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Friday, June 8, 2012

The Bellerbys and Darrowby Church

Sitting outside St. Mary's in Thirsk

Neither in his books, nor in the BBC TV adaptation “All Creatures Great and Small,” did I get the sense that Alf Wight was a regular churchgoer.  However, he did like music.  Writing under his pseudonym of James Herriot, he relates how one Sunday he planned on attending an afternoon performance of Handel’s Messiah at his church in Darrowby (or, if you prefer, his real-life church of St. Mary’s in Thirsk).  Following on from yesterday’s post, when he is called out to the Bellerby farm, the daughter Ruth asks if they can ride back with him, as they also wish to attend the performance.  This will save them hooking up their pony and trap, as well as a long drive into town.

In Chapter Ten of his first book, All Creatures Great and Small, he writes, “Their world had a timeless quality.  They were never in a hurry.  They rose when it was light, went to bed when they were tired, ate when they were hungry, and seldom looked at a clock.”  Awed by how the Bellerbys manage to survive on this isolated farm in the high country, he feels honored to accord them this favor.  After he finishes attending their cow, he goes over to their house.  There he finds them sitting down to eat.  Oh well, he rationalizes, it’s a quarter to twelve and the performance doesn’t start until 2 p.m.  He should have plenty of time.

Knowing a meal from Mrs. Hall awaits him back at Skeldale House, James turns down their invitation to join them.  His stomach rumbling, he watches them consume generous portions of delicious, homemade food.  In accordance with their natures, the Bellerbys betray no sign of haste, but calmly and quietly consume their meal.  They take their time, and then they all retire to their rooms to clean up and dress for the performance.  All, that is, except for their son Bob, who is not planning to attend the performance.  While Bob snores in his chair, James continually checks his watch.  The minutes tick by.  Two o’clock nears.  Then Ruth and her parents present themselves.  James rises to leave, only for Ruth to stare at Bob and declare, “I’ve made up my mind.  I’m not going to leave him snoring here.  He’s got to come with us!”

The women make Bob presentable, and James packs the family into his car.  He hurtles down a narrow, stony track to Darrowby and drops the family off.  Mrs. Hall regards James in thin-lipped silence as he shoots into Skeldale House at ten to two and bolts the cold food she has labored so hard to make.  Then he rushes over to the church. 

We prepare to enter James Herriot's church...

He writes: “I was late for the Messiah.  The music had started as I crept into the church and ran a gauntlet of disapproving stares.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Bellerbys sitting very upright, all in a row.  It seemed to me that they looked disapproving, too.”

This story makes me wonder why we grow so intolerant of other noises during our Church services.  We scowl at those who forget to turn off their cell phones, children who seem incapable of containing their enthusiasm for life, and yes, all who walk in after the service has started.  Isn’t it interesting that, with a Faith that celebrates love and forgiveness, we all too often show such intolerance at the heart of our worship experience?  It’s one thing to be intolerant of what we regard as sin, and another to scorn those who actions seemingly betray a nature more forgetful and disorganized than our own.  Such intolerance seems so contrary to our belief systems, and to the people we wish to be. 

Only to be greeted by this fellow.

Only through looking in the mirror periodically, and reminding ourselves of our shortcomings, can we hope to overcome them.  None of us are perfect; all of us can try harder to be better people.  I don’t like being disturbed during worship any more than Salt-of-the-Earth people like the Bellerbys: folks whose virtues, in many ways, far outshine my own.  Yet I must try to be the kind of person who is tolerant of those whose passage through the communal water occasionally sends a few ripples my way. 

Just don’t spoil my movie-watching experience by talking or texting in the cinema.  That’s unforgivable.

Thanks for following along,
Dragon Dave

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