Showing posts with label cathedral. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cathedral. Show all posts

24 May 2013

A chat at Nero's

Discussion at the cafe today turned towards need and resources, and how churches and governments in particular might help when people are facing difficulty. We decided that they don't always do all they should. When that happens should we agitate for them to do better or just step in to fill the gap?

Inside the cathedral in Mexico City
I've been spending more time at Caffè Nero during the last few weeks. It's been good to get to know some of the guys there, there's a real social buzz about the place.

Today there was some conversation about the need to help people in difficulty, we considered that traditional church has considerable resources that could be mobilised to help.

I was reminded of a story my old work colleague, Phil, used to tell.

Phil and his intrepid travelling companion Tony have covered a lot of ground together. They spent weeks and weeks in India one year, travelling light, depending on local hospitality, shunning the tourist scene and hotels, getting to know the people and experiencing India as it really is.

Trip to Mexico - They did a similar trip to Mexico, and it was here that the story was based. One day they were in a square in Mexico City (I think). There was a cathedral in the square and they went inside to take a look. It was full of gold, expensive vessels, gilded statues, rich needlework and carved stone and wood.

As they left the building they noticed a beggar who was not allowed inside. The cathedral was for rich people only, particularly tourists. The beggar was hungry, dressed in filthy rags, crippled, and needing help. The contrast between the beggar and the riches inside the cathedral was extreme.

Phil and Tony walked away angry that such a situation existed and in deep sorrow. I can't even begin to describe the way they must have felt about church. Would you rather be the beggar or the bishop who manages the cathedral?

Dealing with injustice - The world is full of injustice. We discussed some aspects of this at Nero's, but we can't change other people and we can't change the church, or the government, or the wealthy. We might have some influence with our vote, we can express an opinion, we can write to our MP, but those may make little difference and they certainly won't meet today's need - even if they might improve things a little in the long run. (But don't hold your breath.)

It seems to me that each one of us is responsible for loving the people we see around us. Jesus didn't lobby the Sanhedrin or the Roman governor to do more - he just healed the sick, cast out demons, touched lepers, fed the hungry, and made extra wine for a wedding.

I don't think the way forward is to criticise the government, the church, or the wealthy. I must do whatever I can to help anyone in need (whether that's for food, for a roof, or just for a friendly smile and a kind word). If we all did our bit, nobody would go short. Everyone can do something. It's not about resources, it's mostly about noticing and willingness to get involved. So the question is, what am I going to do about it and what are you going to do about it?

We will all have to give an account of the way we have lived. When that time comes would you rather be the beggar or the bishop who manages the cathedral?


  • How many ways can you think of helping someone in need - assuming you have no resources? (There are plenty of ways, here are a few to get you started. Talk to people, listen, smile.)
  • How much influence do you have over organisations? Most of us have very little.
  • Is complaining ever a useful thing to do? If so, explain why and how.
  • What are the main barriers to helping people you don't know?

See also:

06 October 2012

York Minster

(Click the photo for a larger view)

York Minster from the city wall near Monk Bar - Photo taken 4th October 2012
This cathedral church, the seat of the Archbishop of York, is the largest Gothic Cathedral in northern Europe. It dominates the city centre and is here clearly seen from the ancient city walls.

Like all mediaeval cathedrals, York Minster was constructed to reflect the glory of the Most High. In its day it would have been completely awe-inspiring to the ordinary working people, a building seemingly as far beyond their humble wattle and daub dwellings as heaven is from earth. (More photos of the Minster.)

Although we are not affected by the architecture in quite that way, we can still appreciate the enormous sacrifice of expenditure, care, hard work and exquisite craftsmanship involved in creating the Minster. It does, indeed, represent a form of worship, though not the worship 'in spirit and in truth' (John 4:23-24) that we are required to bring. It's an external work of praise, men and women doing their best for the Almighty, great but not our ultimate calling. What he really seeks is an internal work of praise, hearts that love him intimately and will follow him wherever he leads.

What does this image say to you? There are no wrong answers. (Add a comment).

Click the 'image' label below to see other image posts.

23 April 2012

The symbolism of Rochester Cathedral

Jools Holland relates the history and symbolism of Rochester Cathedral. It is an amazing place, and like all cathedrals it is designed to remind us of who we are and what we have in Christ.

The nave of Rochester Cathedral, looking eastWe spent the weekend at Rochester in the county of Kent, the south-eastern corner of England. The historic old town with its imposing castle and beautiful cathedral is today part of a large conurbation including the dockyards and industries of Chatham. But Rochester still retains much of its ancient character with lovely old shops lining a long, straight High Street - part of the Roman road called Watling Street.

We visited the cathedral on Saturday and I enjoyed a recorded commentary narrated by Jools Holland. There are several commentaries available including the reflective one that Donna chose. But I picked the historical guide and it was indeed fascinating. I'd like to share some of the things I learned, and reflect on them because they still speak about our individual spiritual journeys.

The entire building is full of mediaeval symbolism. The ground plan of the cathedral is a cross, and this immediately reminds us of Christ crucified. But there is so much more. And this ancient symbolism is just as appropriate to life today as it was when the cathedral was built.

At the western end of the building is the main entrance, situated at the end of the long arm of the cross. Looking out from the great doorway we see the part of the horizon where the sun sets at the end of each day. So to enter the building it's necessary to turn away from the setting sun, leaving the dying world behind. This is lost on modern visitors, but it would have been very clear to people in mediaeval times. Without electric lighting, evening would be a time of darkness. It was a time when work could no longer be done, truly an ending of the day. Turning our backs on the place where daily life ends we climb the steps to a higher level and enter the Almighty's house. Once inside we are awestruck by the space and openness and beauty. This is a picture of turning our backs on the world and coming into the presence of the Most High.

We are now facing east, looking towards the place where the sun rises and the new day begins. Far ahead of us and at a higher level is the high altar, representing the Presence. Having rejected the world and entered this special place we are at the beginning of a journey forwards and upwards towards the Almighty, towards the new day, and towards the place of new and eternal life.

After walking the length of the nave we come to the place where the north-south and east-west arms of the cross meet. This place represents Christ. It is the place where the bread and wine are received in communion. A rood screen blocks further movement towards the high altar, only the priests and the monks of the choir would have been allowed beyond. For ordinary people it was sufficient to come into the presence of Jesus. The photo shows the carved, stone screen with the organ pipes above it.

And beyond the screen, up futher steps, is the high altar (visible in the photo through the arch in the screen). A lamp hangs from high above, a red light burning in it continuously. This lamp was given to Rochester by the Orthodox church in Jerusalem. It represents the Almighty's presence hovering here. And at the back is a small white light, also continuously burning but not immediately seen by many. This symbolises Christ, a source of light patiently waiting for us to notice him.

We don't need the symbolism of course, but we do need the truth to which it refers. In mediaeval times the symbolism would have been very powerful and would have spoken equally to rich and poor, literate and illiterate, powerful and weak. When it is explained it still speaks to us in the same way.

So here is what Rochester (and all cathedrals) have to say...

Turn your backs on a dying world and enter in to my presence. See my power and majesty and glory. Approach me, trusting and sharing in Jesus Christ my Son. Come to the place where he is, trusting in the effectiveness of his death and new life. Share in his body and blood, given for you. And recognise there's a place you can't yet go, where a new day will dawn. The place where the Father and the Son together will rule for all eternity, their light will never go out.

You may not notice me at first, but I am here. I am waiting for you. Come and find my light in your life, seek me out.


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