Context: I received the inspiration for today’s prayer just as I was leaving the flat to start my journey home, so I jotted it down very quickly, then started writing it on the train. Yesterday I continued to work on it during my ferry crossing.
Before the holiday began, I had been very much looking forward to visiting Ely Cathedral, a glorious building steeped in centuries of worship. However, when I arrived there, it seemed more like a busy tourist attraction, concert space, or conference centre than a place of pilgrimage. The tiny, plain chapel set aside for private prayer felt barren, bleak and unwelcoming. There were no flowers, altar candles, prayer requests, or even a cross; no tokens of love, reverence or gratitude. In fact, it held no sense at all of God’s presence, other than when I closed my eyes to pray. I could have been in a shop, café, or market, rather than in one of the finest mediaeval churches in England.
Afterwards, I talked this over with a wise friend, which helped to reduce my sadness, disappointment and dismay. Even so, when I had the opportunity to visit to the cathedral again, I realised I had no desire to do so.
This might all sound rather negative, but God brings good out of everything. In fact, the experience simply emphasised what I already knew: that God is within me all the time, freely and fully accessible, no matter where I am or how I feel, just as today’s prayer describes:
I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
(Psalm 139:7-10; NLT).
Your presence is no stronger, Lord,
Within a great cathedral,
No sweeter in a chapel,
And no closer at a shrine.
Your presence is no dearer, Lord,
Than here, and now, forever,
Because you live within me, Lord:
I’m yours, and you are mine.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.
(Song of Songs 6:3; NIV).
God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple (1 Corinthians 3:17; NLT).
You are the temple of the living God (Luke 17:21; NKJV).
There is …one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all (Ephesians 4:5-6; NLT).