It was very alarming to realise that when I delivered HG to Cardiff last week, it was a full 27 years since I’d driven up to the Great Gate at Trinity, at the start of my first year at Cambridge.
My parents had both died in the year before I went up, so in one way I was leaving very little behind when I began my student life.
I simply transported myself, my large collection of books and music and assorted domestic essentials from Sussex to East Anglia and got on with the business of being a student.
I'd dreamed of Trinity since a trip to Cambridge in early childhood when I’d fallen in love with Great Court and decided (unaware that there were no women in college at that point) that this was where I'd study when the time came.
In some ways it was disturbingly easy.
Suitable A levels, interview, Oxbridge papers and the letter offering a place and a minor award just in time for Christmas. My mother died in the January, confident that her only child was launched safely…and to all intents and purposes I was.
But I started at Cambridge entrammelled in one of those relationships which should never have happened, and which certainly shouldn’t have continued with our imminent departure to colleges in different directions. Not sensible at all, but then “sensible” and “student” rarely go together, it seem!
So I arrived in the city of my dreams, one of a multitude of shiney new undergraduates with a heart aching to be somewhere entirely different.
I was madly besotted and cried for my beloved in my room most evenings.
The phones in college wouldn’t accept incoming calls, so the only way we could speak was if he phoned the call box in the Market Place…so I would queue there for half an hour before the agreed time, desperate if anyone else showed signs of using the phone as 8.00 approached.
Phone calls were miserable, but the silence when we put down the receiver was worse….in the same way that our snatched weekends were only marginally less wretched than the moment when I crawled out of his warm bed in the early hours of the Monday morning to drive north again from his south coast college town.
What with hormones and bereavement, that first term was never going to be easy…but the one thing that kept me afloat was the post- grad student who was supervising me on Renaissance Literature. He lived in an attic overlooking Parker’s Piece, offered me Fitzbillies Chelsea buns and strong cups of coffee, and entranced me by lowering a basket from his window to collect essays.
He also found time to listen, week after week, as I sobbed my way through supervisions, dissuading me from abandoning the whole thing in favour of married life and a Ford Escort. He reminded me that I could do this subject,- heck, I might even be good at it, that a place at one of the best universities in the world wasn’t something to discard too rapidly.
His reading list for that term scared me witless when he handed it over. I’d barely heard of many of the names,- but 2 weeks into term, I was in love…this was my period, and I was enthralled. Bacon’s Essays, Puttenham’s Arte of English Poesie & Sidney’s Apologie…Suddenly the girl who only read novels and poetry was sitting up all night reading Elizabethan prose. Those words danced on the page and sang to me…I couldn’t get enough… It was utterly addictive.
Then, of all things, Malcolm suggested that I might enjoy the sermons of Lancelot Andrews.
Beyond the opening lines of Eliot’s Journey of the Magi I knew nothing of him….and why would I want to read sermons by anyone? It wasn’t as if I was particularly religious.
But Malcolm was adamant, so to Heffers I went to buy the Selected Sermons, (ed Storey; now why can I still remember that?)…and sitting at my desk I opened it and read
“It is Easter day abroad and it is so in the text…."
A lifetime later, I can still quote almost verbatim that paragraph from the sermon “of the Resurrection preached at Whitehall before the King, Easter Day 1620”.
Reading it again tonight, its impact is undiminished…though I’m hard put to it to say why. It will probably leave you cold,- which is sad, but not perhaps surprising.
'but Mary stood.' In the autem, the 'but'--that helps us to another. But Mary stood, that is as much to say as, Others did not, 'but' she did. Peter and John were there but even now. Thither they came, but not finding Him, away they went. They went, but Mary went not, she stood still. Their going away commends her staying behind. To the grave she came before them, from the grave she went to tell them, to the grave she returns with them, at the grave she stays behind them. Fortior eam figebat affectus, said Augustine, 'a stronger affection fixed her;' so fixed her that she had not the power to remove thence. Go who would, she would not, but stay still. To stay, while others do so, while company stays, that is the world's love; but Peter is gone, and John too; all are gone, and we left alone; then to stay is love, and constant love. Amor manens aliis recedentibus, 'love that when others shrink and give over, holds out still.' The third in these, 'she stood, and she wept;' and not a tear or two, but she wept a good as we say, that the Angels, that Christ Himself pity her, and both of them the first thing they do, they ask her why she wept so. Both of them begin with that question. And in this is love. For if, when Christ stood at Lazarus' grave's side and wept, the Jews said, 'See, how He loved Him!' may not we say the very same, when Mary stood at Christ's grave and wept, See, how she loved Him! Whose presence she wished for, His miss she wept [7/8] for; Whom she dearly loved while she had Him, she bitterly bewailed when she lost Him. Amor amare flens, 'love running down her cheeks.'
Love running down her cheeks...
That phrase returns to me each and every year as I read the Easter gospel from John. Malcolm knew what he was doing when he introduced me to that long dead Bishop of Winchester, and I'm so thankful to him.
But today the Church remembers and gives thanks for Andrewes, and I needs must do the same.
That first foray into his work inspired a later dissertation, (I called it "Thy word is all, if we could spelle",- for Andrewes led inexorably to Herbert...) - with an inevitable focus on Andrewes’ work as a translator of the 1611 King James Bible. Hard to study that without reading it, really.
I spent one Easter vac feverishly leafing through all the books that Andrewes had been involved in, trying to trace the influence of his prose on the matchless language of the Authorised Version. It wasn’t an instant conversion experience, but part of the gradual process by which the embers of a childhood faith were gradually stirred to life again.
Last summer on the eve of priesting I found this prayer in the chapel at Glenfall…and it was really no surprise to read the details of authorship at the foot of the page.
Lord Jesus, I give you my hands to do your work.
I give you my feet to go your way.
I give you my eyes, to see as you see.
I give you my tongue to speak your words.
I give you my mind that you may think in me.
I give you my spirit, that you may pray in me.
Above all, I give you my heart, that you may love in me your Father and all humankind.
I give you my whole self, that you may grow in me, so that it is you, Lord Jesus, who live and work and pray in me.
I hand over to your care, Lord, my soul and body, my prayers and my hopes, my health and my work, my life and my death, my parents and my family, my friends, my neighbours, my country and all people, Today and always.
Thank you, Lancelot Andrewes…Your company on the journey has brought light and joy unlooked for.