Love and glory in Peterborough

Canon Sarah Brown
Canon Sarah Brown
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If you are a person who only believes in things you can see, smell, taste and touch, or rationally explain, then what follows may well do your head in and cause you to gnash your teeth with rage, writes Sarah Brown, Peterborough Cathedral Canon Missioner.

I spent over half my life in such a mind-set so I absolutely get it- certainly enough to apologise in advance to those who may feel the urge to grind their molars and shout at the page about gullible idiots who see the Blessed Virgin Mary in a piece of toast or who need an invisible friend!

You have been warned! Blood pressure pills to the fore!

I saw a picture the other day that made me stop in my tracks. Somebody had taken a photograph of the cathedral on their phone from an image on a TV news bulletin and then zapped the result to me on WhatsApp. It is stunning. The building is bathed in the gold of early evening sunlight. Everything around it is dusky while the church is breathtakingly radiant. But that is not all.

Like a scene from Ghostbusters or Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, from the top of the building streams an apparent jet of energy, waves fountaining up, up, up and culminating in what looks like both a four pointed star and a cross directly over the tower.

Obviously, were I a medieval abbess who had never heard the word “pixel” I would be talking this up as a cosmic sign from God to attract paying pilgrims in order to enrich the abbey. Those in charge of the building have certainly done worse in its 901 year long history and Heaven knows, a financial miracle would still come in pretty handy.

Having come personally to believe that there are more things in heaven and in hell than we can know or prove, I do not actually think that such a manifestation is out of the question.

Nothing is out of the question with God, who is, after all, supernatural. But honesty and education compel me to tell the mundane surface truth- that when the pixel structures on two different screens meet you get interesting wavy patterns, and I am pretty sure that is what my picture shows.

And yet, beyond the confused, competitive pixels what glory it hints at! Here is the Cathedral in the heart of our city showering it with the power and love and grace of God. What a vision to hold, and to contemplate what meanings might lie beyond the obvious. Perhaps, just as ordinary bread and wine in a church service indicate the presence of Christ, so too a mishmash of ordinary pixels in the ordinary sunlight might point us towards the spectacular presence and promise of God. Who knows?

For the pragmatists out there, who only believe in tangible glory, the heart of the city is bursting with that too. The Garden House Project in the precincts, The Winter Night Shelter, the City Centre chaplains, the charities and churches, mosques and temples all speak of love and glory in the muck and mess of life. Volunteers, public servants, people of faith, kind neighbours, all work like angels (albeit sometimes grumpy ones!) to transform dark days and nights.

According to THAT irritating survey (my turn to gnash molars,) this is a pretty terrible place to live. For some, that is possibly and sadly true, but for those who raise their eyes and hope there is more. There are hearts of gold and shoots of glory in our city and they promise that one day the muck and mess, the darkness and difficulty and the pain of life will be behind us, obliterated by the Effulgent Glory of what will be.