mr L, the South African maths teacher who was twinkly and sweet-natured and called the boys by an Afrikaans term of endearment that – of course! – I discovered years later was quite racist.

Father Philip was widely despised by the boys in the school, and he wasn't a well-adjusted man. He smelled of sherry. He was kind to me. I wonder if he knew, even if I didn't, who I was.

He would hold chapel, communion, once or twice a week (I forget; I have blanked out most of the details of my teens, a necessary defence strategy), and I would go, although I hadn't really committed to the faith, and it would be me, Chris G, Matthew A and the priest. And the priest would do communion for us, and even then, I loved the drama of it, and appreciated it as a safe place where I could escape from the constant drip of hostility from pupil and teacher alike. And sometimes I wondered why Father Philip would consecrate so much of the powerful Anglican communion wine, for the unconsumed remnant he would have to drink in full at the end.

Of course, I was naive. That was the point.

He was an alcoholic, you see. After I left the school, he would be dismissed for an incident where his temper, and his alcoholism, would get the better of him, and not long after that, he drank himself to death.

He never managed to leave his closet, and I don't think he was happy. He was funny, and acerbic, and odd. The other kids hated him.

I think of him often.