Wednesday, 29 August 2007

The past is another country

At dusk, as I sat in our old Priory church for the Evening Daily Office, I had an intense experience of being in the Private Prayer chapel in the south transept of Salisbury Cathedral.

Twenty-five years ago I began the habit of going across from the Theological College at irregular intervals to sit in silence in that small enclosed chapel and think and pray and meditate before the glorious stained glass window. The bustle of the tourists making their way around the main body of the church was insignificant, and I was able at those times to engage in real heart-searching and an openness to where I might be led as my ministry began.

In the chancel of the rural Priory this evening I became aware of how that world has disappeared. I would not be getting up to walk down through the spacious Cathedral nave and out of the great West doors. I would not be walking across the Close back to the beautiful College building where the bar would be open prior to Supper.

And even if I could get back there, the College has also changed. No longer a place of clerical training, the Entrance Hall has been re-modelled and the wonderful stairwell truncated. The lecture rooms are changed, the Common Room no longer a place of talk and reading, and the new chapel taken over as an expansion of the library. Even the old chapel has become less atmospheric than it was.

You can never go back, and I know that. But just sometimes the loss of what was becomes tangible. Salisbury was the pinnacle of my exploration. It was if I had climbed Mount Everest, and ever since then it has been the journey down. Mountain tops are places for experiencing the holy. Sinai. Tabor. Revelation and Transfiguration. But each time the people had to come back down into the world.

The understanding of this doesn't stop the memories though.

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