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
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Soaring mountains. They draw out the superlatives in us. Majestic. Awe- inspiring. Scary, even. Living among them briefly, last week, did me the power of good. What is it about such stunning beauty that lifts the heart and refreshes the spirit? For me, it is because they shout the glory of the God who made them. They feed my soul. I don’t want to conquer them or climb them. Soaring around their heights would be more my style. I watched hang-gliders do just that, and looked on in wistful wonder. But I was also happy just to sit and feast my eyes on the ever changing lights and shadows and colours. It is a view I would never tire of.
Looking up is always good. It changes my perspective. Reminds me how little I am, and how big God is.
David ( who wrote alot of the Psalms) and I are old mates. We go way back. A shepherd boy poet/musician who poured out his heart and soul to the God he knew and loved. I could wax lyrical about many of the Psalms he wrote, but I’ll restrain myself to one . Psalm 61. (It is also about mountains.) It burned itself into my consciousness in my early teens.
Hear my cry, O God;
Listen to my prayer.
From the ends of the earth I call to you , when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. “I” …such a little word. But it can tower over us, It can block our view of others, and of God and it can certainly dominate our inner landscape. Whether we view ourselves positively or negatively, self absorption is a habit that is ridiculously hard to shake off. Young children go through a wonderful stage of unselfconsciousness. They just are. Like flowers or stars or mountains. Then they start comparing themselves to others ( or are compared) .. and the trouble starts. Before they know it, puberty has hit and self consciousness goes through the roof.
The big ‘Who am I? ‘ questions really start.. something I think we go on answering for the rest of our lives. I had a strong sense of self from a very early age. I was one very stroppy toddler I am told ! ( individuating is the child development term… “I can decide things for myself and know where I begin, and others end” or “I can flex my will” ) I didn’t need to be a rebellious teen, I had done it all at 3! My early teens, however coincided with me being introduced to the Holy Spirit for the first time. ( God the Father and Son, I had been familiar with since birth). This encounter was in once sense, very ordinary and un-dramatic, and simultaneously, totally life changing. Perhaps I will make that encounter the subject of a blog post one day. The purpose of describing it here, is more about one of the effects.
It made me review myself with fresh eyes. I recognised the strength of my will, and personality, and wanted to reign myself in. I was too big for me to handle, if that makes sense. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I . I needed to look up. I needed to know that my life rested in bigger, wiser hands than mine. Someone who knew me better than I would ever know myself. Someone who had loved me from my earliest beginnings, and had called me by name.
External pressures can be overwhelming at times, but internal pressures can be even more so. The deep, half hidden pressures we put on ourselves, to perform, to be perfect, to live up to whatever we think or have been made to believe we should be/do… these are just some of them. These are the real stressors, in my experience. They can be what takes the load to breaking point. “From the ends of the earth I call to you when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
I long to dwell in your tent forever, to take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Sometimes we need to take refuge from the world, but more often I think, we need to take refuge from ourselves. Our wills, our self consciousness, our inner drivers and pressures. I know I do. I need to look up . I need to get myself in perspective, and lose myself in the vastness of God.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. ( Psalm 121)
Paul Baloche has interpreted Psalm 61 in a song. From a CD called Compassion Art.