Thursday, 12 January 2012

Looking up


What a wonderful time I've had, Father God.

I've just had a marvellous little break from normal life. Actually, it was more like a trip through time back to our old pre-children life when Bryan and I lived in London and used to do dynamic things now and again, like Go Out. Sometimes we used to wander round the streets in the capital city after work watching the evening come to life (in hindsight, not often enough) and occasionally we'd have dinner and/or go to the theatre or cinema and get the Tube back home late at night. Sigh. Of course, such behaviour is not possible with small children who require frequent snack and toilet stops, entertainment and a clearly visible child-friendly objective. They're not up for aimless wandering. Or restaurants where you don't collect your food on a tray. Or anywhere that you have to sit still or keep the noise down, come to that. No, wandering, restaurants and theatres are something for another day several years hence I think.  
St Paul's

Until then, little escapes like this keep me going.  Met Bryan for a bit of lunch at Borough Market and then as he went back to work for the afternoon I went exploring.  It's years since I've been in St Paul's Cathedral. I don't remember much about it, to be honest. This time I queued up and was a little aghast at the size of the entry fee but after a moment's pecuniary indecision I paid up, looked happy and went in.

The High Altar
My goodness, it's worth every penny. Apparently it costs an arm and a leg to maintain this place and when you've had a wander round this breathtakingly beautiful cathedral you can see why. What a monument to your splendour, Lord. Every way you turn there are mosaics, spectacular frescos, paintings, murals, sculptures, woodcarvings and statues. Rich fabrics, gold leaf, jewel-like colours and chandeliers. Famous names everywhere; history comes alive among the dead and commemorated. William Blake, John Donne, Nelson, Wellington, Grinling Gibbons, Millais, Holman Hunt. 

I took the tour, I listened intently on my headphones, I wandered and sat and listened and gawped and marvelled. I climbed the two hundred odd steps to the Whispering Gallery and no wonder my knees went wobbly at the top as I gripped the handrail with white knuckles. I learned so much and feasted on the beauty and extravagance and skill and workmanship and the sheer vision of Christopher Wren. (I always want to call him Christopher Robin, Lord, why is that?) 
The Dome from
The Whispering Gallery

Grandeur at every turn. What man can achieve with enough determination and boldness and inspiration. And money. I think you like St Paul's, Lord. I felt that you were there. You were in the vast spaces and the tiny details. Apparently when a team of experts cleaned the outside of the cathedral, high up among the towers and curlicues they discovered carvings and stonework that would never be visible to the eye normally, hidden behind other structures, yet created with the same intricacy and attention to detail that marks the more obvious adornments of the building. Someone knew that you see even the hidden parts and took care not to cut corners. I like that the craftsmen made it perfect, even in the bits that no-one sees. 

I spent the whole afternoon wandering in St Paul's, and came to the conclusion that the opportunity to explore this extravagant house of yours was worth every penny of the sizeable entrance fee. I could have spent another couple of hours there and that's even before I got to the gift shop. 

I liked being there on my own as well. Not only because I could wander as I pleased, immersed in my headphones guides, but because it left me alone with my thoughts. You were in my mind. You opened my eyes. 

The Light of the
I have for a long time loved the painting, 'The Light of the World' by William Holman Hunt. I used to have  a postcard on the wall by my bed when I was at University. I love the colours, the warmth, the composition, the patience on Jesus' face as he knocks on the door, waiting for it to opened from the inside. I love the idea that you will wait until we realise that the door is there and you are just beyond it, waiting for an invitation. I didn't realise that it hung in St Paul's. There was my painting. I finally got to see it. It's as magnificent as I thought it was. 

What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. As I left the cathedral the organist was limbering up for Evensong and the glorious sound filled the air. Dusk was falling and outside was that wonderful pinkish half-light that makes spectacular architecture like this look even more outstanding. I walked away from St Paul's down to the river and kept turning to see it's looming beauty. The lights of the city were starting to twinkle and the Thames reflected the bridges, streetlamps, floodlights and light shows. I had music on my headphones and I walked to the middle of the bridge and stopped to take it in. Beautiful. I miss London. 

There's a song that I listen to often that has the lines in it:

'As sure as gold is precious and that honey's sweet
So you love this city and you love these streets...'

(Robin Mark, Revival)

Lord, sometimes when I'm out in the Derbyshire countryside revelling in the stillness and tranquility of nature I can see you. I see you in the beauty of the natural world, and yet yesterday I stood on that bridge in the middle of the busiest city in our country with barely anything green visible to the naked eye and yet I could see you there too. In the pink of the sunset on a cloudy January day behind the distinctive dome of a cathedral built to honour your name. In the beauty of the lights of a busy city reflected in the water of a big, fast flowing river. In the juxtaposition of history and newness as I looked at the Tower of London across the river from the newest unfinished statement building that they call 'The Shard'. In the glass and chrome and metal of the city and the sandstone and marble of the elegant bridges and arches. In the shouts and laughter coming from a crowd dining on a boat on the water and in the eyes of the tourists who, like me, stopped to drink in the atmosphere.

Such energy. Such a mixture of all life. Hope and despair, joy and pain, triumph and disappointment, celebration and defeat. All human life is here, someone once said. All emotion. I found myself looking at people, as I find that I do when I'm on my own in a busy place. I like the feeling of solitude in a crowd, sometimes. I like having my headphones on so that I can cut myself off even further and live in my head. I  look at people hurrying, lingering, frowning, thinking and I wonder who they are and what is in their heads. You know. No city is too big for you; you don't leave anyone out.

It made me think of the Holman Hunt. How many of these busy, rushing people slow and hear you knocking? How many of us put down the camera for a moment to see things as they are?

Underneath the painting
At Borough Market there's a tunnel where the railway passes above on it's way to the bridge over the river and underneath there are little shops and market stalls. One of the tunnels has a huge net of tiny star-like electronic lights on the whole of the underside of it so that when you walk along the pavement underneath there are rippling lights spreading in patterns. From the centre, then random twinkling, then a wave of sparkles. I found myself stopping to look up. Looking up at the lights, up at the skyline, up at the sunset, up at the majestic dome and ornate ceilings of St Paul's Cathedral. No matter how high I climbed today the beauty was still above me. I guess it always will be.

What a wonderful, beautiful, joy-filled day I've had. Thankyou so, so much.

Lord, Bryan and I had a lovely meal and saw a wonderful show. We just enjoyed being together like we used to in the old days before the family came along and enjoyment starts taking a different form. Maybe being just the two of us is being a little self-indulgent, but I don't think so. It was great. There was something a little melancholic about it, perhaps - remembering days that are long past and impossible to get back - but maybe that's just me, inevitably finding the downside. It had everything. Theatre, food, wine, the best company, space, peace, beauty, inspiration, music, sleep - even time to relax and read my book uninterrupted on the train. What a treat. I loved it. I had a great time.

Thankyou for coming with me.

Can we do it again please, soon? I quite fancy going to see Westminster Abbey next time and I'm quite sure I'll find you there as well. Mind you, I know you don't just hang out in the churches, Father God. I could go to the Art Gallery or the Zoo or the Planetarium or a packed city square and there you'd be as well.

You were gazing at the skyline with me last night and showing me the glory of the city, too. You showed me where to look.

You really do send blessings in surprising ways.


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