Adam lay y bounden, bounden in a bond;

Four thousand winter thought he not too long

And all was for an apple, an apple that he took,

As clerkes finden written in their book.

Ne had the apple taken been, the apple taken been,

Ne had never our lady a been heavene queen,

Blessed be the time that apple taken was,

Therefore we moun singen,

Deo gracias.

Anon. 15th Century


This is from the First Sunday of Advent service, which I went to at Exeter Cathedral tonight. I’m not a regular churchgoer, and I’m often surprised by the readings and choral pieces in Anglican services because they seem to contradict what I understand to be core Anglican beliefs. This, for example, is praising the terrible sin that supposedly invoked God’s wrath and fury, and caused Adam and Eve to be cast out of paradise in shame – which in turn has of course excused the subjugation of women for two millennia. But the implied meaning here is very different, and to me much easier to understand and accept. I am no theologian, but sin, to me, is separation from God – or divergence from the Way, or deafness to the spirit world, or whatever metaphor you prefer. For this particular sin, eating of the Tree of Knowledge, to be praiseworthy, it must have had a purpose – and to me that purpose was to cast mankind adrift from the wisdom of God so that we could forge our own path – aspiring ultimately to re-gain entry into paradise, or the spirit world, by our own merit. (And why it is necessary for us to do that is perhaps the mystery of mysteries…)

So Eve started our descent into a world of darkness, confusion, abandonment and sin. And then, after “four thousand winter” of man being “bounden in a bond”, Mary gave birth to Christ, who came into the world to show us the Way – to enable us to turn our descent into ascent, our darkness into light, our abandonment into reunion, and our sinfulness into full awareness of our true selves.

Eia mater Domini, / Ah, mother of the Lord,

Quae pacen redidisti / who gave back peace

Angelis et homini, / to angels and mankind

Cum Christum genuisti: / when you bore Christ,

Tuum exora filium / pray your son

ut se nobis propitium / to be gracious to us,

Exhibeat, / and wipe away

Et deleat peccata: / our sins,

Praestans auxilium / granting us aid

Vita fui beata / to enjoy a blessed life

Post hoc exsilium. / after this exile.

Deo Gracias. / Thanks be to God.

Anon. 13th Century

How lovely. “The Lord, who gave back peace to angels and mankind.” Peace here is a possession or a power – I think perhaps even a means of contact and communication with the higher realms… “Wipe away our sins, granting us aid to enjoy a blessed life after this exile.” Reconnect us by giving peace back to us, wipe away our separation from God, end our exile.


I went to a Celebratory Evensong at Exeter Cathedral yesterday. I always find services at the cathedral to be profoundly reassuring. There is a palpable sense of permanence, of a continuous chain of human skill and striving across the centuries, and a quiet (and very English) determination to ‘fight the good fight’ in the face of a world that’s very noisily going crazy. I was given hope that the rock of faith can weather this storm too and that mankind’s spirit will remain essentially untouched as long as that continuous chain of striving remains unbroken.

When I got home I found myself contemplating the power of common worship, of prayer, of love, and of forgiveness.

Love is light. Light is energy. Energy is food. Love is food, the food of life.

Love, and, crucially, memories of love sustain us as we move through our lives. Memories of love are just as real and powerful a lifetime later as they ever were, and they nourish us. Just think back to a moment in your life which was full of love, and notice yourself smile, feel your spirit being lifted, feel your body being energised. It’s an everyday miracle, and it truly is “better to have loved and lost” because love is never lost. It never loses its power to nourish us.

But when we love, loss is inevitable, and loss is frightening. Fear causes hurt and harm. Hurting oneself or another blocks the light of love. Hurt comes in many forms, and just as love never loses its power to nourish, fear never loses its power to destroy. Bitterness, resentment, despair, hatred, loneliness, jealousy, guilt… all of this must somehow be left behind when we experience loss.

To leave the hurt behind we must overcome the fear. To overcome the fear we must understand that loss is necessary. We must understand that we choose our experiences, and that we therefore choose their endings; that everything is transitory, and while we crave permanence we also know that we only need to experience things temporarily in life in order to learn what we need to grow; that anything that didn’t happen as it should or wasn’t completed can be corrected, but only by moving forward and welcoming new experiences; that we are here to grow, and that growth by definition means loss.

Love and fear. Good and evil. We are bound up in both on this Earth, and in order to fully experience the one we must conquer the other. And it really is very simple, although of course it is profoundly difficult. If we can forgive ourselves and others for the hurt and harm that we did and that was done to us then at a stroke the hurt and harm will disappear, because the fear will disappear. The grace of forgiveness is everything. Without it, even love loses its power to nourish, sustain and transform us.