Friday, June 5, 2009

Canterbury Cathedral

This visit had more than its share of serendipity, enough to make us feel blessed and satisfied that we had made an fitting end to a wonderful voyage. Serendipity might not go far enough actually, but I leave that for others to ponder.

To begin with, there was the meeting in Hatchard's bookstore in Piccadilly Circle in London. While I stayed on at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Craig left, making a bee line for the bookstore. Browsing in a bookstore for a couple of hours was his idea of heaven on earth. Evidently Bishop Lee of Virginia had the same idea. As Craig was hunting for a title on the ground floor of the bookstore, he spotted our soon to be retired Diocesan Bishop coming up the stairs. In the course of their conversation they discovered they were both headed for Canterbury Cathedral that Sunday.

We stayed on the grounds of the Cathedral in the Lodge, a stone and wood Romanesque looking structure next to the Cathedral with lovely rooms facing on a courtyard. The courtyard was filled with green lawn and white roses following a flagstone pathway to a gate. As we walked back out of the courtyard toward the car to get our bags, Craig noticed a small oval plaque on the inner wall of the gate which thanked the Diocese of Virginia for supplying the funds to build the courtyard.

Then we kind of forgot that Sunday was Pentecost. So when Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury processed down the aisle to a packed cathedral including Bishop Lee and Mrs. Lee in the front row and the new Lord Mayor of Canterbury and his cabinet and their families, it was pretty wonderful. More wonderful since we had a great seat which we got because Craig convinced me to unpack his clergy shirt.

Craig had to work to convince me (the queen of packing) that maybe it was a good idea to wear his clergy shirt to Canterbury Cathedral. I needed a lot of convincing because the shirt was (tightly) packed on the bottom of the (biggest) suitcase (separate from its collar of course) in the car in the parking lot in the dark. (Look, I'm not saying I was being appropriately organized here - I was just focused on getting HOME.)

The next morning we came into the Cathedral crossing by a side door next to the lodge. We noticed that all of the seats in the front were reserved. Becoming more and more disappointed, I kept looking further and further back in the nave for a seat. But because Craig was wearing his clergy shirt, an usher seated him 15 feet from the altar in the front chair of the choir. There was not a stick of furniture or a person between Craig and the primate for the whole Eucharist. Craig said it made it hard to think. He just couldn't believe he was there.

Then Bishop Lee disappeared in the middle of the service. But that was alright because he shortly reappeared, processing up the aisle with a smile on his face during the offertory. He was bringing a gift from an organization called the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral of which he is president.

While being at Canterbury, the center of the Anglican universe, seemed overwhelming, seeing Bishop Lee walking down the aisle made it seem a little like home. It bound up the familiar and the unfamiliar, the grand and the comfortable - reminding us of what was shared by everyone in that cathedral - a history, a communion, and a liturgy found around the world. But we share more than that.

Thomas a Becket was murdered a few feet from the present day altar of Canterbury Cathedral. Three thick black wrought iron swords pointing ominously at a single spot hang suspended over the spot where he was killed. The sculptor captured the evil in the deed. The swords made me shudder. I felt hollow. I felt a grief for the man, but also I grieved for the loss of innocence. The murder of a priest in a holy place mocks the very idea of innocence. Thinking of all the conflict in the world, I mourned that we all shared that capacity for evil, too- if not directly, then by complicity. In my dark turn of mind, I thought, "This cannot be all we share." As I walked around the choir of this church that has stood for centuries, the rawness abated. I had time to think about where I was and what that meant. Canterbury is a vibrant and welcoming place. For generations, it has been a beacon of what was best in the world. With a thankful heart I thought, we all share this, too. We share in the love of God, and we share grace."