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Gas and Air

A few years ago, I fell down a flight of steps in one of our great English cathedrals. I won’t mention which one because there are such things as libel laws, and they might have put up signs pointing out the low lighting and the imminent drop next to my seat by now. I’d just spent a blissful forty-five minutes listening to small boys and grown men singing some of the most rapturous music ever written, when, still in the zone, I turned to my left and disappeared, like Alice down a rabbit hole.


Those few seconds of fall felt like a lifetime.


I landed heavily on my right side, some instinct making sure I kept my head off the floor and immediately tried to get up with the help of a little gang of concerned onlookers. However, my body wasn’t having any of it and demonstrated its unwillingness by sending me warning shafts of pain to tell me not to be so presumptuous. Despite feeling a complete fool and wanting to leap to my feet and slink quietly away saying ‘it wasn’t me,’ – I couldn’t.


An ambulance was summoned.


During the two hours it took to arrive (speedy by today’s standards) I had an interesting time. The choristers having finished Evensong embarked on a rehearsal for their upcoming Passion Play and variously drifted along to peer solicitously at the beached lady on the floor. One little girl enquired of me if I had enjoyed Evensong, and not wanting to discourage, I managed a weak ‘Yes.’ The Dean happened along, looking alarmed and offered words of comfort, probably also inwardly panicking slightly that I might sue him and his cathedral for every penny they didn’t have.


Eventually the ambulance arrived and two green-garbed angels of mercy loaded me into a wheelchair and offered me great slugs of gas and air for the pain. I could have birthed twins on the amount I inhaled. But it did the trick. I floated snoozily into another zone where there is no pain, no ache, no sting, no soreness, but only a blessed merciful relief as the nitrous oxide coursed down to the tips of my toes. I was somewhere else and it was a lot better than where I’d been.


Now last Sunday, I was reminded of this. I was in another cathedral – not falling down as it happens although there is plenty of opportunity with the number of steps set at various stations to trip up the unwary. This time I was acolyitng which is a relatively new role for me and one which is a million miles away from the spartan bleakness of my childhood church. Acolyting basically involves carrying my candle, following the cross and standing in the right place at the right time. I love it.


During the Eucharist, I stood very still, with my candle and listened to the choir singing music, sometimes so beautiful, it made my heart want to break and mend all at the same time. I listened to the Agnus Dei, sung when the consecrated bread is broken and the wine poured, and I was totally and completely lost. Not in a worrying way like when your sat-nav takes you to down a dark one-way street, but more in the way that all my inner strivings and turmoil and anxieties and insecurities fell away. I just – was.


The Agnus Dei goes like this...


O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world.

Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God that takest away the sins of the world.

Have mercy upon us.

O Lamb of God that takest away the sines of the world.

Grant us peace.


And I breathed deeply, and I inhaled the words so that they went right to the ends of my fingers and down to the tips of my toes, right to the top of my head and settled in my guts where we keep so much of our hurt. I felt wondrously connected and complete.


And it reminded me of the gift of gas and air when my body had been hurting so much.


The Agnus Dei – spiritual gas and air!


I left the service feeling just a little more restored and with a glimmer of understanding of what the Eucharist is about – the coming down of God to us here in the fragile form of bread and wine because we are so loved.


By the way – I had broken my shoulder in that great cathedral. And no _ I didn’t sue them.

We’re all doing our best.


With the help of a hefty slug of gas and air.





By the way, if you'd like to hear the setting of the 'Agnus Dei' which was my gas and air - here's a link to it on You Tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbTIbxVshgw



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