Twenty First Century Pilgrim: Sept 2014
I am an ordinand and lay pioneer minister, leading a team who lead a small missional community. I am also a busy working mum and so my retreat and reflective times are often taken as quiet days on a monthly basis as getting away overnight is not easy. In the short time I have I need my quiet days to ‘hit the ground running’ as I seek after the presence of God and bring myself before him fully. I have been going to the Cathedral at Coventry regularly over about an 18 month period for these.
At first I grappled with the building; its scale, the brutality of the architecture and the expanses of concrete, the stark truthfulness of the ruins. But after a period, the building began to be the key to the experience of meeting with God for me. It isn’t a building that cossets you, or panders to your desire for beauty and illusion. It hasn’t time for that, the impact of its past and history driving it on with an urgency for change, for the church to respond to God’s call to be peacemakers and transformers of broken society. It is a building that reads you, challenges you, shows you your real self and brings you to your knees. The huge slabs of stone with the words of scripture hacked out of the stone; the sculpture of the plumb line hanging over the city; the mosaic of Christ going down to hell while the angel awaits to sustain him. The ruins themselves are another challenge; the words ‘Father Forgive’ drawing me from my litany of complaint about the offenses of others down to my knees as I see myself and my own sin laid bare among the rubble, the end result of my violent thoughts, desires for retribution, greed and ambition seen in the charred timbers.
The commitment to reconciliation in the place underpins its effectiveness as a retreat location, and in particular is found in the Litany of Reconciliation offered each day. The words of the simple liturgy undo me every time, like Isaiah seeing God in the temple I become aware that I am a woman of unclean lips and my real self is stripped. At first I found this a difficult space in which to be vulnerable due to its huge proportions but I have learned, like Isaiah did when he saw the magnificence of God, that it is good for me to be reminded of my smallness via the huge carpet Christ and aswell as seeing my smallness I am also swept up with Christ into God’s vastness through the course of my visit. The Cathedral strips me bare then gathers me up again in its more intimate spaces;I find a parallel here with the process of kenosis and deification. There are more intimate spaces; the modern glass of the Stalingrad Madonna chapel affords a safe small space and the beauty of the angel in the Gethsemane chapel is a restorative wonder where I can always find God. The regular presence of art installations, from a sculpture of homeless people to needlepoint panels depicting the face of Christ, adds an additional gift and provocation to reflection.
The relevance and connection of the Cathedral to the city is ever present in a way that more ancient Cathedrals find hard to match. For a pioneer this is important to me; I may be on retreat but the call to mission and engagement must be the heartbeat that underpins all our ecclesial life. The university and surrounding buildings are visible through the glass in one chapel which literally overhangs the city and the entrance to the cathedral is on the piazza through which the university students pass daily. The reconciliation skills of the cathedral were recently used to effect a new contract between the localfootball club and city council which had broken down. When asked what the Cathedral had brought to the table, one participant said “They brought the table!” The essence of our role as people who bring the invitation, the welcome of Christ to the world, and the Eucharistic table underpins the value of Coventry Cathedral nationally and internationally.
God bless the Cathedral, its staff team, visitors and its’ city.