The view from …

Those with long memories will no doubt remember that when we opened the Millennium Buildings in 2001 we had an exhibition where the Education Centre is now located. It was called ‘The Long View’ after Wenceslaus Hollar’s famous drawing of the London skyline in 1647 which was drawn from the top of the Cathedral tower.

Holars 'Long View'

Holars ‘Long View’

That view shows the skyline punctuated by the towers and steeples of the city churches. It must have been a wonderful sight. Now of course, the skyline is very different – on a different scale. It is still punctuated but no longer by church steeples pointing as fingers to God but by massive buildings in the ‘square mile’ and on the south bank of the Thames around London Bridge and the Cathedral.

Whenever I’m talking about the Shard, which I often seem to be doing, I always refer to it as ‘the steeple we have never had’. We have only ever had the tower and in its present form and scale since the 15th century. Now we can point to the Shard as the landmark and the finger pointing heavenward (though I’m sure that wasn’t in the mind of the architect).

The great novel about church building is of course William Golding’s ‘The Spire’. In it he says

“I tell you, money can’t build your spire for you. Build it of gold and it would simply sink deeper.”

It’s a powerful questioning of why we build tall. Do we do it to God’s glory or to man’s? One thing is beyond dispute however, tall buildings give us a very different view of things. I was delighted last week to go up the Shard once again and enjoy the view from there. On this occasion it was to enjoy a tea time experience. But sitting alongside the window – although can a wall of glass really be called a window – I was amazed again at the ever changing and fascinating view. London is beautiful and so are the surroundings of Southwark Cathedal. But our beloved building stands there, somewhat dwarfed but continuing to do what it has done for over a century and a half, witnessing in stone to the unfailing love and presence of God.

The modern view from the Shard

The modern view from the Shard

It was a week for views. The Living God groups concluded and Bruce Saunders did the analysis of the discussions. The results are fascinating and I’m not going to give it all away at the moment. We have to wait for Saturday 9 November for that. We will then be meeting as a congregation to receive the results of our conversations. So just a couple of headlines.

The statement that most people gave their highest score to was ‘I know I am loved by God’ (24%). The lowest score was for ‘Everything that happens in the world is caused by God’ (1%). It gives a fascinating picture of our view of God, a view from the pews that we need to respond to, a view of God in whom we are in relationship, God who does not act as a ‘puppet master’ but gives freedom to the divine creation.

A man with a visionary view

A man with a visionary view

The week ended with the annual Black History Month service in the Cathedral. Dr Elizabeth Henry from CMEAC, the Church of England’s Committee for Minority Ethnic Concerns, spoke at the Eucharist and preached a powerful sermon. The pillars of the cathedral were covered in banners on which were written the hopes and dreams of young people in the diocese. The theme of the service was ‘Visions and Dreams’ picking up on the 50th anniversary of the great ‘I have a dream’ speech by Dr Martin Luther King. It was good to hear Dr Henry’s view of where ethnic minority people are in the life of the church and the nation and her address is worth reading or listening to when it appears on our website.

The question I suppose I have is what is God’s view of us, what do we look like from God’s perspective? It is both fascinating and worrying to think about. I reminded of Salvador Dali’s great painting ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’ with that amazing perspective of the view of the world being looked at by Christ suspended from the cross, a ‘spire’ not made of gold, but of God’s own self.

Dali's 'Christ of St John of the Cross'

Dali’s ‘Christ of St John of the Cross’

Jesus,
from the cross you
look upon the world.
Look on me
look on us
with the compassion
with which
you saw your mother
and your friend
and as you see
from your view
love us
who look at you.
Amen.

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