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Deep Study

This continues a web diary covering my 2004 Sabbatical.
The beginning of the diary may be found by clicking here.


Friday, September 17, 2004
in Toronto

Today, for the first time, I experienced frustration. I could NOT find what I wanted in the library.

Five years ago, when I was preparing to give a paper at the University of Manitoba, I was lucky enough to come across records of a 16th Century church court in which the personalities of some of those long ago litigants just jumped out of the page. Most notable, to me, was John Hareley, who “...reads so loud upon his Latin popish primer (that he understands not) that he troubles both minister and people.”

“... hours of catalogue searching”
The hunt for transcripts of original documents
comes up almost dry
As I planned for my sabbatical, I assumed I would be able to find and read a variety of such records - windows which might reveal something, however tantalizing, about the real and ordinary people of the era. I wasn’t expecting to find the original records, of course (they are in vaults and archives in England; and many of them are in Latin - the 16th C. language of court and government), but transcripts and translations.

I had found John Harely in such a translated transcript, and the volume in which I had found him, published in the early 20th Century by a Canadian scholar, can be found in the Toronto university libraries. Innocently, I figured I could go to where that volume is in the stacks, then pick similar items off the shelves nearby and look for more interesting 16th century people!

It turned out not to be so simple. That book was the only item of its kind on the shelf. Looking in the computerized catalogue did turn up a handful of comparable documents, none particularly relevant, and all scattered individually through several different libraries. Worse, some were filed under “religion,” some under “Church of England,” some under “history,” and some under “politics,” and there were two in the Faculty of Law! My plan of finding one item and then looking at adjacent shelf material was not going to be either efficient or effective.

Today, after hours of catalogue searching, an item appeared on my screen that looked almost perfect: documents from a church court in the Diocese of Lincoln during the early years of the reign of King Henry VIII! Three volumes, and they were in the Graham library two floors down from my carrell! Yes!!!

I ran down, brought the books back to my desk, then with delight opened the first one... to find that all the Latin proceedings were printed as is - without translation. I can decipher Latin, but to sift through nine hundred pages of it in hopes of finding a few interesting individuals would take me months!

Hence, my frustration.

I realized finally that I had to rethink my approach to this project. My book is not, and was never intended to be, original scholarly research. Rather, I hope it will be a modern book for the general reader. In order to produce it, all I need to do is turn to the work of full-time researchers, so that what they have uncovered may be distilled and summarized into something that might properly be called a “popular book.”

So I came out of this day of frustration with a slightly revised plan. The actual writing of my book will begin sooner rather than later, preceded by “refresher” reading in recently-published scholarly literature.


Tonight I was cook - preparing a meal for myself, Ariel and Shai. This was rather courageous of me, because Shai, my son-in-law, is a hobby chef whose daily creations are original and delicious. He was, mercifully, very gracious and complemented my poor culinary efforts.

Ariel had come home from design school with a treasure: a friend had given her the complete Wagner Ring Cycle on DVD. The three of us watched the Prologue after dinner. Imagine, what amounts to an “overture” taking two hours! I didn’t expect to like it very much - I have over the years been influenced by certain negative stereotypes of Wagnerian opera - but in fact enjoyed myself thoroughly. The singing - and acting - of this production (a 1980 Beyruth made-for-film version) were superb.



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Saturday, September 18, 2004
in Toronto

Spent a couple of hours today reading Christopher Marsh’s Popular Religion in Sixteenth Century England, and Eamon Duffy’s Stripping of the Altars.

I also indulged myself with a trip to a used book store, which is in fact where I acquired the Duffy work. It is a monumental book, and something of a watershed in modern scholarship, arguing that the English Reformation was imposed on an unwilling public by a handful of revolutionary political and church leaders. While Marsh’s book acknowledges the importance of Duffy’s argument, it also points out that the English people - however thrust into the Reformation - eventually came to love their Anglicanism.

Both these books will help me to resolve yesterday’s frustration, because the authors have had access to an abundance of original documents, and relay to us some delightful real-world anecdotes. It is from Marsh’s book that I got the story of William Akers, who threatened to pull his priest out of the pulpit “like a rascall!”

My work is back on track.

In the evening Ariel and Shai and I went over to Rachael and Kevin’s for dessert. The men (myself included) enjoy politics, and spent some of the time in front of the TV, watching Ontario Progressive Conservatives select themselves a new leader. Lots of fun.

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Sunday, September 19, 2004
in Toronto

The ten years between 1549 and 1558, according to historian Christopher Marsh, were “... the most turbulent and bewildering that English parishes have ever endured.”

He has a point. As the decade began, altars were torn out; images of the saints were taken down, wall portraits of saints were painted over with scriptural texts; and the liturgy was changed from Latin to English. Three years later, a completely revised liturgy came in, forbidding many traditional spiritual devotions. Then, the next year, the Latin Mass was restored, images of the saints were brought back, and altars were rebuilt. This lasted five years, then the saints were taken down again, altars broken apart, the Latin Mass was once more banned, and yet another English Prayerbook was introduced. It would take considerable resilience for a population to survive all this with equanimity.

Scholars argue about whether, and to what degree, the English people bought into the different theological doctrines underlying these various changes, but I suspect that the majority of churchgoers were simply numb from all the upheaval, and only wishing for something - anything - that was familiar and unchanged.

At St. Thomas’ church this morning, I felt the deep satisfaction of partaking in something that doesn’t change. It is a church which is very comfortable with ritual. There are processions, genuflections, and constant, dignified ceremonial movement. Much of this is the same as last week, and the week before, and the weeks and years before that. The participants root themselves in a familiar and oft-repeated reverence.

They pass it to the children. Consider, for example, the time-honoured ritual of “censing,” - the deliberate directing of smoke from an incense holder toward various components of the congregation (altar, clergy, servers, choir, people): Today the “thurifer” - the one whose duty it is to do this - was accompanied by a tiny girl not more than five years old. She was robed in cassock, surplice, and ruff, and she held the “boat” of incense grains for the thurifer, should he need some. She walked solemnly beside him, bowed when he bowed, turned when he turned, and was the perfect picture of miniature solemnity.

Thus, respect for liturgy, and familiarity with the rules and details of ceremony, is passed to a younger generation. I have been told the children in this parish all get a turn carrying the incense boat, and if this one small person is any indication, they have already learned to participate in the ceremony with utmost seriousness and solemnity. Customs such as these, inbred with endless repetition, will not readily yield to innovation - whatever its source, whatever its logic.

I am somewhat embarrassed that thoughts of my book-writing project in this way overlaid my attention to worship, but it is the nature of the human mind to be busy, and the human heart needs constantly to be redirected to one’s prayers.

Lunch in a nearby pub, with Rachael and Kevin, followed the service, then a relaxed afternoon and evening - so relaxed that I fell asleep over one of my books! Email and a phone conversation with Heather completed the day.


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Monday, September 20, 2004
in Toronto

The vibrating wheel problem which ol’ Harry was suffering on the drive from Manitoba has been solved! All it took was four good used Michelin tires! They were installed this morning.

As soon as the work was done, I went out on highway 400. Traffic was flowing steadily at about 120 kmh, so I joined in, and found that there is no speed attainable by this car where vibration is a problem. What a blessed relief!

So, it was my bald worn-out tires that were the chief cause of the truly frightening sensation that a wheel might come spinning off at any moment! An addional bonus: now that I have tires with tread on them, it should be somewhat safer when I drive back to Winnipeg under winter conditions! More immediately, when, this Friday, I take highway 401 to Québec, there should be a state of much greater calm than I experienced on the journey from the West.

The afternoon was spent in the library, with my new approach to research. There isn’t going to be much to report here... I read, I take notes, then read some more.


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Tuesday, September 21, 2004
in Toronto

One of Rachael’s friends is planning to marry, and both bride and groom want me to preside at the wedding.

I wondered why they weren’t going to be married in the church where they are members of the choir, and they said “Which church?” Both are professional musicians, and each is employed in a different congregation. As well, both have come recently to Toronto, so that the churches to which they have real connections are in Winnipeg and in Calgary. I am one of those connections; I’ve known the groom since he was a young teenager.

So I agreed to do it. A congregation from many worlds will be called together for that wedding next summer - musicians with whom they have associated in various churches and other settings over the years, plus plenty of family and friends.

And, since every Anglican wedding must be preceded by a significant period of counsel and preparation, I found myself this morning in the city of Toronto doing a pre-marital session for a wedding that will take place in Winnipeg next Summer.

I very much enjoy preparing couples for married life. Marriage fascinates me; it is one of the toughest things we humans ever undertake, and one of the most rewarding. As a pastor, I delight in the optimism and vitality two young people show as they begin to build their lifelong relationship.

So, today was a good day - even though, for a couple of hours, it wasn’t really a ‘sabbatical’ day!

Following the wedding interview, I had a brief visit with Rachael, then, apart from dinner, the rest of the day was spent reading, taking notes, reading some more, and taking some more notes.


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Wednesday, September 22, 2004
in Toronto

Reading, taking notes; reading some more, taking some more notes.

“Deep study.” continued on my last day in Toronto. I didn’t even go down to the university, since I have pretty well all the books I will need . The only time I went out was to get ingredients for supper.

For my parting shot as their house guest, I chose to cook once more for Ariel and Shai (I invited Rachael & Kevin too, but one had to teach a singing lesson, and the other was staying at the office until 9 p.m.).

I am noted - among a certain set of young people - for what one of them dubbed my “Doctor Burger,” and this was the menu item I prepared tonight for my daughter and her husband (the almost-a-chef!) Hamburger meat prepared with breadcrumbs, egg, crushed garlic, and chopped onion - broiled on a BBQ with mushroom, bacon, and old cheddar cheese cooked directly onto each patty. The creation is then served on a large lightly toasted kaiser bun, with tomato, lettuce, dijon mustard, mayonnaise, and relish. Yummm.

Rachael and Kevin came over after finishing their commitments, and we visited until close to midnight.


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Thursday, September 23, 2004
in Port Hope, Ontario

In the morning, I packed up ol’ Harry for the next phase of my trip, and went down to the university.

There, in the early afternoon, I connected with my lifelong friend, Patrick Gray, and in due course we were sitting in Toronto’s stop-and-go traffic - on Bloor Street, then on the Don Valley parkway.

It was really hot in the city today. Although forecast to reach 26 degrees Celsius, I think it went higher. It felt like mid-summer, not late September.

So, to my great disgust, ol’ Harry started smoking again. It was excruciating to crawl along in bumper-to-bumper traffic - on a high-speed expressway, no less - wrapped in a noxious fog.

Finally - it took probably half an hour but felt like forever - we got on to highway 401 and began to move at a decent clip. The smoke dissipated, and the car rushed through the baking afternoon with no sign of the shaking and roaring which had been such a feature of the first leg of my sabbatical. Praise be to God!

As we drove, Patrick and I caught up on our news - this is a rich friendship with many layers - until about an hour later we arrived at his new home in Port Hope, where his wife Cathy greeted us with her typical cheerful enthusiasm. There followed a tour of the house, and a tour of Port Hope!

One of the oldest towns in North America, Port Hope has many carefully preserved historic buildings. But the stream which flows through the town offers a quite different attraction: it has been stocked with salmon, so this afternoon we watched several enormous fish leap over a small dam on their way upriver to spawn.

After a pub dinner, we went to a screening of Michael Moore’s Farenheit 9/11. Port Hope has a type of movie club, wherein a film of interest is shown each Wednesday night. Patrick and Cathy have season tickets, and treated me to a guest pass.

Well... a memorable experience. I wasn’t very happy with Moore’s rant about George W. Bush hijacking the 2000 presidential election in Florida, but that is the only negative thing I have to say. For the rest, I was troubled and fascinated by Moore’s revelations about the Bush family’s business links to Saudi Arabia, and the strange truth that after the attack on New York’s twin towers, the world saw a comparatively small assault on the hideout of the perpetrators (Moore says that fewer troops were sent to Afghanistan than there are police in New York City), and then - almost Houdini like - the attack suddenly shifted to a different target: Iraq! Troubling.

The most powerful part of the film is its graphic demonstration that the children of America’s poorest people go into the army - to die in Iraq - while the children of the rather more upper class folks who enabled the war legislation do not.

Tomorrrow, a five hour drive into Québec, then weeks of solitude and writing.


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Friday, September 24, 2004
at Craig’s Lake, Québec

It is wonderful to be here. The drive was trouble-free and uneventful, but of course it took much of the day.

There have been enormous quantities of rain here, and the Jack Aubrey was absolutely full of water. Right up to the gunwales. It took half an hour to bail.

Jean Lalande, my fellow cottage-owner and top-notch handyman, has once more been busy at my request. A new sink was installed, new doors put on, and the house was levelled and the floor re-inforced as a follow-up to last year’s foundation replacement. The work was excellent, but once again, as was the case when we arrived in late July, signs of carpentry were everywhere, and my first duty after bailing the boat was to vacuum and tidy up.

But all has now been done. I have cleaned out the place, unpacked, made dinner, done the dishes, and have just about completed the updating of this weblog.

To my astonishment, there is no need to build a fire. Even late at night, it is still very warm out. If I hadn’t had so much work to do, I might have gone in for a swim!

Tomorrow, the writing begins.

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