Service of Thanksgiving for the Royal National Mòd, 2.30pm, Sunday 13th October
Led by: Reverend Iain Thomson
Precentors: Mr John Macleod & Rev Kenny Macleod
I was in unfamiliar territory this Sunday, in Paisley, the town that Starbucks forgot. After trailing round several caffeine-free streets and two grim little shopping malls, tongue hanging out like Miley Cyrus (see, Soul Searcher’s not entirely disconnected from popular culture), I realised that Costa and Caffe Nero have also forsaken this unloveliest of Scottish cities, and I didn’t much like the look of Muffin Break.
Isn’t Paisley too far west for the Soul Searcher? Well, there were two reasons for going there: a) it’s sort of en route to where I have to be on Monday, which is further west, and b) it’s Mòd week, which means that the town should have been buzzing with the excitement of what people persist in billing as the biggest Gaelic cultural event of the year.
Er … should have been. You can’t miss BBC ALBA’s OB trucks, lying in wait for the first of the competitions tomorrow, but the city fathers hadn’t exactly hung out the tartan bunting. Nor had the Abbey seen fit to list the service on its website – not under “services” or “events” or “news” or in its October newsletter. Despite this, a fair crowd had gathered. Difficult to count, but I’m estimating 150+ of a congregation, which isn’t bad going, but it didn’t make for the greatest Gaelic church experience I’ve ever had.
And since it scores low for both ecclesiastical and Gaelic reasons, my review is divided into two parts. This bit for my Anglophone readers, about the church stuff, and a rant about language politics further down the page.
The psalms were 136:1-2, 96:1-3, 98:3-4, 40:5, all attractively printed in multicoloured ink and adorned with the Mòd Phàislig (Paisley Mòd, as if you couldn’t work that out) logo, but whoever designed it could have done with spending a little more time proofing it and weeding out the typos. There’s a new god in town, folks, and his name appears to be Lehovah.
Of the two precentors, the older chap with the white hair was croakier and less easy to follow than the younger chap with the tonsure, who had that bright tenor tone that you want in a precentor, but the tunes were familiar in any case. The real problem was that nobody in the congregation seemed to be singing. I was, and my Mòd competitor friend to the left of me was (you always bump into someone you know at the Mòd) and the chap immediately in front of me was, but all around us sat dozens more folk with their mouths firmly shut. It makes one feel very exposed, and more “listened to”, which doesn’t feel great even for a confident singer like me. Frankly, we made a better fist of it at St Columba’s Free back in March when there were only 16 of us.
The reading was Revelation 5 (quite why, I’m not sure, because it was read in English and then never referred to again), and the text for the sermon was Psalm 100. Rev Thomson spoke for twice as long as was necessary, because he provided his own subtitles by translating everything he said into English (see Gaelic rant below), and in an unintentionally ironic counterpart to the muted congregational singing his theme was that we should sing to God from the very depths of our soul, which we can do wholeheartedly only when we enter into the same spirit as inspired the psalmist.
In a nutshell, we should worship God for all the reasons given in the psalm – because he is God, because he made us, because he tends us like his flock, because he is good and merciful, and because the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever (first question in the catechism, for those who had forgotten).
But hearing any of this was a challenge, because the lectern was positioned in the middle of an echo chamber and the reverberations drowned out quite a bit of what was said. Perhaps it’s just as well he said it all twice.
Chunnaic mi rudeigin air duilleag Facebook caraid dhomh a bhon-dè: “tha e math a bhith beò agus gun a bhith aig a’ Mhòd”. The e a’ còrdadh ri cuid agus buidhe dhaibhsan, ach tha leasan fhathast – fhathast! – aig a’ Chomann ri ionnsachadh mu dheidhinn cleachdadh cànain.
Carson a bhiodh e cho doirbh duilleag Ghàidhlig a chur ri chèile? Nan robh iad air “Dàmhair” a chur an àite “October”, an tigeadh crìoch air an t-saoghal? Bhiodh e furasta gu leòr obrachadh a-mach, nach biodh? Nach eil facail againn airson “welcome”, “prayer”, “psalm”, “reading”, “benediction”, etc? Smaoinichibh, a Chomainn! Dè tha ceàrr air an deilbh seo? Coimhidibh … smaoinichibh … seadh, tha a h-uile rud sa Bheurla!
Dè a’ Ghàidhlig air “Doh!”?
O seadh, agus ar caraid ùr “Lehobhah”? Nach eil cuimhne agaibh air “Na biodh diathan sam bith eile agad am làthair-sa”?
Thuirt mi gu h-àrd gun d’ rinn am ministear fo-thiotalan dha fhèin, agus ’s e a rinn, cho nàdarra nach robh e fiù ’s a’ tarraing anail eadar an dàrna cànan agus an cànan eile … “Cionnas a tha sinn a’ dol a thoirt dha cliù, how are we to give him praise?”
Is e a’ cheist a th’ agam, carson? Cò dha? Is e seo am Mòd, agus bhiodh dùil agad gum biodh Gàidhlig ann, agus a bharrachd air sin, gum biodh tearmann air choireigin aig a’ chànan far nach biodh Beurla a’ tighinn a-steach air a’ chùis.
Trì facail sa chànan eile … does … not … compute!
Agus trì sa Ghàidhlig: o mo chreach! No OMC, mar a bhios a’ chlann ag ràdh. Soul Searcher’s scratched her head about lots of things this year, but this one … this one has finally left me lost for words, in either language.