‘I’ve come on pilgrimage by mistake!’ That was my message to OH last night after I had attended a multi-faith prayer session at the local Brahma Kumaris centre and been unexpectedly swept up into a pilgrimage. It was very short, as pilgrimages go: I’m guessing the fifty of us walked a total of 2 or 3 miles in between mosques, churches, temples and a field on our mission to experience and learn about different faiths. The Brahma Kumaris centre reminded me very much of the yoga centre where I lived in Madrid: no furniture, soft white walls and a complete absence of clutter. Brilliant. Whenever I visit somewhere like that I want my home to replicate the stillness and lack of clutter. Yet I am writing this on a computer which sits on a table in front of my chair next to my bed… what to do?
But there was no time to consider the proposition because after a brief (but good) meditation we were plunged into the outer darkness of Boyer St and up to the mosque. This, like nearly all mosques in Britain, is in a converted building – possibly an old school – and the first thing you have to do is take your shoes off. In fact the whole evening consisted of taking shoes off and putting them on again: I should have worn slip-ons. The mosque was a surprise. As we were going in I saw women cover their heads. Assuming this to be a requirement, I did likewise (not out of any agreement with the philosophy but simply out of consideration as a visitor: in the same way, though not a royalist, I would call the Queen ‘ma’am’. Should she ever pop in.) But it wasn’t a requirement at all, I soon realised, and so uncovered my head as we sat round a cloth laid on the floor and covered with biscuits, drinks and samosas. A very relaxed young man gave a talk about the mosque; there was much laughter and no feeling of constraint at all. He introduced the Imam, who gave some prayers in Arabic (rather gabbled, like Father Ted rushing through mass:
and then we dug in. Alas, it didn’t occur to me that the samosas might have meat in, so for the first time in twenty-seven years, flesh entered my mouth. But it was just one bite, and to take the taste away I followed it with some delicious bhajis, all cooked on site. No time to digest… shoes on, and we’re off to the nearest field (oh all right, patch of grass) for the Druids to do their bit. Again, it was relaxed and jokey as a man in a robe told us about the various festivals and gave a little taste of a ceremony. Passers-by were intrigued to see a group of fifty people all holding hands in a circle in the dark. I learned something here too: apparently Imbolc comes from ‘ewe’s milk’ as it’s at the time of lambing – and if you go up Beacon hill at dawn on the solstice you’re likely to bump into some Druids holding their ceremony.
Shoes were on for this, but off again as we reached the Punjabi Hindu Temple. I hadn’t known there were any Punjabi Hindus as they tend to be Sikhs, but statistically I suppose there must be some, and about a hundred or so attend the various pujas at this temple. At the front were various figures of gods and goddesses all dressed in Indian costumes; as they were behind glass they had the oddest air of being like shop-window dummies, albeit ones that might come to life suddenly like in that old episode of Dr Who:
And finally to a somewhat anticlimactic visit to the Baptist Church. I’ve seen the building before as they serve teas during the day; alas, nothing was served for us and since I know more about the Baptists than about any of the other faiths represented, it wasn’t of much interest. They do have a large baptistry at the front though, above which hangs a beautiful tapestry.
All of this stirred in me a desire to go on a proper pilgrimage; though I’m not sure where I would go. As a Quaker I’m supposed to believe that all places are equally holy, though I’m not sure I totally go along with that: I think there’s something about a place – whether a building or a natural location – where people have gathered and worshipped for centuries. I am inspired by the idea of going on a journey along with a group of people. Who knows, perhaps I could write an epic poem about it? The Glastonbury Tales?