July 18, 2011

Seems like train rides are the time for blogging. I splurged and got us 1st class tickets for all our train travel in the UK. It’s splendid 🙂

On our way to Liverpool now, all four of us seated around our own table, with coffee, a light lunch about to be served and watching the London suburbs whizz by in the window. As a person with a melancholy (or beaver type) personality, I give great weight to the following statement: I am content.

Moving back to yesterday . . .

Kellie and I attended services at St. Matthews, just up the street from our hotel. We were greeted warmly and sat in 150 year old pews, gazing at the wonder of the stained glass, the ornate altar, apse and altar pieces. We were two of only 10 people there. As the organ began, another 25 people quickly flooded in. The vicar lead the 5 person choir into their places and we stood to sing.

For the sake of time, I won’t give a blow by blow of the service, but let me say that it was in fact, “High Church”. here were the biggies:

The visiting vicar (who was Syrian. . . . Did I already say something about London being international?) he, well he . . . There’s no other way to say it: he preached his ass off. The text was from Romans 8 (read from the ornate podium by a lovely older lady with a proper accent . . . Beautiful) the vicar then spoke at length about our part in the groaning creation, our missional responsibility, (he used the phrase, “church without walls” many times which should delight my NC friends!). He spoke of our eternal life beginning NOW, not when we die. I cried like a baby as he spoke. This is a thought I have held for sometime, a source of strength and courage, and this man preached that thought back to me in a beautiful, and fully formed way.

Then . . . Communion. there has been discussion on the NC bulletin board recently about different communion traditions. I have never had “formal” communion before.

Now I get it.

Kellie and I approached the altar behind a couple who were at least 90 years old. They were dressed in their Sunday best, wobbling their way forward with canes in hand. We had to help them mount the steps, and guide their frail, trembling frames to the rail where they exerted all their strength to kneel . . .to submit, to bow their creaky, aging frames before their God. I’m crying now as I did then, bearing witness to this expression of devotion we rarely see in my church circles.

As I knelt, hand out, the vicar approached and caught my eye, saying, ‘the body of Christ…” he smiled in a way that gave a clear indication that this was a deep, great joy for him. This man loves his job.

On his next trip, the goblet.

The gentle, astringent tang of sacramental wine.

“. . . The blood of Christ.”

As we continued through the liturgy, some of the words of penitence began to sting. I imagined generations of earnest Anglicans speaking these potentially damming, but true words of confession, of petition, of abject humility. I imagined them grasping for the comfort of a god who would love them, comfort them, provide purpose. I imagined a young woman perhaps, sitting in the same pew I now sat in. Perhaps 1890 or so. Her heart filled with darkness every Sunday as she spoke the words, just like the skies of London filled with smoke every winter: ” God forgive my wretchedness. God I am unworthy, God I am unworthy, God I am unworthy. Sing it. Chant it.Speak it
In unison. Hear it from the lectern.

I felt a pang of . . . Embarrassment saying these things out loud, so raw so opposed to the spirit of our culture in America, the world. I had to run deep into my intellect, into the long hallways of my theological library to find cause to speak these words out loud with integrity. Could these things be true? I knew that they were, but to say them like this hurt.

I imagined the girl again. She did not have the benefit of broad context that I do. She had only the words. I was almost becoming angry, almost despairing of what our church has done to so many over the years, Anglican, RC, Orthodox, Baptist, Quaker . . . We have all beaten each other with the truth. We have weaponized the Gospel of Peace.

But as I teetered on the edge of despair: a vision.

St. Matthew’s. Stone upon stone, the older stones set first, strong, hard and un-moving as corner stones should be. Stone upon stone, the Gospel rises into the future, my generation’s stone set in the middle somewhere, resting upon the stones which came so long before. How often have I despised the stones which provide the firm foundation of my own faith? How often have those who stand upon MY shoulders despised me?

How ridiculous we are, judging like this and in so doing missing the truth of the words.

It was a good day at church.

By the way Rick . . . You’re still my favorite preacher.

Okay . . . St. Paul’s. Take everything I just described happening that morning, and ride that wave into arguably the most amazing space created for worship in the UK. Add world class choir and organ, a thunder storm raging through the skies of London, bells peeling from the tower. I think you get it.
Don’t want to waste more bandwidth trying to find words for this.

Abbey Road: There is  actually an air of  reverence at the place. While there is no order of service or a minister, a collective liturgy has developed . . . The graffiti, the posing for pictures, the crossing of THE Road. It’s quiet, well more quiet than you would expect. Most of the locals seem to tolerate it, some seem to support it. . . The “church staff”?

Interesting that in church, we spoke of humility penitence and our unworthiness. The truth can be so painful because its the truth. The same evening, in a place of a different kind of worship, the liturgy spoke of love and only love, peaceful living without a god, free of any authority, and it brought no comfort . . . Because it is not true.

The Music is still the best.

“. . . And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love . . . He  graced.”

4 thoughts on “July 18, 2011

  1. “As a person with a melancholy (or beaver type) personality, I give great weight to the following statement: I am content”
    -This is why you and my husband are soul brothers. Rejoicing that the ever elusive contentment found it’s way into your heart. It’s like the sword of Griffendor, perhaps.

    “We have all beaten each other with the truth. We have weaponized the Gospel of Peace.”
    -I think this is very true, but I also think that we (or maybe more like I) have a tendency in our seeker friendliness or our American-don’t-want-to-offend-or-make-you-uncomfortable-ness avoid the truest truths. We are wimps. We have no faith that if we bring the Bad News people will see their need for the Good News. And how do I tell a friend of 24 years that I think she is being selfish in her marriage and missing the grace of God when she is hurting during a painful separation? I’m lousy at being a “true” friend. If I can’t encourage with words of confirmation and affirmation, I often remain silent as the grave. This is probably my worst fault, that and poor housekeeping.

  2. Your recounting of following the old couple in their nineties up to receive communion brought back memories for me of a visit to Waltham Abbey, thirty years ago almost to the day, when my family and I took a very slow two week canal boat trip from Ware in Hertfordshire, round the River Lee navigation, across the Regent canal through the east end of London, and then back again.

    When we moored up on the bank of the canal in Waltham, we walked to the abbey. On the way up the path, we passed an old lady, bent up, walking with a frame, so slowly. We went into the abbey, spent a fairly long time looking around, and during that time, she arrived, made her way slowly to the front of the church, to the seat in front of where we were sitting, taking in the magnificence of the architecture. After she had got her breath back, she began to pray, simply, out loud, the words of the Lords Prayer. After her amen, she paused for a minute or so, got up and made the long slow journey down the nave to the door, and back down the path. We lingered a while, and when we walked back to our barge, she was still making her way back down the path.

    At the time, I remember thinking “All that way for just that brief prayer. She could have done that at home. What a waste of energy”. Goodness knows how much further she had to walk to get home.

    Now, I see it in such a different light. For her, that was a major pilgrimage, to get into a specific place, for her to meet with God, to say her prayer and then leave. I had taken the place so much for granted – its history, its Christian tradition, the many centuries of worsip, which had been suddenly enriched by this woman’s devotion. What had I done? Say a prayer, worship my God? No. I simply gazed at and admired the architecture. I thank God for that woman’s devotion, for the effort she put in to worship. Not for her simply turning up and going through the motions, as for her, every motion cost her so much. How much does it cost me to get to church, to worship my God? In the same circumstances, what effort would I put in? I hope I would have the same devotion.

  3. I felt so sad to be in such a huge cathedral, built so literally 1000’s could worship and be one of only 30 people there. I felt so ashamed that we humans were missing our chance to love the Lover. Am so glad you did not miss yours.

    I fould myself wondering what I had done to help drive people away from love…or do people see love and just reject it and choose self. Did you wonder how that vicar continues to do his job with so much joy and conviction when almost no one chooses to share that with him? I’m afraid I would just give up and give in to the emptiness like so many others have.

    1. Yes, I did wonder about his perserverence. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him. Maybe someday. In the meantime, I will simply be inspired.

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