One of the real treats to visiting the Cathedral in Salisbury is the close. Originally built for the clergy around the Cathedral, it is now home to some family homes and a wonderful green space that the entire city can enjoy. The really neat thing about the close is that there are two gates that form the close. The city outside can be bustling and noisy with tourists and city dwellers, but stepping inside this gate is a time of quiet. Each morning we could head out into the city to enjoy the wonderful spaces, and each afternoon, we came back through the gate, into the quiet and to sing in the wonderful Cathedral of Salisbury.
Have you ever thought of getting up at dawn to walk 3 miles in water and mud with bare feet? Well I can tell you that the trek to Lindsfarne by foot is all of that and so much more. When you begin the journey you already know that this is going to be different, but you cannot imagine how things change as you walk. The pace quickens and slows based on the mud, water and distractions of the grey seals howling in the distance and the birds flying in the distance. The walk was a great time to reflect on how Saint Cuthbert must have felt hundreds of years ago as he walked and waded through dark sand covered in a few inches of chilled water on his way to what is now called the Holy Island. There are two look out towers on the walk that are built high enough for protection from the rising tides. About 2 miles into the walk I climbed up into the tower, partly to see what the seals looked like and then I stopped to look at our group. We all were walking together, separated from the land but not from each other. I wondered if that was how those early pilgrims felt.
There is a cool crisp air in Salisbury on the Harnham Meadows at dawn’s first light. Each morning I began my day in Salisbury with morning exercise. Partly to see the city which has stood for hundreds of years. Partly to be quiet in a time when there is only lambs and wind to hear. I found that the grass was a little greener and the sun shone just a little more crisply than any place I had seen. One morning, after the usual evening showers, I caught this glimpse of what life is like when you stop for a moment and look to see sunrise and rainbows.
I’m afraid that I have to confess, we pilgrims are a whiny bunch. There’s been a bit of grumbling, from myself included. A sampling:
“It’s raining. Again.”
This hotel room/restaurant/shower is so cramped!
“The roads are so narrow and windy, no wonder it takes so long to get anywhere. “
“The sidewalk is so uneven.”
“The wifi is so spotty, I can’t get any work done.”
“Really, one ice cube?”
“The water pressure is so low.”
“The hot water is out.”
“The cold water is out.”
“The toilet won’t flush again.”
“It’s such a long walk to the bus.”
Perhaps what galls us most is that the English don’t seem to be bothered by any of these “great” inconveniences. They look at us funny when we complain, because, of course, the English simply make do.
I’m actually fairly sure we complain most about the very things that make possible what we love most about England.
Those gorgeous green hills and valleys? The fields of heavy, golden wheat? Those cheerful cottage flower gardens? You know, the rain might have something to do with them.
Those endless views of countryside, unspoiled by interstate highways or strip malls? Yeah, well, imagine if that narrow, windy road had four lanes and a spacious travel center at every exit.
We complain about the smallness of everything in England, but we love “quaint” streets that look like Diagon Alley and pubs that go back to the 1600s—places built long before cars or hordes of tourists or large rolling suitcases and which couldn’t be enlarged without destroying them. We love the idea of staying in a 17th Century house, but grumble about the wifi, stairs, drafts, and plumbing, without considering the impossibility of retrofitting a four hundred year old building—never mind an entire city’s infrastructure—to meet our suburban, 21st century American expectations.
We in the United States have built a culture around convenience and creature comfort. But the English, it seems to me, made a different choice. They mastered the fine art of “making do.” They made do with buildings and plumbing and roads that were good enough to get by on but not much more; they invented those fabulous hunter green galoshes. They decided that fields and old buildings were more valuable than a closer parking lot, a bigger shower. What they lost in convenience, they gained tenfold in beauty, history, and tradition. “Mustn’t grumble,” they learned to say.
What we shape our lives around—convenience or tradition or comfort or beauty—affects our habits and expectations. What we shape our life around shapes who we are.
Travel gets us out of habits and changes our expectations; it forces us to reshape our lives. When you’re in England, you can’t pick and choose the parts of English culture you like and avoid the rest. If you want the old buildings and beautiful countryside and good church music, you have to learn how to “make do” or risk being miserable. We could do worse than shape our lives around history, tradition, and beauty, and not convenience or comfort. Perhaps it might make us better people.
Personally, I’ve actually gotten pretty good at not complaining about inconveniences in England. Of course, it only took me three pilgrimages with St. Philip’s choir and a trip on my own to get there. And, of course, I found something new to complain about this trip, so, really, I’m back to square one.
You see, I’m not singing. I’m travelling as a tag-a-long with my mother-in-law, Susan, and husband, Ben, who are singing. And we’ve brought along our great aunt Callie. And our two small children, a six-year-old and an eleven-month-old. We call ourselves the Carlisle Family Circus and we’re only partly joking.
I love my family, but when Ben and Susan go to rehearsal, I’m usually left alone to entertain two small children in a foreign country, often in a cramped, historic hotel room (because, you know, it’s raining again and we can’t go outside). And then I take them to evensong and try to keep them quiet for forty minutes of lovely, ethereal worship in a beautiful, historic, and very reverberant space. While the rest of the congregation leaves the cathedral blissed-out and close to the Almighty, I leave a stressed-out, nasty ball of self-pity. Don’t think I don’t grumble and whine about the whole thing, because I do. My poor family.
It’s taken me the better part of this trip, but I’ve finally realized something as I sit in a back corner of Durham Cathedral, hiding behind a Norman column, nursing one child to keep her from screeching while spying on the other one to make sure she doesn’t go dance around the high altar: Travelling on a choir pilgrimage is a whole other level of “reshaping your life.” Our choir members shape their days here around a schedule of rehearsal and worship. Like the monks and musicians of the great cathedrals in which they sing, they mold their lives around art and God. I can’t help but think it makes them better people.
And those of us, like me, who aren’t singing, have to learn to shape our lives around the choir’s schedule. Mostly that means we just have to wait until they’re done singing, but in a real sense, it also means we have to relearn how to shape our lives around other people. I’m used to being the main breadwinner in our family; the one who leaves in the morning and lets someone else take care of my children. This is my habit and expectation. But this trip has forced me to modify what I shape my life around, if only temporarily: my husband’s singing, my children’s moment-to-moment happiness. There are worse things to shape your life around. It is my habit to feel closer to God when I am able to focus on the beauty of worship and experience the quiet of prayer. But what if I could learn to change that expectation; what if I could feel closer to God by trying to keep my children entertained enough so they don’t disturb the worship of others? What if I could learn to feel closer to God even as I am simply “making do?”
Travelling as part of a bigger group of pilgrims makes me shape my life around other people rather than my own convenience. I can’t think of many better things to shape your life around. God willing, it will make me a better person, even if, right now, I’m a little whiny.
We are experiencing Durham and its Cathedral in many unexpected ways. We learned of a pilgrimage in search of a place to build a Cathedral and Shrine to St. Cuthbert whose body when exhumed was incorrupt. Also buried in this shrine with St. Cuthbert is the head of St. Oswald whose feast day falls during our pilgrimage.
We have toured Fountains Abbey, learned of how monastic life and prayer shaped this part of England. We have heard stories and seen so much that over centuries, changed because of invasions, rulers, and life, and we are finding parallels in pilgrimages of others.
A pilgrimage is a journey with an opportunity for growth, perspective, reflection, and prayer. This Cathedral Choir pilgrimage is building friendships, a sense of community, and renewal. As each Evensong service begins, we sing the familiar "O Lord open thou our lips" with the choral response "and our mouth shall show forth thy praise."
During our pilgrimage we are experiencing prayer in different ways, and this has been a point of discussion throughout our time here. The prayers are thoughtful and relevant, and the intention clear...encouraging us to find a way to help and support each other and our "struggling world." We have prayed for the leaders of nations, for peace, and balance, and for those leaders to be focused on the lives of others. We pray that they will avoid acts of conceit, or harm, and for them to have discipline, restraint, knowledge and consideration of all in this world as decisions are made. There have been prayers for those who are displaced from employment either by illness, or circumstance. We have prayed for hope and direction as they seek employment and to make a living and contribution to the world we share.
At this point, It would be easy to have a standard response of "Lord have mercy," and blindly move to the next petition in our traditional way, but here the prayer continues in a new direction. The prayers then give thanks for those who are employed and are able to contribute and asking us to recognize that in sharing and supporting others our circumstances can only improve. This additional component reminds us that prayer is not just for answers to difficult problems. It is also an opportunity for Thanksgiving.
This pilgrimage has been inspirational not only because of the sung praises and prayers offered, but because we are taking the time to be intentional and connected, not only in our community, but the world we share.
We were privileged to sing in Canterbury Cathedral 4 years ago. One of the evenings was a remembrance of the the reconciliation after WWII. Japanese and German representatives were there and it might have been the highlight of my trip.
Now, in Salisbury, I was in the bookstore and saw this. I was moved as much now as I was then. The inscription on this paperweight is what made me cry again during the closing of the homily by the British representative.
Week 1 is done and we are on the train to Durham! Four of our Choir are returning home and one new pilgrim has joined our ranks for the second week of our trip! Final thoughts and reflection from Fred Rose and Marjorie Singley-Hall.
Blessings and thanks to our choir members Carolyn Alexander, George Galloway, John Stivarius, Kevin Wickware and companion pilgrims Jim Alexander and Tommy Galloway! Welcome to Rebecca Harris who has joined our fold!
Fred Rose wrote "Pilgrim's Song":
With tired feet
by babbling brooks we walk.
Our open hearts by the
green blowing grasses proceed.
Carrying prayerful hearts and burdens we pass under
tall cooling trees.
Fragrant flowers guide our path and
choirs of birds sing and welcome us along the way.
Onward our journey goes, and then
our eyes upward gaze at
the towering spire adjacent a verdant green.
With expectation our feet press onwards, and
through ancient doors and arches we tread upon
Up the steps we climb.
Then, on with the robes followed by a sit,
we wait while the sweet organ plays.
Some gaze up admiring the glass.
Some study tombs.
Some pray, and some pace.
Some are anxious, yet some are calm.
Then, after lining up and prayers said, the procession begins.
Slowly to the stalls we glide and
imagine all the songs sung and prayers said before
so long ago by pilgrims just as we.
“O, Lord open though our lips,” is chanted, and then we sing
Responses, psalms Magnifcats and Nuncs and
anthems all as many choirs past.
Closing prayers and blessing added to our own, and
up to God they ascend echoing those of pilgrims before.
We sing our “Amens,” and give thanks to God for bringing us here.
Thanks be to God for journeys made and those to come, and for
voices singing and friendships made and rekindled.
For God’s unceasing love we offer thanks and praise and for
safely guiding we pilgrims to sing God’s song.
From Marjorie Singley-Hall:
This has been a week of joyful singing in the beautiful and incredibly historical Salisbury Cathedral. Every day brings a new element of discovery down a spiritual path not traveled before, whether through praying with or for one another or finding new meaning in the music we sing here. Today was no exception.
A group of us set out this morning to visit Stonehenge and Old Sarum. Several of us had been to Stonehenge before, and all of us enjoyed seeing that unique and spiritual place.
None of us had been to Old Sarum. We climbed the hills along the narrow paths.We marveled at the incredible beauty of the countryside.
We took pictures in the castle ruins. We gazed at the perfect outline of the ruins of the Old Sarum Cathedral, site of the first Salisbury Cathedral, and wondered what it was really like to worship there. It was a distance to climb down to walk through those ruins, and we had to get back to sing. So, we were unable to climb down the hill to walk the ruins.
When we were vesting to sing Evensong, another member of the choir told us she was able to walk the ruins of the Old Sarum Cathedral earlier this week, and she felt the presence of God there.
Then, we went into the choir stalls at Salisbury Cathedral and sang Herbert Howells “The Sarum”Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.
The day was complete.
It is 23:00 in the evening, and the gates to the Cathedral Close are being locked for the night. The lit Cathedral suddenly goes dark. Only the Spire, the tallest in England remains lit.
Anne Peters shares:
"By definition, a cathedral close is the area immediately surrounding a cathedral. The close here in Salisbury is the largest in England (over 80 acres) and we get to stay within the walls, right here in Sarum College.
It is an unusual feeling to know that the gates of the close are truly locked at 11 each night. Exiting the gates feels a little like entering another world. I had decided to take a walk this morning to the nearby Churchill Gardens. With map in hand I headed out the St. Anne's Gate and down the narrow sidewalk.
The cars were whooshing by and I made sure to hug the wall. To my surprise, about 100 yards or so further, around the corner where I had not seen it, the sidewalk abruptly ended! Only then did I realize that there had been a pedestrian walkway under the motorway, which I had missed. I quickly turned around and re-traced my steps. And you know what? I decided not to take the walk to the gardens after all, at least not today. It was drizzly and I just wanted to be back in the close, where life is quieter and where the lorries do not go whooshing by. The difference between life within these walls and life outside of them is difficult to explain. Soon enough all of us will be again battling city life in Atlanta. For now, I just want to "stay close," to meditate, to sing, and to enjoy the quiet."
Venturing outside of the close allows spiritual inspiration and reflection. Catherine Jachthuber explains:
"It is deeply moving for us to walk into the chapel of George Herbert and see a Love Bade Me Welcome stepping stone and immediately have the music of his beloved anthem that we have sung for years at the Cathedral, flood into my memory. When we sing it again at the Cathedral it will take on a deeper meaning still.
It is equally fascinating to visit Highclere Castle/Downtown Abbey and see the name Herbert and understand more fully how rare it was for him to give up all of that beauty to humbly serve the people of his country parish and gain a great beauty still through his poems, his music, and his work helping others.
We are told of the altruistic people who entered the Close each day for 38 years and helped to build a Cathedral that they would probably never live to see. I often wonder what they would think if they witnessed all of the people here today worshiping still. We are grateful to those who have given so much for us to be able to worship and see their handiwork."
Bill Roth adds:
"We are in Salisbury which is, as we are continually reminded, a very old place. The “new” cathedral was begun in 1220 to replace the church at Old Sarum a few miles north. For one week it is both our duty and our joy to sing daily services as they have been sung in this place for more than seven centuries. At the end of each day’s services, after the tourists have gone home and the Cathedral close is quiet, we are free to experience this beautiful place of worship in the same way our hosts do. “Does the view of the Cathedral outside your door ever become boring?” we ask. We are assured that it does not, that the Cathedral is just as inspiring to those who live here year-round as it is to each of us.
We have been welcomed into this worship space and a community rich with appreciation for the old things, compassion for the problems of the present day, and hope for the future and we are blessed."
The temperature has been quite cool and the wind that accompanies the rain provides a misty fog. Throughout the night the lit spire glows, and each hour the bell sounds as our choir pilgrims remain safe once again within the Cathedral Close.
"Even before we call Your name to ask You, O God
When we seek for the words to glorify You, You hear our prayer.
Unceasing love, O unceasing love passing all we know.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
And to the Holy Spirit."
And so our anthem, Pilgrims Hymn by Stephen Paulus, was sung at our first Evensong at Salisbury Cathedral. In many ways a pilgrimage is fulfilling as you catch glimpses of God's grace in those around us. Standing in centuries-old pews with candle lamps burning, we sang the service, Psalm, and anthem...but it was much more than that. Prior to singing we prayed for those that had made this trip possible for us, those that were covering home and office duties, and for our Cathedral family. Many of our choir members are on their first trip abroad; some of our choir have toured extensively...but all are together here experiencing this sacred space and feeling thankful for being on this journey together. We have been joined by spouses, children, and friends.....and we are all pilgrims. As the sun was setting and glowing through the windows we continued on:
"Even with darkness ceiling us in, we breathe your name.
And through all the days that follow so fast, We trust in You.
Endless your grace, O endless your Grace, Beyond all mortal dream.
Both now and forever, And unto ages and ages Amen. "
And so our lives have come together on a common pilgrimage where we will break bread and make music together each day, and rejoice in finding a common bond and experiencing Gods grace.
Hands clasped to hearts, blown kisses, smiling faces, even silent applause. The feedback we receive during services is instant gratification for the choir.
“Marvelous, glorious, moving, stunning.” The Cathedral music staff always passes along the compliments they receive from the congregation, clergy, and visitors. Many say that the music at the Cathedral makes their worship experience more profound. And tributes pour in, especially after concerts: “astonishing, magnificent, breathtaking, mesmerizing.”
These expressions of appreciation do more than just warm the heart. They inspire and motivate us to “sing with the spirit and with the understanding also” (1 Corinthians 14:15) more ardently.
Preparing for our pilgrimage this summer to England, we’ve spent many hours learning new repertoire and honing old standards. And as Canon Adelmann puts it, “Such intense work together facilitates growth musically and spiritually, and creates a depth of community among us that can only be formed by these prolonged, shared experiences. The musical and spiritual benefits of such a pilgrimage we will bring home with us, where the Cathedral community will benefit from it for years afterward.”
We’re more grateful than ever for the support of our Cathedral family. At each service back home, we hope to continue to share something special that speaks to your heart and gives you a glimpse into a little bit of heaven. Joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name - Hosanna in the highest!