On Sunday evening we walked the mile and a half to a local church; visiting holidaymakers joining the small, local congregation for Evensong.
Cranmer’s 16th century prose, beloved by many, can be off-putting. We haven’t spoken like that for centuries, yet these familiar phrases still have the power to move me more than 400 years after they were first published. As we walked slowly back to the holiday cottage I pondered ‘why am I feeling so uplifted?’
The English may be Cranmer’s but the words are ancient; prayers drawing on scripture, much of it dating back long before Christ. As with our own parish buildings, people had been gathering in this place; walking as we had done; bringing their hopes and fears, joys and sorrows; praying these self-same words (and others like them); drawing closer to God and to each other.
Here, without realising it, I had entered a time-span far outside our biblical allotment of ‘three score years and ten’. (Ps 90:10). Prayer seeps into the bones of a place, just as it seeps into our lives. Across the centuries and across the globe, people join together; a praying, worshipping community. For an hour I was a part of that community. It did not depend on my holiness, my intellect, my intent. All I had to do was be there and open myself to the presence of the Holy Spirit of God; present in the place, the words, the people.
Heading home, we could see a neighbouring church less than a mile away. Now separated by farmland and marshy reed-beds; when Cranmer was first compiling his Book of Common Prayer, bringing to the English speaking people prayers in their native tongue, this was a thriving harbour; the two churches serving two busy ports. A reminder, if one were needed, that whilst the loving care of God is eternal; the world in which we experience that love is ever-changing. A community in prayer is a community at the point where the eternal and temporal meet.
Having pondered, I now see that, as I am blessed by the prayers of those who have gone before, so my prayer adds to the eternal pool of blessing that others draw from. Praying together feeds the soul, and leaves blessings for others who come after.
Rev Philip 29 August