My wife and I had joined a small group of people on a guided historical tour of Chester cathedral. While taking photographs of the sort of small details which always fascinate me – a worn floor tile, a mason’s mark on stone, a face painted with delicate lines on stained glass, the back of a stone angel’s wing – I lost the group again, and sat quietly in the now empty nave as a priest read a prayer by the Anglican priest and liturgist, Jim Cotter.
“For well over 1000 years, people have celebrated the love of God on this site. You’re invited to stand still for a moment of prayerful reflection.
Take a deep breath, be fully present in this brief moment.
Eternal God and Father,
We give you thanks for this amazing world
For this day
For the mystery of being alive.
Fill our minds with light
Fill our hearts with love
Fill our lives with your presence.
We thank you for your love for us,
A love we can’t earn or ever lose,
A love not dependent on how good or bad we are,
A love that is unconditional.
We pray for all who struggle to believe it,
For those whose defence against life’s hurts
Has made it hard to believe or receive your love.
Be light in their darkness,
Hope in their despair.
O God of truth and mercy,
Whose voice we miss amidst the distractions and noise of our lives
Penetrate to the core of our being
That we might hear and be glad
Knowing ourselves accepted in your love
And able to live in your truth and freedom,
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
I found myself wondering how many prayers had been uttered in this place, aloud or silently, alone or in shared liturgy, by monks and lay people, in joy or sorrow, faith or doubt.
A thousand years of words from human hearts, here.
What has the stone angel heard?
Is God as immobile and indifferent as this statue? Who kneeled here? Has God heard our prayers – is there even a God listening to any of us who petitioned him in a thousand years? and if He is, is He compassionate or cruel, omnipotent or impotent?
The priest’s words seem so poignant and strangely postmodern in this ancient house of God: all who struggle to believe … those whose defence … has made it hard to believe …