Holy places

Daily Reading for November 4

Another thing has begun to happen in our days. The holy places have begun to come to life. Who could have foreseen the revival of pilgrimage to Lindisfarne and Glastonbury, or still more surprisingly, to Walsingham? What is it which draws people to such places? It is the presence of the saints and the prayers of the saints.

“For wherever a saint has dwelt,

wherever a martyr has given his blood for the blood of Christ,

There is holy ground, and the sanctity shall not depart from it.”

(T. S. Eliot, Murder in the Cathedral)

The instinct to go to places where people have lived is not a wholly vain one. It is one thing to know that George Herbert gave up a promising career in Cambridge and London in order to bury himself in an insignificant country parish. It is another to kneel before the altar in the tiny church at Bemerton. It is one thing to know that at a time of great danger during the war George Bell and Dietrich Bonhoeffer met in Sweden, transcending all the conflict in a relationship established in Christ. It is another thing to sit in the quiet house in Sigtuna where the meeting actually took place. Our own lives and the life of our nation are not so full of places of epiphany that we can afford to neglect them. They are part of our eucharist and our anamnesis, our recalling of the things that God has done, and our thanksgiving for them. For the lives of God’s friends often seem in a strange way to gather up and fulfil the aspirations of a whole people. What is true and characteristic of a nation or a country in them is not lost, but transfigured.

For the communion of saints is never an abstract or ethereal thing, a piece of superfluous doctrine. It is rooted in this earth, in places where people have lived and loved, and seen the glory of God shining out in the common light of every day. But those who have been constantly with God in prayer have even in this life become somewhat freer of time and space than most of us are. In prayer we come more intimately into touch with those unconscious levels of our being which seem to be less tied to the time sequence than our consciousness is. Beyond them we begin to enter into the deep places of the Spirit. Perhaps that is why, even after centuries of neglect, holy places are still found to be full of a timeless presence.

From “The Communion of Saints” in The World is a Wedding by A.M. Allchin (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 1978).

Past Posts