It is a long way down country from Scotland to the channel ferries in Dover, so we made a couple of stop over visits- one to stay with some old friends in Leyland, Simon and Ruth, the next was a hotel in Simon’s place of Birth, Canterbury.
We drove through rolling green ancient England- the way Americans always imagine it to be- old stone churches, and villages with narrow streets hemmed in with Tudor wooden framed houses. England is a beautiful, blessed place, for all it’s tortured twisted history.
Much of the breadth of this beauty and history is contained within this Jewel of a city, and it’s wonderful Cathedral.
Canterbury Cathedral is the first church of the Anglican communion of churches- the seat of Archbishop Rowan Williams. As we visited the Lambeth Conference was just beginning, along with the break away conference in Jerusalem of those opposed to what is seen as the ‘liberalisation’ of the Church. We still await the possibility that the Anglican Church will break itself apart- pulled in different directions by doctrinal emphasis and, of course, by that totemic issue of homosexuality- your stance towards this issue still seems to be the one that most accurately depicts which side of the split you are likely to place yourself.
As for us, we are tourists, on the outside of this debate, following the thousand year tradition of pilgrimage to this ancient place of worship.
Canterbury Cathederal has seen it all before, and much worse- it is a place all too familiar with political intrigue and power mongering. But it is also a place of incredible, breath taking beauty- from the ancient crumbling carvings, to the high fluted ceilings that hold every whispered word like a breath. There is something ethereal about the very light that filters in through the ancient glass- it seems to take on the weight and the colour of the stones it falls upon. It was almost impossible, even for our Kids Emily and William, not to speak with bated breath…
Michaela told me recently that despite the decline in church attendance, number visiting and attending services in Cathedrals are on the increase. This, I suppose, is no surprise. It fits in with a post modern return to more ancient spiritual practices- an embrace of mystery and mysticism- and (perhaps) a romanticisation of ritual and ceremony.
We had time to attend the early Sunday morning communion service before rushing off to Dover. It was a simple service, with perhaps 50 folk sat in the choir stalls, no hymns, using the book of common prayer. Lots of the words used still remained in me in some deep memory cupboards- even beyond my rejection of these things. And the beauty of the language impacted me again, as spoken by a priest who inhabited them, and embraced their poetry, their sensibility…
We left reluctantly, and sat in the car stilled and at peace. It was time for some music of worship. Skip forward a millenia, and American worship music filled the car, on loud. I am comfortable with contradiction…
I sang along for a while, before tears made me stop.
Looking across as Michaela, I was not alone.
Here are some pics;