. . . and bathed every veyne in swich licour / of which vertu engendred is the four . . . (Canterbury Tales, lines 3-4)
Today has been a day all about prayer. Now, yes, that is the whole point of a pilgrimage, but today I was in particular awe of the gift of prayer.
Some of my experience of prayer is identical to that of my reflection on community. This place really is a community of prayer. Today we got to experience: morning prayer, sung Eucharist, evensong, and compline. It is a true gift to join with people from near and far to offer our prayers and praise to God. I have a sense that with each passing day I will experience more of the depth of prayer in this place. Today I was keenly aware of the thickness of prayer each and every time I stepped foot into the Quire. Throughout the day – as a result of this spiritual treasure trove – I became increasingly aware that something in my own spiritual life was being untangled. I was – and am – experiencing the important transformational aspect of Pilgrimage.
In addition to joining in the corporate prayer life of the Cathedral, we got to experience three other profound moments of prayer.
First, this afternoon we spent time at St. Augustine’s Abbey. A community established by Augustine of Canterbury as a contemporary with the Cathedral. Unlike the Cathedral, the Abbey is in ruins. There was something incredibly poignant about standing in the middle of rubble and looking virtually across to the street to see the Cathedral tower and the Cathedral bells rang through the silence. A remarkable happenstance of history.
The most powerful moment for me was one in which I was confronted by the realities of my vocation. To stand in front of an altar in ruins on the verge of ordination and to reflect on the countless faithful men (prior to women’s ordination) who celebrated the Sacrament at that altar was, and is, humbling and beyond words. It really puts into perspective that profound gift, honor, and privilege it is to be called to the priesthood.
The second experience of note was our class reflection time. We have been granted permission to use All Saints’ Chapel. This is a beautiful – virtually secret – chapel. Up a narrow staircase, behind a “private” door we gathered to reflect and pray for one another. To be tucked away in an intimate setting was a tangible reminder about how important it is that we pray for each other.
Finally, tonight after a delicious dinner at the Deanery, the Dean took us on a candle lit tour of the Cathedral. As we walked the Dean spoke about the ethos of the Cathedral as a place of prayer for all Christians; and that we Anglicans are merely stewards of this great gift. We went from the West doors to the compass rose (currently covered due to renovations); to the Thomas Becket shrine then down to the crypt. We concluded by standing around Augustine’s throne and then moving one last time to circle around the candle which marks the spot of the original Becket shrine before it was destroyed by order of Henry VIII. Like so many things thus far, there are no words to describe what that moment was like – what the whole experience was like. All I can muster to say is, “wow.”
After telling us about the importance of the Cathedral as a space of protection and intimacy, I found the Dean’s closing prayer all the more powerful:
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifukky grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.
In a day of profound prayer, I could not have thought of a more perfect prayer. May we all find life and leave through the Cross of Christ.