Gothic soul food

I have been searching for soul food since our return from Africa – I felt emptied out and needed to fill.

Would my heart be filled at Monday’s life painting group under the penetrating gaze of Doug Binder, who sees an emanating light in the melancholy of the model as he/she strains to hold a day long pose? Arriving late I disturbed the strange silence of the life room; I had forgotten a canvas, rootled around and found some horrid hardboard, balanced it on my travelling easel which collapsed noisily. Fifteen heads swivelled round; ‘Morning, Sue’ said Tony. The familiar faces were seated exactly where I had left them more than 3 months ago. My fellow artists were ranged around a male model, his over-developed torso musculature and long penis presented a human landscape challenge I did not enjoy.

Later in the week I sat down with ‘When breath becomes air’ by Paul Kalanithi, a much acclaimed memoir by a brilliant neurosurgeon examining his life values in dying well as he succumbs to an aggressive lung cancer. I devoured the book overnight, gobbling the beautiful prose and failing to digest its wisdom. In the morning I googled Felicity Warner and her soul midwife school desperately seeking meaning for myself in being with the dying, a gift I have thought about often.

Yesterday I took a friend to York. After a delicious late lunch of eggs Benedict in Mannions, a cafe which does simplicity brilliantly, we wandered through The Shambles to the Minster. We were early for Evensong, a service which I used to love, yet attended for the first time in 40 years at St David’s last September. Then I was transported listening to the choir, feeling the visceral organ and surveying the ancient coffered ceiling. Would the English perpendicular have the same effect?

The choir were practising as I gaped awestruck at the medieval stained glass East window trying to unravel the story of Genesis. Eventually I realised relevant panels were missing, being refurbished as part of a massive cleaning exercise relearning the expert craftsmanship of these masters of light and tracery.

The doors to the quire were opened at 5pm and we took our seats in the wonderfully ornate carved wooden stalls. As the ambient light sank the red and white cloaked choristers were illuminated by candlelight; they chanted plainsong Psalms, harmonised a heavenly Magnificat and Nunc Dimittus before singing a Brahms anthem. Exquisite Evensong, a beautiful soulful full stop.