During the first ten days of this past month of July I spent ten days in England, traveling with a group of two dozen members from my Episcopalian community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We started with a home stay in Lancaster, England, and traveled from the northwest corner to the southeast corners of England, including, but not limited to, Canterbury, Oxford, London, and the countryside.
Many personal accounts have been written or presented in lecture or video. I promised the leader of Contemplative Prayer/ Christian Meditation to write a brief blog about the experience, my awareness of England, as I experienced it via the senses. First the experience and then the sense of stillness or awareness. Check back every so often as I think through the meanings attached to photos and events – and post awareness of personal sensory experience.
Here it is.
Hearing The visit. The image. We managed to visit A Cathedral A Day. Nowhere was the sound so sweet as that of the choir in the Lancashire Cathedral. We learned that the right to be a member of the choir included rigorous practice sessions and a very clear commitment to be present at all rehearsals. Memorable was the ceremony where the red-robed ( on trial ) young boys were invited to move up, to wear white robes and to sing fully vested. As the priest welcomed them, he said, ” Malachi and Joshua. One of you is a book of the Bible.” Malachi and Joshua shrugged, looked at one another, and clearly wondered which of them was so honored. Who names their kid Malachi?
I think of the fullness of sound as I picture it rising —– in the acoustics of the high, high space within these beautiful cathedrals. In yoga study, I think of the spaciousness of the crown chakra, indescribably floating above the head and the body, space within space. The Buddhists might say, Emptiness is form, form is emptiness.
The mind always wants to fill space and the meditator seeks to empty it. One step in developing single focus would be to fill that cavern with sound, without words. Harmony becomes a single sound uninterrupted by concepts devised by man.
Touch. Of course we were not invited to touch the beautiful tapestries, the ornate altar cloths, such as this one in the Chapel of Saint Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral. Yet their richness so exemplified the sense of touch in the the silk, the threads, the handwork of the artists, that we met at every turn in these ancient places of worship.
My own days of fine needlework are gone with aging eyesight. Yet, I remember, clearly, working in needlepoint on chair cushions, as requested by my mother-in-law, so many years ago. She and I did a lot of needlework together which brought us close and in a relationship founded on the touch of the needle and the cloth. When I was soon to be a young bride, she took me to the downtown department store where we bought linen napkins and little cloth forms of the letter S. For many weeks, while I was waiting to be married, and while my father-in-law was dying, i stitched over those S letters in the corners of the napkins. Later, I wonder how she must have thought of him when, widowed, she and I worked together, many weeks, taking the needles in and out of the forms for the chair seats. Now she is gone, too, and the chairs are dispersed to the houses of various people. Whenever I pull out one of those chairs for a family dining event, I think of her and I wonder: Did she or did I touch this yarn to cloth to form the bases for a family ritual half a century later?
Who could forget the salty smell of the Irish Sea, our first stop, the Norman graveyards at the ancient chapel of St Peter, not far from our landing in Manchester.
Smell deserves another chance in this blog. The vigorous swinging of the brazier of incense at the high altar in the cathedral in Lancashire priory connoted years of practicing this art form by a very old priest.
Incense can be tough to take in the sense of smell. There is a mind over physical frailty to see oneself enclosed within it, a piece of holy ritual. This is one to work on, eh?
Taste. Not far from the site of the (above)Irish Sea, was the first of our stops for Fish and Chips in a proper British tavern. The table is set. We waited for our food at a rough wooden table, clearly showing the hand of its creator. In the distance the same Irish Sea while we waited for the cod fished from it.
Palates and plates were full.
The gardener in me will never forget climbing the winding road ( 6 feet/ 6 inches wide) up the hillside in the lakes district of the Cotswolds. At every turn we saw the wild foxgloves in their brazen pinks.