Saturday, September 22, 2007

Taking some time at Salisbury Cathedral

The thanksgiving service for my uncle was held at Melbury Abbas, a quiet country parish church just outside Shaftesbury. Getting there meant the night sleeper down to London, and then the train to Salisbury where my sister would pick me up in her car. With two hours to spare in Salisbury, and conscious of the fact that my Uncle's immediate family were saying their farewells to him at the nearby crematorium, I headed to the Cathedral. My hope was that I would find somewhere quiet and calm in which to think, remember, and pray.

Salisbury Cathedral is a lovely old building, famous for its huge spire, which towers over the city. I took a few photos and then found a quiet place. Here I was able to both remember happy times spent with with my uncle and his family, and also to pray for them in their grief.

I was calmly sitting in a Cathedral seat when I was interrupted by a member of staff clearing away the chairs. Row-by-row he crashed them onto a trolley and wheeled them away, and it soon became obvious that the chairs I was sitting on where going to disappear next. So I gathered both my thoughts and my possessions and went off for a coffee.

I am not criticising the cathedral or its staff. They run a working church with an important programme to maintain. What I am wondering though is this. Do the church services I am involved in offering afford sufficient time to think, pray, meditate, contemplate or grieve? Or does a programme (however good) sometimes crowd this out? I hope that the extension we are trying to add to our church facilities (though not making it Salisbury Cathedral) will create some space for this, without interfering the valuable programme of events, worship, teaching, children's work etc - that we offer.

When in the seat in the Cathedral I noticed that most of the chairs had little brass plaques on them. The one above was the one right in front of where I sat. It gives four short facts about a man about whom I will know nothing else. I thought about life and death, the shortness of the first, the inevitability of the second, and my soul was stirred. Pressing in on my consciousness was the rugged truth of the old cliche about 'life not being merely a dress rehearsal'. This was compounded by a sense that life ultimately comes from God, and that I am answerable finally to Him for the choices I make within it.

A Time for Everything : (Ecclesiastes Chapter Three)
1 There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

15 Whatever is has already been,
and what will be has been before;
and God will call the past to account. [a]
16 And I saw something else under the sun:
In the place of judgment—wickedness was there,
in the place of justice—wickedness was there.
17 I thought in my heart,
"God will bring to judgment
both the righteous and the wicked,
for there will be a time for every activity,
a time for every deed."

18 I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. 19 Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [b] ; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. 20 All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. 21 Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal [c] goes down into the earth?"

22 So I saw that there is nothing better for a man than to enjoy his work, because that is his lot. For who can bring him to see what will happen after him?


That Hideous Man said...
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That Hideous Man said...
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