Early morning in Peterborough Cathedral

The early morning sun streaming through the East windows; bells tolling for worship, that fall quiet to the deep hush of this vast house of prayer. Its soaring dimensions and simple beauty simultaneously uplift and enfold the soul. These ancient stones are steeped in centuries of faithful orisons offered God-ward day and night, in word and song. We gather for prayer, humbly aware of our place in a long line of worshippers that stretches far back into the distant past.

I mused a couple of months back whilst on holiday in Chamonoix ( see Looking Up) about my response to mountains, and how they make my spirit soar. Working in the Cathedral, and being surrounded by such beauty everyday, is not unlike living with mountains, in an otherwise very flat landscape. There are many parallels. The constant changing light, that gives it so many moods and faces. The outsize dimensions and immense scale, to name just a few. This cathedral, like most, may have been built with very mixed motives, including those of power and authority, but it was primarily built to sing God’s glory.  It lifts my heart to God, and His presence is very tangible here.  Its effect on all who enter its ancient wooden doors is visible. Most simply stop and look, taking in the enormity of space. It catches me every time I walk through the building, or from one part to another- thrilling to a shaft of sunlight lighting a particular space, or the blaze of candles on the priket stand. It manages to combine both the majesty and intimacy of God in a way that is hard to explain. How such a voluminous building is able to convey intimacy, has to be experienced to be fully understood. A bit like God, I guess.

“How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts!
Even the sparrow finds a home,and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.

Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. ”  Psalm 122

“Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors!
That the the King of glory may come in.
Who is the King of glory?
The Lord, strong and mighty,
The Lord of hosts,
He is the King of glory.” Psalm 24

Putting steel in your soul

In the soft, flickering candlelight of evensong at Kings College, the words jumped off the ancient pages. How many generations had heard the words of Psalm 105 sung exquisitely by highly trained voices, in this house of God? Verse 18 drew my eye and heart with particular force.

They have afflicted with fetters his feet, Iron hath entered his soul” Writing of Joseph,  the psalmist speaks of his unjust accusation and imprisonment at the hands of his master Potiphar’s wife. The psalm continues:

“Until the time came that his cause was known: the word of the Lord tried him. The king sent and delivered him” I had often heard the phrase used in my title in common parlance, but had never realised where it came from.  Joseph was imprisoned, his life interrupted, by an accusation that had no truth in it, yet the painful experience put “iron in his soul”. It strengthened and trained him for the weight of responsibility that lay ahead for him as overseer of Egypt.

He was to say to his brothers later, when they were fearfully repentant of selling him into slavery  “Don’t be afraid.  Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good..” (Genesis 50:20 The Message) I know the  deep truth of those words from my own experience, where God has taken the dark shards of someone else’s brokenness, that had been aimed at me, into His own nail pierced palms, and fashioned them into something else entirely. Something good. Something that strengthened and trained me. For that, like Joseph and the psalmist, I am profoundly thankful.

A fellow ordinand made a  telling comment in a story- telling intensive course, I attended this week. Speaking of the firebird in the ancient, Russian folk tale, she described seeing in her mind’s eye, the imprisoned bird, dulling from it’s former glory and radiance, to resemble the rusty bars that restrained it.  A different translation of the verse from Psalm 105 as “They afflicted his feet with fetters; his soul came into irons” A subtle difference of interpretation, but an entirely different meaning. My learned friends can probably tell me what the Hebrew actually says – but I know which meaning I prefer.  When ‘imprisoned’ unjustly by whatever circumstances, we have the choice. To let the darkness rob us of our God given radiance, and cause us to resemble our prison bars, or allow the grace of God to turn mess into His glory and put iron or steel into our souls.