Up she rises, earl-eye in the morning. One Sunday in May.

Amazing what the sun brings out, my parents would say. Like spots. Though it’s possible they actually said pimples.

Does anyone say pimples any more?

Religion is like a moral sun for me. It brings out my worst fears, agonies, shame, embarrassment – and guilt. I try and squash it most of the time but when you’re there, in church, beating your breast, accepting it’s not just your fault but your most grievous fault – well, it’s only natural, isn’t it?

Sunday dawns fair. Very fair. Warm too. It’s most peculiar. We’ve become so accustomed to this endless dour, miserable, mean, sneaky winter that we’re not quite sure about a heat that owes nothing to the gas boiler.

It’s lifted my spirits. Even waking early doesn’t bother me. I skip through the main section of the newspaper, impatient with the world.

Sort yourself out, foreign countries.

Stop being silly, politicians.

Don’t be so pathetic, celebrities.

And as for the magazines – HOW MUCH?!

For a handbag!?

Puh-lease.

Atheist-man finds it hard to assimilate, this cheery-morning side to me.

I’m standing in the hall with my keys, doors open, setting the alarm.

‘I’m not ready!’ he splutters.

I unset it, step outside and turn my face to the blue heavens with never a thought – I’m sorry – of God.

It’s unprecedented. We’re early enough to choose a different pew. And find the page before the singing starts.

Old fashioned hymns today. Comforting and sing-able. John Henry Newman and the like.

And a sung Latin Mass. I find the words in the Mass book for Atheist-man – he keeps looking questions at me – like giving a child a colouring book to keep him quiet.

The lessons are about the early church. Sounds dull, doesn’t it? But some tantalising things pop out. Followers of Christ don’t have to be circumcised any more – but they mustn’t eat meat that’s been strangled to death.

Odd, don’t you think, the strangled meat thing?

The priest in his sermon returns to a theme I find difficult – and he does too, I suspect. Pain, sorrow, misery in this world.

It’s all here today in the person of one sad soul. There may be many more unhappy creatures in the crowd, but I happen to know this one – let’s call him Anthony.

The first time I crossed the threshold of this church – and the reason I chose it for this experiment (as well as the 11.30 Mass, designed for sloths like me) –  was for a funeral.

I’d been living here for a couple of years and after a string of  tonsorial disasters (razor cut, anyone?) found a brilliant hairdresser. Brilliant, but – I suspect – mad.

Over weeks, months, he unravelled before my eyes.

The last time he coiffed me I washed my hair and drove round to his flat. I waited patiently as he stood before the mirror draped only in a bath towel, showing just a tiny, calculated amount of bottom cleavage.

Are warning bells ringing?

Fear not, his boyfriend, Anthony, is about to arrive.

Both men are devout. Church-going. Crucifixes are in evidence – and a statue of Our Lady.

A couple of weeks later my hairdresser was dead.

His funeral was a beautiful affair, as befitted an artist. A sculptor in three dimensions of human hair.

I see Anthony now and again. At first he was as before, just a little less present. But now he’s very much less present. He’s grey. Like a lost soul. Paralysed on one side. He limps, drags himself along like a victim of some terrible catastrophe – and that may be the truth of it.

His chest is hung with a large, full crucifix. His clothes are all biker black, like penitential robes, updated for the 21st century.

There’s no real recognition in his eyes. He looks at me and somewhere in the depths of his brain he places me.

‘Mary.’

A ghost of a smile – or did I imagine it?

He’s already looked away. Back to his prayers. To pain, sorrow and misery.

But still he prays. That’s hope, I suppose.

We leave the church and the brilliance of the day bleaches the greyness from my mind.

Sierra Exif JPEGDown at the docks, the heat of the sun is unnerving. We wander, dazed, along the bank of the Mersey, past the grandeur of the three graces to the new Museum of Liverpool. It’s a sea shanty Sunday and in no time at all we’re joining in with ‘Hooray and up she rises’ – even though it’s not at all earl-eye in the morning.

Two sing-alongs on one Sunday.

Could winter be over, at last?

I hope so.

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10 Responses to Up she rises, earl-eye in the morning. One Sunday in May.

  1. I was out earl-eye this morning, too, only I went to a grocery store, to buy strawberries to make sconce but they only had them in 2# sizes, so off I drove to another store, but there, no strawberries at all. So the sconce will be raspberry. My atheist man is in the garage being manly. Years ago I was a deacon in a small church, now I grapple with religion in an unorganized fashion.

    Enjoy the Summer, yes, Winter is gone.

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  2. EllaDee says:

    I found the last part moving… but at least Anthony has the solace of prayer, and I like to think if you pray, you hope.
    Beyond that, I browsed through a couple of related posts and find religious for a year intriguing. I’m family C of E but have no particular affiliation, just believe in a single unifying energy… and don’t care much what it’s labelled… usually I refer to that energy as the Universe but only because there are times I need to call it something, and I subscribe to beliefs that I guess would be considered a modern form of paganism.
    Other than for a short period of time when I was 10 and had to go to church to fulfil my confirmation requirements, and hated it, I’ve come and gone to church as I pleased, not caring which denomination.
    Beyond our city existence we have a little house in a country village and there is a Catholic church 1 door up [and a pub 4 doors down] – handy.) When we’re there, and church is on that Sunday, we go if we’re in the mood, or we wander around the backyard pulling weeds listening to the singing. Either way it’s peaceful, familiar, reassuring and a form of community – the best of religion 🙂
    And finally, losing a good hairdresser is bad but your hairdresser story is terribly sad.

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    • It’s a very interesting experience, seeing how an atheist and anthropologist feels about organised religion. I’ll tell more as time passes. I found Sundays irritating as a child – we went to church every week – and more. Catholic school too. But now – it’s really very interesting, especially with searching questions from Atheist- man. And both of us like the sense of community that we really do not get anywhere else. There is a slight feeling of treasonable behaviour though, in the midst of such warmth and sincerity. And I won’t deny we enjoy singing! Yes, the hairdresser-friend’s is really a sad story – there is yet more sadness in his life and it amazes me – yet I also understand – that religon helps sustain him where little else might.
      Thanks, again, for reading and commenting.

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  3. charliebritten says:

    A very thoughtful piece. Hang on to the things that make church worthwhile for you. It’s not all about guilt, very much the reverse, in fact, because Christ died for our sins. (Is that a very Protestant view?) And enjoy your conversations with atheist man. It seems that these are helping both of you sort out your beliefs.

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    • Thanks Charlie, I’m not sure we’re sorting things out, more just moving along and skimming over the surface but we’ll see! By the way, I popped by your Blog site – shows what a state my head is in today, I read ‘Dreaded liturgy’ for Dreaded lurgy’ – oh dear oh dear!

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  4. Anthony O'Callaghan says:

    I do hope you find your faith again, you have one more graduate of Mrs Wilkinson and the “hut” keeping you in their prayers. You beautifully evoked that time and place. I hope you become again the child of the idyllic period finding that kingdom close at hand. Thanks for remembering: that waste ground- to me was a magical place to run and shout and play. The epic games of football, the long field fringed with trees and the village school feel of the place.
    Faith is about the good news, about hope, joy forgiveness, “having life and life in abundance”, not fear and guilt. The blue heavens!
    Good luck, God bless and best wishes on your journey!

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    • Ah, thank you so much for this. Sometimes I wonder if I am the only one who remembers how wonderful that school was – and with such poor facilities – but so happy. Today there are really blue heavens out there – and I’m touched to be in your prayers, thank you.

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