So...in early September the nice husband and I got to go to Europe for two whole weeks. I know, right? You're thinking, "dang how much do they pay priests in College Station these days?" Well...before you rush right out to apply for my job...we used MANY airline and hotel perk/reward things that husband has saved for 10 years. He's better at saving them than I would be! I get one of those, and think "cool, let's go to the Caldwell Holiday Inn tonight" and he says, "no, let's save them so we can go to Europe one day." We love him.
Anyway, besides the usual things that happen on vacation....sleep (remember I'm 50 now!) and then eating WHATEVER you want because the calories do not count especially when you change time zones. That's a fact I'm certain. And now you've read it on the internet so it's totally true. So in addition to sleeping and eating and shopping (could the stores BE any more fabulous in Heidelberg, Paris, and London?) we did something I RARELY do. We went to church. A lot.
I know you're thinking, "honey, you are a priest...you go to church ALLLLL the time, which is why you say you can't play with us on the weekends." No, this was different. This was GOING to church, not being responsible for a service. This was sitting BY my husband in church, which has happened only a handful of times in our ten year marriage. And this was not just any church.
We were able to have Communion at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. Then hear Evensong at Westminster Abbey and sit IN the choir stalls right next to the amazing children and men singers. Then we had Communion at Canterbury AND got to experience Evensong there too, also in the choir stalls. All of these breathtaking buildings literally built more than 1,000 years ago. I can scarcely articulate what that feels like.
Lots of you who have traveled way more extensively than I have (remember I'm the Caldwell Holiday Inn kind of girl), you know what I'm talking about and can probably articulate it so much more clearly. But all I have is "wow" and "Thanks be to God".
I mean literally Thanks be to God. To get to be in a place where since the 6th and 7th centuries (!) people have worshipped is just beyond my comprehension. To be on such holy ground where for centuries and centuries people have prayed and cried and sung and sought meaning and been afraid and been brave and been murdered (God rest Thomas Becket's soul) is simply indescribable. Even in those dark stories (again, poor Thomas), even among all the tombs and grave markers that are part of these glorious, majestic Cathedrals, I felt a renewed sense of hope. Something I'm almost hesitant to admit I had lost hold of before the trip.
Maybe just from being so very tired leading up to the trip, maybe just from being, like every other American, a person who is too busy (and in my case, too allergic! ha!)to "stop and smell the roses", but being in those gorgeous places reminded me in a visceral kind of way, that we are truly connected to a long long (long) line of the faithful....sinful, foolish, careless, yes, but a long line of the faithful.
Last week was my first Sunday back at my dear church, and the collect (prayer) for the day read: Grant us O Lord not to mind earthly things but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to cleave to those things that shall abide, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
As my sweet church prepares to celebrate her 75th anniversary (which is like 10 minutes in Canterbury Cathedral time!) I was just overwhelemed at the altar thinking about those places we got to travel, and thinking about all of those who have gone before us, who made it possible for this parish to be gathered in this place on that particular Sunday. Connected somehow through our Anglican heritage to the countless throngs who have passed through centuries old buildings and now in our small way adding to that.
Standing at the altar, and reading the almost 2000 year old story of the night before Jesus died, while looking out at people I love and remembering the impossible to describe beauty of those Cathedrals and watching out the glass doors of our worship space into the hallway as one of our precious parish babies was rocking on her knees about to take some first wobbly steps....well...I can only describe the confluence of all those things: memories of our trip, words from Scripture, people I love in front of my eyes, people I miss deep in my heart, people I never met but whose graves I touched, I can only describe that as transcendent...or WOW...or perhaps DANG.
So grateful. Grateful for time away for the usual reasons: sleeping, eating, shopping (duh, of course I bought some new cute shoes!) but so grateful to be reminded that even when I can't seem to pray, even when I can't seem to "connect" even though my time alive will, in the scheme of things be very brief, I am part of a long long line of faithful people....and so are you...whether you feel it or not whether you've ever even been to Caldwell much less Europe we are carried on the centuries of prayers that have come before us and we will carry those who come after us...even when we fail or are foolish or scared.
And whether we're in a 1,200 year old building or a 2 week old building or not in a building at all, the breath of God breathes in us, like it breathed in "them", like it will breathe in those who come after us. And I know that's not always enough...I know what's it like to want a clear voice from Heaven, and a clear "burning bush" kind of sign, and I know what it's like to want people I love not to suffer.
And...alas...you are looking at the wrong blog right now if you want clear direction on how to satisfy those wants! (Be glad you aren't paying for this!) But I've been reminded again...that there is "something"...something bigger than my small self, bigger than my worries, bigger than my church...etc etc...something that has driven people for centuries to hope and aspire and dream and build towering structures to praise God who is sometimes as near as our breath and sometimes as distant as a planet. And I want in on that!
I want to be part of that long line of people...flawed...messy...joyful..sorrowful...people who have told The Story for centuries. Thanks be to God.