photo: Philip McCrea
Rain rings trash can bells
And what do you know?
My alley becomes a cathedral
I’ve long loved this Bruce Cockburn lyric. The entire song actually. It is from his very first record in 1970. Cockburn asks almost as a prayer:
Oh, Jesus, don't let Toronto
Take my song away
It is as if the city is the bad guy. To find God and everything spiritual we need to get out of the city.
Declare me guilty. I love those walks on Ballycastle beach that I mention so often in these blogs. There, with the sound of the waves and the wonder of God’s creation all around me, uncluttered I sense God.
Or I remember almost 30 years now, driving through the red stone deserts of Nevada and Arizona and understanding why the apostle Paul took three years in the desert to prepare for his ministry. There was something sacred about it all. Something that you don’t feel as you look down a back alley with black bins over flowing with rubbish.
Bruce Cockburn asks that the trash and traffic wouldn’t take away his song.
Yet, my Canadian songwriting companion has spent the rest of his career finding that the alley can become a cathedral. He finds God’s light so lyrically in some of the world’s darkest places as well as the most ordinary.
I was drawn back to Cockburn’s work reading Richard Carter’s book The City Is My Monastery.
Rev Carter was a member of an Anglican religious order in the Solomon Islands who found himself in parish ministry at St Martin-in-the-Fields, smack bang in the middle of London.
I can hear him singing Bruce Cockburn…
Richard’s book is not some memoir of how he came to terms with that shift in vocational call and geographical space. It is a work book (Rowan Williams’ words for it) for how to make the city your monastery. Or as Cockburn put it how to find a cathedral in an alleyway.
Under the headings With Silence, With Service, With Scripture, With Sacrament, With Sharing, With Sabbath, Staying With and When The Me Becomes Us, Richard leads us into how to be a pilgrim, disciple, in the clang and clamour of a city in the 21st century.
He does so with real spiritual insight and also with lots of beautiful poetry scattered through it.
Our monastery is here and now
Where you are today
The person you are speaking with
The room you are sitting in
The street where you are walking
The action you are doing now
This is your monastery
This is your prayer
Eternity is now
The city is our monastery.
This is all a good thing when we stop to consider that the Bible is different to Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. We do not, as Joni suggests, have to get ourselves back to the garden. The culmination of Scriptures is not that garden back there BUT a garden city. The new world longed for is a a new Jerusalem coming out of heaven with a river running through it.