A history of prayer

Yesterday we said goodbye to Southwark cathedral, which has been our home for the week, and today we have travelled on a large purple bus all the way to Norwich.

Southwark cathedral is a beautiful place. Huge quadrapartite vaulted ceilings arched above us as we sang; during Evensong, light spilled through the high glass windows onto the choir stalls, which was inconvenient as it blinded us, but beautiful. Everywhere we walked, floor stones commemorated the faithful long-dead, words smoothed by the passage of thousands of feet into obscurity. Everywhere we looked, there was beauty, some small or large ornate flourish to the glory of God. 

The vaulted ceiling in Southwark cathedral
The vaulted ceiling in Southwark cathedral

There’s been prayer on the Southwark site since around 606 of the common era. Even before Christianity, it is thought that the ground that now holds Southwark cathedral was once home to a Roman pagan worship site. There is something about that patch of ground that, for some reason, has attracted humanity to worship its Divine. Celtic spirituality traditions talk about “thin spaces”, where the barrier between heaven and earth is diaphanous, and somehow humanity is attracted to the presence of the Sacred. There is something about some spaces — whether they be pagan worship sites, or the sites of standing stones, or Aboriginal songlines in our own country — which cause our souls to reach out to our Creator. Southwark cathedral seems to be one of those places.

A thin space between heaven and earth
A thin space between heaven and earth
Southwark cathedral
Southwark cathedral

There have been people praying in Southwark for over a thousand years, and we added to that line as we sang Evensong and the prayers of the Mass, as we sat in the quietness of our own thoughts and prayers. Each prayer given, each alleluia and note of song, is part of that line, of saints alive and long-dead, of humanity reaching out to its God. Each time we pray, or sing our prayers, we are praying with the communion of saints.

We are linked to every other soul on the planet, living and dead, by our faith, by the God who created us all. This is why the community of Southwark cathedral is trying to raise an extra £800 to support a famine-stricken diocese in Zimbabwe, in addition to the money they have already sent. It is why there is always more that unites us than divides us, and why the voice of prayer on this planet is never silent. In our joy and loneliness, our fear and love and passions and nobilities, we are never alone. The entire world, the entire community of departed saints, is surrounded by and united in the love of God.

This is the faith we sing each week (or each day, while we’re in England), and this is the faith that we will sing for the next week in the cathedral of Norwich: we are never separated from the love of the Divine, who created and sustains us, and to whom we sing.

(Blogger’s note: Thanks to Bill Jordan for the technical term and the quick lesson in why quadrapartite vaults in the ceilings are necessary for cathedrals.)

Ask Bill about what the arches in the ceiling are called.

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