If these stones could talk
I sincerely enjoy traveling. When living in a new place, you are almost expected to get out and take a look around, boldly going where [nearly every] tourist has gone before. Yet, being a tourist is so much better when you can stay with friends. You can almost pass for a local [until you open your mouth, consult a sign, or really just set foot outside of your accommodation]. Last weekend, I spent some quality time wandering around Canterbury.
If you are me, Canterbury leaves little to be desired for a weekend jaunt. You have random old architecture, key places of historic interest, a juxtaposition of the ancient and modern that serves as a form of true comedy, and a testimony regarding the Christian tradition of England. Particularly as I am trying to find my feet in England, it seemed wholly appropriate to spend some time experiencing English Christianity, Cathedral-style.
The picture that accompanies this post is a quick shot of the iconography in St. Gabriel’s chapel off of the main crypt church. [Seriously, one thing that I have never particularly understood about Roman Catholic and Anglican church buildings is this tendency to throw up altars everywhere and have the church within the church (within the church).] Wandering around, I found this chapel dedicated to the genesis of the Gospel and these fabulous murals declaring the story of the faith.
I had the distinct pleasure of attending two Evensong services and one Matins service at the Cathedral. [Additionally, the Cathedral grounds have an access fee unless you are accessing the Cathedral for religious purposes.] The second Evensong service had no truly special features and featured an absolutely phenomenal choir, which left me for a second asking the question whether I was in heaven or on earth. The Evensong expression is fairly uniquely English in form. To experience the service in a choral arrangement was a true gift.
Yet, in the same vein, aspects of the Christian tradition have gotten muddled to the point of comedy. My friend Aideen, who was kind enough to host me, pointed me to this clip immediately before I attended the Matins service. I was off in my expectations of the Matins service: I had hoped that it would be a clear telling of the Resurrection as is the liturgical practice of the Orthodox Church, yet the service matched the more standard plain form of a service with some hymns, two readings, and a sermon. Needless to say, when the preacher whipped out his Blackberry at the outset of his sermon all I could think about was the colors of the season. The homily left much to be desired, most notably a clear proclamation of the Gospel. As the second reading was a rather obscure passage from a New Testament letter, the service contained nothing explicitly connected to Gospel. But the point remains that I found myself in a place seemingly hinged on the promise that even if we did not proclaim God’s story in the time and place, the very rocks would cry out.
One image that I’m working with while I am here is trying to image pushing my ear literally against these stones. After all, these stones contain a permanency of faith at which I can only marvel. Depending on where you go, the stones tell a rather tortured history. The icons I found in the chapel of the Annunciation speak to this story. They are chipped, faded, and otherwise falling into disrepair. Yet, despite all odds, they remain.