Ghoshen’s contemplations while travelling through Scotland.
Like many of us, I was brought up in a Christian milieu. My parents were not religious but they sent me to boarding schools that gave me lessons in divinity and shepherded me off to church every Sunday. I never took it very seriously but I did accept it as part of my world. As I grew older and became more independent I turned my back on religion and, except for a couple of weddings, did not attend any kind of church service in 50 years. I did however always like to visit churches, especially great cathedrals, and my interest and pleasure in doing so has grown over the years and sharply recently as the result of taking a DVD-based course on cathedrals. They are impressive places and designed very much to be so, to inspire awe and to concretize the power of the church. And studying their history, architecture, design and decoration affords one a much enhanced appreciation of these great buildings. Many are fine places to meditate (uh, maybe not to do Dynamic though), some have towers to climb for great views, and a few have labyrinths to walk.
My second reason for going to church is for organ recitals. I find organ music in large churches to be very stirring and have enjoyed such events for decades starting in New York City where I lived when I became a sannyasin. Now I enjoy the same at the cathedral in Porto where I live now. Some of the music is sacred but plenty is not and some even avantgarde. Perhaps I should broaden this and say I like to go to cathedrals for concerts in general considering that one of the best was seeing Deva Premal and Miten perform in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral.
So I have long found pleasure in visiting churches for purely secular purposes and little did I think that I would ever choose to go to a church service again – until…
On a recent trip to introduce my beloved to my homeland, Scotland, she and I had the serendipitous delights of twice finding ourselves in a cathedral with a Choral Evensong in progress. The first time was when we visited Glasgow Cathedral, a cathedral that is not especially beautiful but still rates as one of the top tourist attractions in the city. We walked in to find a service going on with an accomplished choir filling the space with heavenly song. It was even being televised (or perhaps recorded for later broadcasting). We were captivated and sat at the back entranced by the show. It was after that that we learned this was a Choral Evensong, a variant of the evening service that I had not heard of before. It includes bits and pieces of a regular service, such as prayers and bible readings, but most of it is singing, some with the congregation joining in but mostly by the choir alone.
Later on our journey we happened to be passing the cathedral in Inverness on a Sunday evening and decided to pop in. And there again we intruded upon a Choral Evensong, a monthly event in that church we learned. Inverness cathedral is a small but very charming one; its choir was much less professional than the one we had heard in Glasgow but made up for a lot of that with its exuberance. This second experience was the one to convince me that I want to look out for Choral Evensongs in future and make a point of catching them.
One of the final parts of our Scottish sojourn was a trip to Iona, the tiny island that was the cradle of Christianity in Britain, a location of long monastic and contemplative tradition, and the home of many relics that speak to a form of Christianity that was much more enlightened in spiritual and esoteric ways than it is today – and more, even, than it is given credit for in those early days. Iona is the kind of place where one might be ready for magical and unexpected things to happen. I was thinking along such lines and hardly expecting what I found on the notice board at Iona Abbey:
So there you have it, my three great and completely religion-free reasons to go to church: Choral Evensongs, organ recitals, and the beauty and grandeur of the building themselves. Not to mention occasional serendipity.
Article by Ghoshen