Saturday, 6 August 2011

Two cathedrals

Hello God.

I want to say thankyou for the beautiful day it's been today. The sun has shone, we found a lovely little picnic spot in spectacular scenery, we went to two places that are testament to your glory and ate scones with clotted cream and jam and good coffee. My cup runneth over. 

I love living in Derbyshire. I love that I can drive for just five minutes to find beautiful countryside. Rolling hills, heather moorland, peaks, cliffs, limestone gorges, viaducts, caverns, rivers, streams and enough open sky to make me feel I am indeed in a spacious place. Even a short drive on the tops can lift my spirits. I love discovering new roads, little villages that I've never visited before, new views and new tea-shops and little shops with interesting things. I love that I can visit the quaint and pretty and the fierce and majestic in one afternoon; experience nature as calm and friendly and also powerful and raw. Today we've done all that and it's been wonderful.

So, what are your views on the christening of one of the caverns near Castleton, 'The Devil's Arse'? Apparently this has a wonderful story behind it (ha ha) in that the cave-dwellers who lived and made ropes in the enormous Peak Cavern in Victorian times used to hear the water in a narrow underground passage being sucked back and forth by changes in air pressure and it made a loud and somewhat rude sound, and so the little opening (about six feet by three feet) became known as The Devil's Arse. I wonder if they all sniggered when they first heard it, or whether it was too scary?  Lots of sniggering going on during our guided tour, it has to be said. Now, here's the thing. You are all-knowing, right? So you knew that this particular bit of the cave would make a farting noise and that generations of people after the ones who found it scary would find it amusing and still you left it in the plans. Who says that you're a dour old God who wants to spoil our fun?  I know different. 

When Queen Victoria visited she made them change it back to 'Peak Cavern' as she didn't think it appropriate that she should grace The Devil's Arse with her presence. Quite right too.  OK for us though...we all sniggered. Except Elizabeth and Katy who didn't get the joke. That made me love them even more.

So this cave, then. What were you doing? Did you just think, 'Here we go. In this bit of hillside, how about a vast, impressive cavern graduating to a series of smaller caverns with breathtaking rock formations, the odd stalactite and mysterious underground streams...and just enough little openings to make daft people like potholers want to squeeze themselves through small spaces. And when they do I'll reward them with huge and majestic caverns just to reward their efforts.' Hmm?

I can't see why you did it, except to be wonderful. Look what you can do. Is that it? And why not.  If I were the Creator of the world I'd have a little fun sometimes soon. But you made such extravagant beauty and set it in places that nobody might ever see. Only in 1999 a couple of cavers swam through a narrow, water-filled passage way and emerged to find a cavern so large that it could swallow up St Paul's cathedral with veins of shining minerals and rock formations that took their breath away. And you did it. You are amazing. Not that I'll ever see that; the idea of going underwater with only rock above me fills me with a special sort of horror. 

You know what I liked? I liked that in the vast face of the rock in which this fantastic opening is set, trees have grown out of cracks. Whole trees. Flowers. Tiny purple and white flowers were flourishing hundreds of feet up and seemingly out of sheer rock. Devil's Arse or not, the angels were smiling too. 

You are awe-inspiring. I can look around my county and I see you everywhere. I see you in the enormous rocks in the middle of nowhere and people theorise that they were left there in the last ice age, or when the land in this country was just a giant reef, or something. I'm not big on history and science and things but I must say it doesn't matter much to me how you did it; just that you did. Just to be glorious. So that people like me could scramble through shoulder high ferns and then climb onto a rock the size of a small house and gaze at the vastness of the scenery. A spacious place. 

We went to the church at Tideswell today as well. 'The Cathedral of the Peak'. Another monument to your glory - this time a man made one and not on the same scale as your canvas, but nevertheless it's a place that feels full of you. Beautiful windows. I'm starting to realise that I love stained glass. I was lifting my camera to capture a lovely window in the church when I heard my two girls giggling and running up and down the central aisle of the church, feet slapping on the stone. Other people were in the church too, and the atmosphere was one of quiet, calm contemplation. I hurried over to them and told them urgently that they needed to stop running and calm down because this was a place that people came to be quiet. They assured me that they would before thundering towards the back once more, and with an anxious glance I returned to my window. The words on the stained glass were part of this:

'Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of God.'

Mark 10:14 King James Bible

Two little children in question were having lots of fun crawling around in the pews (each pew has a door at each side, so they could hide from each other very easily) and coming up with the odd squeal and giggle and walking with footsteps that echoed around the hallowed walls like a herd of bison. I hope that my girls made you smile this afternoon, Lord Jesus, because I don't think that the other couple of people in the church were that impressed with their exuberance. I'm not sure where we stand on this; I know that you had and have a special place in your heart for small children but I also know that I need to teach them respect and reverence. Help me out, Lord, because it's hard to tell sometimes what is childish enthusiasm and joy and what is inappropriate. Happens most Sundays, to tell the truth, but in my own congregation I feel that we are a church family, and families include the tiny ones who can't be quiet all the time, and who want to visit the toilet at inopportune moments, and who ask questions like, 'When can I have my cake?'  or 'If I say 'Amen' will it finish?' in the middle of the prayers.

Elizabeth in the pulpit.
Help us to be tolerant. Help those who long for silence to find it and not to come head to head with the noise of children as they worship. Help those who can't concentrate for long to feel your presence just as much as those who can meditate for hours. Help those who try to keep the small ones quiet and still to get a look in at the worship from time to time. And help those who do the childrens' work during the services to understand that they are loved and admired and have the immense gratitude those of us who have a chance to listen without juggling for a little while during the Sunday School times.

So, the cathedral of nature and the Cathedral of the Peak. Both awe-inspiring places that made me think of you with a smile on my face. I love that you are endlessly creative. Endlessly imaginative. You are full of surprises and I don't want to miss a single one. In my life, Lord, please help me to notice every flower that grows from a rock face, every stained glass window that speaks to me when my children are making me feel embarrassed. Every blossom and unique snowflake and miraculous word out of nowhere. I want to see it and hear it and notice it and remark upon it and remember it and communicate it. Just show me how, my magnificent Lord.

Today was lovely. A picnic and a cream tea and a drive through this county that I love so much. A day full of blessings. Beauty and awe and laughter and food and family and your inspiration around me. 

Thankyou thankyou thankyou. 

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