Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Salisbury Cathedral

September 21st was the Feast of St. Matthew, and I went to the 10am service at Salisbury Cathedral, after enjoying a soy latte and a gluten-free brownie while watching the sun come up above the cloister walls. I didn't spend much time at this cathedral. I think in some ways I am suffering from cathedral overload, and the site itself, like many English cathedrals, was suffering in comparison to the massive open structures I saw in France. Open in many ways: larger central spaces, larger buildings in general, and open to the public without charge. You can go into cathedrals in England without paying the visitor's fee if you're there for a service, but you can't take pictures while the service is going on. Not that this rule stops everyone with their cell phone cameras, but that's the theory, anyway.

I did like the inner courtyard, lined with delicate arches and paved with stones that were laid in place before the country I am increasingly reluctant to return to was officially in existence. I was listening to the BBC last night, a brief radio documentary called "The Red and the Blue" about politics in Texas, and when the narrator said something like "as a British journalist, I am baffled by this fundamental attachment to guns" I thought yep, me too. What the hell, America? I will cast my overseas vote next week, but damn if I don't want to do my best to stay overseas at this point.

Thirty years or so ago, I visited Salisbury Cathedral with my high school Honors English group, and I know we saw the Magna Carta then, but I didn't go to see it this time. I don't think we went to a church service back then, though. I decided to go to this service as it was a choral Eucharist, and all of the mass was to be sung by the choir rather than spoken or chanted by the clergy. They were using the Mozart Missa Brevis K 220, and if I had not started the morning with the coffee and pastry and picture-taking in the cloisters, I might have snagged a seat in the choir stalls, where I could have heard the music more easily. As it was, the voices were relatively faint, and without the glorious shivery echoes I was hoping for, bouncing off the high vaulted ceiling.

The opening hymn was the only one I knew the tune to, "Ye watchers and ye holy ones." By the end of the second verse I was painfully aware of how long it had been since I had sung - my throat was closing to a squeak over the alleluyas that I would have had no problem with two years ago. It felt good to sing, though, and make a joyful noise unto the Lord, my squeaky but heartfelt gratitude for my amazing life at this moment.

The lessons were about Jesus eating with sinners and tax collectors, and the sermon on how we need to show grace and compassion and love to everyone. The priest also worked in the fact of the Scottish independence referendum that had just failed a few days previously, but it wasn't clear if the 'yes' voters were playing the role of the sinners in the priest's eyes, or if it was her subtle dig at the English tax money that goes to pay for Scotland's public services, something that was discussed in many of the interviews I saw with British citizens before and after the day of the vote. I'm all for Scottish independence, and while I have not looked into the facts (not being a Scottish citizen [yet] and also being a lazy journalist) I wonder if that's true, that more tax money flows north than south.

What I do know is true, at least according to the sources in the US that I reference and trust, is that more tax money flows out of Blue states than goes into them, and most of that outflow gets sucked into supporting the Red states where people end up voting against "big government" while falling lower and lower on every social, economic, and humanitarian scale possible. Or into shoveling money into the maws of the war machine, or large multinational corporations, or both, as they are often one and the same. And now surplus war machinery is being turned on American citizens, as well.

The choir sang the Fauré "Ave Verum Corpus" while the priest and her helpers assembled the insubstantial relics of transubstantiation that are such a substantial part of this particular transaction between humanity and our better selves, but I left, leaving behind the communion of saints and the company of my fellow sinners.

O Jesu, O pie Jesu, O Jesu filius Mariae, dona nobis sapientia. Ibimus futui, alioquin.

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