I received a phone call recently from my son, who now lives with his family in Harpenden. He had just returned from a local art fair, where he had seen paintings of St. Peter’s Church in Sharnbrook...
... by the artist Lucas Witte-Vermeulen (the above image--yes, a painting!--is purloined from the artist's website, with apologies and thanks; you'll enjoy the meticulously painted nude on his home page!) and he--my son--wondered if this could be the same church where his grandfather had served, as Rector, when he was just a baby?
Well, yes, it was, and his call had me reflecting on those days when my father, Harry Clothier, was Rector of St. Peter’s Church and responsible also for the parishes of Souldrop and Knotting. A teenager at the time, in the early 1950’s, I do remember those lovely churches, each so different from the others—and each so beautiful in its own way. I have fond memories, too, of the good people of Sharnbrook, though I suspect that by now, some sixty years later, the village will have a quite different cast of characters. I suspect, too, that it is very much larger.
It has been a long journey since those days. I have lived in London and Germany and, on this side of “the pond,” in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Iowa City, Iowa. Since 1968, I have lived here in Los Angeles, in the Hollywood Hills. I could scarcely have imagined such a journey, back then, as the son of the Rector of Sharnbrook! It has been a good one in so many ways—particularly in my good fortune in having ended up as the writer I always dreamed myself to be.
I have to say, with some feeling of sadness, that I no longer follow the faith to which my father devoted his life. Indeed, I abandoned it as soon as I left school and moved away from the village where I had spent my adolescent years—except for the considerable time I spent away at boarding school. I had no particular quarrel with religion. Though I was required, at school, to spend a good deal of time in chapel, I was never one of those who complain that they had religion thrust “down their throat.” I just drifted away.
It was not until much later in life that I came to realize that some important part was missing. Whatever else I had learned—and forgotten!—from my childhood years, there remained an inner part of me that recognized the need for spiritual practice, in order to be whole. Understanding that need, I began to find it in a daily meditation practice which led me increasingly into an appreciation and study of the teachings of the Buddha. After some fifteen years following this path, I realize how much there is in common with the teachings of Christ—at least the Christ who taught, above all, reverence for life and compassion for one’s companions on the path we share.
While I no longer believe in the God I was brought up with, I think that the values I embrace today are not much different, if at all, from those my father taught me. One of my most enduring memories is the blessing he used to offer me at the altar rail, while I was still too young to take Communion. I have often felt, since then, empowered to take that blessing and pass it on; and I would like to take this opportunity, if it is not presumptuous, to pass it on to those who read these words. Should there be any who happen to remember me and feel so inclined, I would be more than happy to hear from them. The Rector has my contact information…