My last day here in England was glorious. We set off to Durham, to see the cathedral there in mid-morning. It’s not far at all. (I’m notorious for always thinking distances on paper or internet maps are either a) much shorter or b) much longer than they seem to be! My cousin Frank and his wife, Darlene, can attest to this issue that I have, especially when it comes to the terrain of British Columbia and Vancouver Island. In this case, our drive from Newcastle to Durham wasn’t much more than a half hour’s drive.)
Durham is a small town, but it’s interestingly centred and clustered around the cathedral, which rises up on a hill. As Jack said, “All roads lead up there.” You can’t get lost, really, and it seems to me that would have been the thing for travellers and pilgrims to do, to use a tall and imposing tower as a way to guide them towards nearby towns and villages. Durham Cathedral was certified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site back in 1986, and the cathedral is the final resting place of St. Cuthbert, who spent time out on Holy Island (or Lindisfarne). The city itself can be traced back to AD 995, when a group of monks brought the body of Cuthbert there to rest. Imagine that! It’s so very old.
We spent time wandering through the building, which is so beautiful. Each pillar has a different design on it, running from floor to ceiling. High above, well, let’s just say that it was a neck cricking day for me. I warned Pippa, Jack and Karen that I have a problem with touching old things in ancient buildings. I always feel it’s better to let people know. (Having someone see you with your palm caressing a stone pillar, or running your fingers around the edge of a carved wooden rose on the end of a pew, could — I feel — be a wee bit awkward if you didn’t know what the person was doing. Better, I think, to just admit you have a sensory issue and like to grope historic buildings. I have a fetish, I suppose, and its mostly historical and architectural, and artistic, in nature. Sigh.
Jack and Karen went off to see a friend of theirs, but Pippa and I stayed in the cathedral. We got to chatting with a guide in a purple cloak. When he found out I was from Canada, I just blurted out, “I love it here. I have a problem, though. I would like to touch everything in here!” He looked at me, a bit stymied, and then said, “Well, as long as you don’t touch the guides in the purple cloaks, we’ll be okay with you. Canadians!” So, of course, I cheekily reached over and patted him on his purple cloaked arm. He shook his head, looked at Pippa, and said, “Those Canadians…they never listen, do they?”
Then he told us that there would be a choir singing in “The Crossing,” the part of the cathedral where the centre of the cross of the building meets, just in front of the High Altar. Pippa and I sat and listened to the choir sing for about twenty or twenty-five minutes. I so wanted to record it, because it was so beautiful, but it felt so sacred, the music echoing and winging its way around the stone spaces, that I couldn’t bear to do it. Instead, I found myself wanting to weep again. Listening to Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum,” amongst other pieces of sacred music, was uplifting. I could see a third of the grand rose window through one of the High Altar arches, and I just kept thinking, “Oh my God…how many people have been here, since the beginning of it all?” Just before we sat to listen, we lit candles. Then again, I had the same thought. “How many prayers and intentions are offered here, every single day, and then compound that by hundreds of years?”
I lost my hands in my lap again today. It’s a common happening of late, these out of body arts experiences. (I guess my soul just gets too excited to stay inside my body….so I ‘hover’ a bit if things are too beautiful…like poetry or music or theatre.)
I know it’s a more and more secular world. I get it. I still love the beauty of ritual, though, and perhaps this is why I am drawn to services (whether Catholic or Protestant) and sacred music. There is a timelessness about it. The other thing, though, is that hope shines through in each candle that is offered, in each quiet prayer that is sent up to the heavens, past the sound of a choir singing on a Monday afternoon, and winging its way up around the arches and through the roof. There is something truly glorious about that, these little acts of hope, in the face of a external world that is increasingly violent and without reason or compassion. While everything seems to fall apart around us, there are still tiny moments of grace, whether they are spent in the company of a good friend, an “anam cara,” or whether they are spent listening to an afternoon of choral music with absolute strangers. In amidst the gathering of strangers, there are such strong sparks of hope and light. I’ll put my stock in that these days…
I’m off home tomorrow, and I’m anxious to see my little furballs, Sable and Gully. I’m also anxious to get to work on the final edits of my poetry collection, and then to move on with my novel writing work sometime later next week. I feel so blessed to have had this time to write, and to be around writers, over these past few months. It has changed my life. Being able to travel here, first to Scotland, and then here to Newcastle, has allowed me to meet poets from this part of the world. They are all so amazing, and I have made new friends. I’m going to miss Pippa, especially, but I know we’ll always stay in touch. Soul sisters in poetry are impossible to separate, even if there’s an ocean between them. How blessed am I? How very blessed and grateful am I? Very.
Find (and share) your spark, friends. Beam your light!