Frangelico and I were in Portugal recently, to visit my sister, Chili Padi, and her husband, Mr Dessert. Their youngest was being baptised, and Frangelico had been asked to be the godfather.
The ceremony took place in the modern church in Sagres, the town closest to Martinhal. Officiating was the young Padre, thin and focused. Also assembled were some of Mr Dessert’s family from Switzerland, and friends from London and Portugal. It was a lovely service, where the baby tested his resonant voice in the acoustics of the open church for the first half, and slept through the second half (opening his eyes briefly as the holy water was poured on his head).
The sermon was in Portuguese, and I tried to pick up whatever I could, extrapolating from my elementary Spanish. It was thoughtful stuff that this young Padre had to share with us, our assembled crew of Catholics, Hindus, Taoists and non-believers. He spoke about the role of religion in one’s life, of our relationship with ourselves, each other and God, and on the duty of the parents and godparents to ensure that the baby developed not only physically and mentally, but spiritually as well.
Any church service I attend always takes me back to prayers at my school, in a Georgian town in Gloucestershire. The whole school (minus skivers) would gather in the school hall for about twenty minutes at the start of every day. We’d start with a hymn, moving on to readings by a form group, maybe a blessing from the school chaplain, followed by another hymn. The readings were from a range of sources – religious texts from all faiths, literature, poetry, speeches by politicians, reflections by artists – and there was also music, extracts from films, and sketches. I absolutely loved it. And I’ll never forget something our school chaplain said in prayers one day: “It’s not that we are a Christian school, but we welcome other faiths. It’s that we are a Christian school, and because of that we welcome other faiths”.
So great was the impact of this experience that, during the Royal Wedding of Wills and Kate (a day before the baptism), a few of my friends and I exchanged Facebook posts and messages about how much we loved such-and-such hymn from the service, which we'd sung in prayers at school. Again, the people talking nostalgically about these hymns were of Hindu, Muslim, Catholic, Protestant and non-practising varieties.
And so it was that during the post-baptism lunch at O Terraço in Martinhal, I reflected that, despite the agenda of all the extremists out there – both the religious and anti-theist extremists (yes, every single religion and un-religion has them) – and what they want us to believe, there are many people who are actually just spiritual in an open and humble way, however they choose to practise, express and seek out their spirituality. They’re not seeking to beat others over the head with their convictions or drown everyone else out with their noise. The extremists on both sides, on the other hand, are plenty noisy, seeking to dominate the discourse and rob the narrative from the rest of us. And I, for one, don’t feel like I want to let them do that.
Lunch started off with a beautifully fresh tuna (caught off the coast of Sagres itself) with four peppers, prawn, and julienne, with Dijon mustard sauce. Such fresh tuna is a real luxury, and the dense flavour of the fish was well-complemented by the complex mix of peppers. We then had a clear, light sorbet to cleanse the palate, before the arrival of the veal with dauphinoise potatoes. The veal was cooked to perfection - tender and flavoursome. Dessert was tiramisu. With the starter, we had Herdade de Esporão's Vinha da Defesa 2008 (Arinto, Antão Vaz, Roupeiro), and with the veal, we had the red Vinha da Defesa 2008 (Touriga Nacional and Syrah). These two wines were so good that Frangelico and I had to get a couple of bottles of each at duty free on the way back.