Chapter 3 of Ecclesiastes was, I suppose, made very popular in the early 1960’s when Pete Seeger’s version was recorded and especially in 1965 when the Byrds took it into the charts.
‘For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven’
There is a time for many things, ‘a time to be born and a time to die’ as the reading goes on to say, but for me this week it has been a time, a season when so much has come together and especially the desire to speak about the reality of God. The ‘Living God’ process continues in the Cathedral and it was my turn today to facilitate a group of people from the congregation as we had our conversation about what we mean when we talk about God.
It was really good to be involved in the conversation and powerful things were said and it was especially good because of where the week began.
I wasn’t especially looking forward to Tuesday afternoon. I had to go to an editing studio off Tottenham Court Road to see the almost completed version of a one hour documentary which has been commissioned by BBC4 . It is part of a series of three programmes which will feature the cathedrals in Wakefield, Wells and Southwark. The camera arrived with us at the end of July. Each place had its own story of cathedral life to tell, our contexts are particular and very different. So it was decided to film a week in our life, a week at the end of the choir term and as July was drawing to its close. You might think that is when the Cathedral begins to close down for the summer but not that week. It was one in which we were having a great many meetings and conversations about ‘Living God’ and our vision for All Hallows’ Church.
The director left with a great deal of material in ‘the can’ or at least the modern equivalent – on the memory card! My fear as I approached the door of the editing suite was born of not knowing what narrative, what picture would emerge from a week of filming.
As the programme ended I genuinely wanted to cry, that may sound soppy, but it’s true. I didn’t want to cry out of distress but out of joy. You will be able to make up your own mind when you see the programme but I was overwhelmed with pride and joy, simply in the quality of what the camera had recorded. I can only describe it as a community engaged in the business of theology. That may sound very dry and academic, but not a bit of it. It is a film of a community engaged in the exciting business of encountering the living God and doing that in the middle of an ever-changing city and community. Whatever other people think, and obviously that is really important, I am immensely grateful to those who have made the film and who will bring a new understanding of ourselves and our vocation to the Cathedral community as much as the viewing public. If we can really be that community then I believe we have something great to offer.
The programme is planned to be broadcast in the late autumn. I really look forward to that.
To add to the sense of season I was then involved in the recording of a podcast for the ‘Things Unseen’ series being made by the local media company CTVC. The hook on which the hour long podcast hung was a report published last week by Theos entitled ‘The Spirit of Things Unseen: belief in post-religious Britain’. It makes interesting reading and will be made available more widely this week. What struck me from reading the research is that in reality we are not ‘post-religious’ as a nation.
55% of the people questioned said that they prayed at some time; 77% of all adults believe that “there are things in life that we simply cannot explain through science or by any other means”; 54% of people hold a belief about the soul, life after death, heaven, reincarnation, spirits or angels. These are not statistics that point to a non-believing generation. They may reveal a generation not part of organised religion, members of religious institutions but these are people searching, questing for God. And I think that we have a great opportunity to help them in the search.
Part of people’s questing is met by the passion that there remains for pilgrimage. The week ended in engaging in the spiritual journey. On Saturday a group from Southwark Cathedral and St George’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, Southwark, followed the route of Chaucer’s pilgrims from Southwark to Canterbury. We weren’t on foot or horseback though, but on the train.
We had a great time together visiting the Cathedral and attending Choral Evensong there. But a great joy for me was to go inside the medieval pilgrim hostel, Eastbridge, which, since the Reformation, has been an almshouse for ‘indwellers’ as they are called. The medieval chapels and refectory and the pilgrim hall are stunning. The beams of the roof to the pilgrim chapel are simply beautiful, medieval timbers which have provided shelter to the poor who made their way to worship God and to honour St Thomas Becket. Eastbridge was built for the poor pilgrims and in that holy place we remembered the poor who still seek Jesus.
On Sunday I was privileged to take part in the 30th anniversary service for the Confraternity of St James. The service took place in the beautiful church of St Mary in Clapham, built and still cared for by the Redemptorist Fathers. Don Segunda Perez Lopez, the Dean of Santiago was with us as was Fr Colin Jones, the Chair of the Confraternity. The Confraternity serves those making the great pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, as I and two groups of pilgrims did from the Cathedral this year – one group by foot, one group by coach. It was an amazing experience for all of us, however we travelled.
As I watched the pilgrims walking the Camino I was struck by this desire we have to journey to God – a god to whom many people cannot give a name, but a god they desire. Perhaps we can help give a name to those who are questing, the name of God, the Living God, perhaps that has been what this week has been about.
The service at St Mary’s included the singing of a song ‘Pilgrim’ by Enya and these words were part of that song, perhaps a prayer to which we can add our own Amen.
Each heart is a pilgrim,
Each one wants to know
The reason why the winds die
And where the stories go.
Pilgrim, in your journey
You may travel far,
For pilgrim it’s a long way
To find out who you are…