Speak to us of life
Last Saturday, my wife and I fulfilled a long cherished ambition: for her it was a visit to Stonehenge and, for me, it was Salisbury Cathedral. Stonehenge holds a place in the heart and mind of most English people primarily, I think, because its raison d’etre is totally unknown. There it stands in all its primeval loveliness, and yet no-one truly knows why. Why did our forebears five thousand years ago go to the extent of carting those massive ‘blue’ stones from southern Wales? Why were the stones arranged in such a way as to catch the early morning sun on the solstice? Why was the site so important in ancient times that many wanted to be buried for eternity in the barrows which litter the skyline around the monument? Save for the possibility of some revelatory archaelogical find, we perhaps shall never know, but surely its purpose must have been in some way ‘religious’? One gem of wisdom struck me from the, very useful and full, audio guide: ‘perhaps Stonehenge was a religious site, perhaps a scientific one designed to explain the movement of the stars and planets, perhaps it was both, as the scientific world and religious world were not compartmentalised as they are today’. In the unhealthy competition between science and faith today, a little ancient wisdom of approach could be beneficial. We also visited the Avebury Circle, which is both bigger and, in many ways, more impressive than Stonehenge. One can only wonder as to why the one is more visited than the other? Perhaps sight-seeing ( or should that be site-seeing) is just as subject to fad and fashion as internal decor etc.
Salisbury Cathedral is, frankly, superb, and was a fitting arena for the excellent Palm Sunday liturgy we attended. Apart from the very English and apologetic procession of the palms from the Green, complete with out of step and soto voce hymn singing which occasioned nervous giggling in the ranks, the service was the very epitome of what is great and good about our Cathedral worship: dramatic, solemn and dignified with excellent music and, above all, fun! How wise of the Cathedral Canons not to preach on this day of all days, when the drama of the Passion story speaks for itself. In their separate ways, both Stonehenge and the Cathedral sum up something about the human spirit that cannot and will not be denied: an inextinguishable desire for the divine and eternal in life. Both stand as testimonies to humanity’s desire to set existence and its big questions in a transcendental setting. There is so much that would seek to negate this in life today, and yet all around we are faced with mankind’s dramatic and extravagant expressions of belief in, and desire for, the eternal. I thought of the excellent book by Peter C Morea called: ‘Finding God in Human Psychology’. Simply put, his thesis is that the very existence of a ‘God shaped hole’ in our psyche suggests that our yearnings for the divine and for eternal meaning are evidence for a God who is the ground of our existence. Morea’s scientific approach nicely complements the Collect’s words: ‘our hearts are restless ’til they find their rest in Thee’.
In this Holy Week: a great construct designed to centre us on the great hope of Resurrection, I offer you a quote from Morea’s book by Boethius ( a philosopher of the 6th Century):
The study of personality suggests that human potential will be fully actualised and complete happiness experienced only in the vision of God in eternal life: the endless, total, simultaneous and perfect possession of life.