When you’re inside the Bedouin tent that eats up much of the paved courtyard at the back of the reconstructed St Ethelburga’s (famously, the twelfth-century church was blown up by an IRA bomb in 1993), there is a sense in which the world just falls away. You close the doors, let your eyes adjust to the soft-glow yellow lighting, sink into the pillow-y banquettes, and focus on the matter in hand.  Although all our group ever does is read and talk (and munch on tea and biscuits), it is easy to see why the tent is the perfect place to meditate, or do yoga, or chant. Its vibe is definitely in the chill zone.

Yet now that St Ethelburga’s stands exposed amid a sea of developers’ rubble and the attendant soundtrack to sitting inside the tent is the endless reverb of hammer-drilling on a gargantuan scale, our little reading group has taken to meeting in the church nave. The nave is a space of tranquil and austere beauty, stone-walled, vaulted, lit with fat candles that look as if they could go for all eternity, and cleverly concealed spots that never upstage the light shafts that filter in from the street through leaded windows. It sounds churlish to say that we make do in the nave, but somehow the space lacks the bubble world integrity of the tent. It has a public aspect. People come and go. What is more, with the tent aflood with developer’s ‘backwash’ competing for use of the nave is intense.

This week it was like Grand Central Station. When we arrived Ethelburga staff were milling about, reconfiguring tables and chairs; a tete-a-tete meeting was underway; two women had wandered in off Bishopsgate to pray; and another group was holding a meeting in the aisle, a corridor-like space hived off from the nave proper by a glass wall and also a sliding door, which became a point of open-close-open again contention as our meeting got underway.

In short it proved difficult to concentrate on the Gujarati devotional songs, or Bhajans, I had brought in, with their simple testimony to the love of God, their plaintive appeals for union with the divine, and their abject concern with God’s essential unreachability. We struggled on, and no one complained. But nor did anyone really dig into the texts. Instead the conversation shifted decisively to the topical: anything in the poem-like songs that could springboard us into The Now would do and we chatted on merrily.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that. We often turn themes in the literature into a searchlight on the present, and group members know one another well enough to feel confortable bringing highly personal inflexions into discussion. But it only struck me later that what we found ourselves unable to achieve in the nave this week I had wholly taken for granted in the tent: namely, a form of levitation.

What we do in our group –  read, absorb, talk, react – works a kind of magic, somehow,  a collective bewitching. The text is so palpably present when it’s read aloud, and we’re all concentrating so intently on it we’re almost meditating, and we’re willing ourselves to be transported, allowing the story or poem or tract to tickle and agitate under our skins, so when we do eventually talk about it you can feel a kind of communal stirring of energy, something kinetic that is inwardly inflected and, well, buoyant.

I’ve tried my best to tell it like it is, the way I experience it, and I hope that other members of the group will add their own perspectives of what happens on a ‘good week’ (though it may well be one of those untranslatable bits of magic-making that you have to be there to feel). My point, however, is that this week the transport didn’t happen. We didn’t levitate. Our feet never left the ground. The beautiful bhajans didn’t sing to us as they might have done.

And so instead of trying to convey aspects of our text-based levitation, I thought I’d direct you to a performance of one of Meerabai’s bhajans instead.

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