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A BEACON OF LIGHT
Escaping the Hullabaloo
This article, written by the Very Revd Geoff Miller, Dean of Newcastle, is published in the April 2022 edition of Link, the monthly newspaper for the Diocese of Newcastle…
God is to be found amid the murky, funny exhausting business of life.
It’s Ash Wednesday and I have just returned from the Cathedral midday Eucharist with my forehead duly marked with Ash. I went for Morning Prayer then straight to the monthly Chapter meeting. They are a great bunch and have worked so hard over the last few years and done so with fun and dedication. There was a lot of background noise at the Eucharist, it sounded like that canned hubbub on a television programme. The service was its usual sombre self, perhaps the only day in the Church year for being reminded of one’s mortality. That’s probably quite a good thing if illness or tragedy isn’t the dominant mood of the day. Today however, it was heightened by the candle burning for peace for Ukraine and the much more disturbing daily background noise of news reports of bombing, oppression and downright brutal thuggery that breaks our hearts and destroys the lives of so many.
The noise inside the Cathedral is much more animated with hopefulness. There is a conference happening – the 200 delegates are having a buffet – a break for considering how we can all contribute to giving ex-offenders a fresh start or a second chance. Organised by The Oswin Project who run Café 16 at the Cathedral. They are meeting in the Nave which with some amusement (at least at the juxtaposition) is also hosting a wedding gown exhibition. There are 50 dresses each with a tale to tell. To be honest not my thing but it has proved hugely popular (and even I have had a quick shifty at the Royal collection). The café is busy today as word gets out about its wonderful cakes. It too hosts an exhibition, this time of paintings by inmates of some local prisons. Last night the great and the good – and others – came to the opening. But, of course, there are also the visitors wandering around, escaping the rain, seeking solace and a coffee or a warm place to sleep. It is very poignant, moving even heart wrenching!
The silence in Eucharist allowed me to reflect this way, to pause and breathe but just for a moment. Not that it allowed to escape the hullabaloo of life but to rest in it.
I have been reading a fascinating book called Going to Church in Medieval England by Nicholas Orme (Yale University Press 2021). It is clear that churches were busy places then. Naves were full of busyness (even business): loud colourful processions with loud detractors and ‘mickey-takers’ tagging along; chantries full of murmuring priests praying for the dead (the Cathedral had sixteen of them at one point); merchant companies meeting and doing business; in churches like St Nicholas treaties being signed and dignitaries (even Royal ones) being welcomed, penitents being paraded and petty criminals paying their dues in fines or stocks or some other horrible way; baptisms, weddings and funerals and of course the faithful praying or just sitting or just seeking safety or warmth.
Perhaps we are beginning to find all of this again but in a way that fits life today. So, our Cathedral Nave can take up its ancient role at the heart of the City – Common Ground in Sacred Space today! For too long we have, I believe, wanted to separate the religious from the secular, God from life. It can’t be done, it mustn’t be done. If God is anywhere, He is amidst life and life in all its fullness. You have more chance of spotting Him among this lot than in any sterile place. It is also what cathedrals are truly about. In his book Flagships of the Spirit, Stephen Platten said this:
‘A cathedral is not only a place to which people come. It is also a place through which they go, and from which they emerge renewed. It is a place of interaction, between people and with God: not in order to escape from the world around, but rather to renew commitment to it.’
AMEN to that.
 Stephen Platten & Christopher Lewis; Flagships of the Spirit p. 179; DLT. 1998