I arrive in Oxford late Sunday afternoon, July 26th. It’s raining, well more like your typical English drizzle. I walk down the historic cobble stone streets past Christ Church Cathedral towards Oxford University. The Kings Arms Pub was recommended for an afternoon bite and brew. I have the Seasonal Ale by Youngs Brewery which was hoppy by English standards, fairly light compared to the latest American IPA craze. As I enjoy the comfort food of bangers and mash occasionally washing it down with the English ale I become lost in the moment. Feeling the presence of those around me, the Asian mother, father and daughter across the room and what appears to be two local English couples having several laughs. Curious of their stories and what brought us into this small space at an old pub across from Oxford University. My thoughts then wander to the many conversations had in this space whos floors I notice appear to be well over 200 years old. If the floors could speak what would they say? What advice would they give after hearing the many tales told, the thousands of hopes and dreams shared, the sad stories of lost loves and unpursued desires? I take it all in letting the thoughts turn to feelings and become satisfied that I am here, that I said yes to this journey, to take in the time to listen, to reflect and to write.
I pay the bill, take down the last sips of my ale and head back out into the elements as the drizzle continues to blanket across the town. As I walk the streets I realize I’m just in time for Christs Church Evensong service. Before entering the cathedral there’s a large open space of the courtyard with the green grass meticulously manicured and the pond in the center is beautifully covered with lilly pads budding their white and pink lotus flowers. Interesting the contrast and peaceful parallel of the symbolic eastern Buddhist lotus flower in the middle of such a holy relic for western Christianity.
Once inside the cathedral I’m surpised how narrow the space with pews facing inward lining closely the center aisle. I work my way quickly down the aisle as the service is about to start. A moment of silence before the choir and clergy enter. A deep breath and acknowlegement to God for the time, for creating such a space and allowing me to be present. As the choirs voices echo through the ancient stone walls my spirit lifts. However, as the service continues and the clergy lead the service I feel an odd tension. I become aware that I too am a priest and laugh inwardly. Sometimes I am surprised by that fact. As quickly as the awkwardness of this awareness comes, it departs and is replaced with great pride. Watching the priests lead the service, guiding us through its rhythms and order, my heart swels that I share this role. The service ends with a powerful anthem by the organ followed by complete silence. Sitting in silence for about thirty minutes I enjoy taking in the architecture and the attention to detail of the cathedrals unique design. The absence of noise is a welcome stranger from my usual routine. Noise is a funny thing how it prevents us from hearing our true selves. It holds our attention captive to the point that we rarely are able to give our inner voices the audience they need to grow us and tend to our deepest desires. It’s only when I take advantage of these rare moments that I realize the demanding nature of noise in my life and the discipline it takes to turn my attention to my inner world.
Here’s to a few days turning inward!