Friday, September 26, 2008

Brief encounter

Remember how I told you that I was going to St. Ethelburga’s today? How I’d read their web-site and was going for the mid-day meditation, as well as seeing if I could photograph any orbs? Little did I anticipate what was going to happen . . . who I was going to meet . . .
No, I'm not going to tell you. I've no intention of spoiling a good story by giving away all the highlights in advance . . . you'll just have to read on!

I arrived at St. Ethelburga's at twelve-fifteen. This, so I thought, would give me time to look around and take photos before the meditation started. I nearly missed the church, such a small door tucked into the wall. Luckily, it caught my eye and I entered through the iron gate and up the passage into the garden.
The whole place appealed to me at first sight, it exuded peace, and welcome. It also had the sense of being the hub of a working community. However, as I entered the building, I was reminded of the story of 'The Marie Celeste'. The table by the door was piled high with food. There was a steaming thermos of coffee, and another one of tea. Alongside these, there were plates of cakes, and other plates of biscuits. There were cups, and saucers, and napkins - but not a soul was to be seen or heard. The smell of coffee was very tempting - particularly as I'd come out in a hurry and forgotten to bring any lunch. As a distraction from all this bounty, I decided to go and investigate The Tent.

What a wonderful concept. I loved the windows - extolling every faith - the comfortable seats, the instruction to remove your shoes, the traditional construction. I sat down and quietly meditated for a moment or two before going back into the church.

Once back in the main building my attention was caught by the scraping sound of chairs being pushed back. Curious, I went towards the chapel - and there I had a shock.
As you know, the chapel is behind a plate glass wall. A passage runs along the near side of the glass, from which you can see in. Standing in this passage I was surprised and disappointed to see a gathering of people in the chapel. Clearly I'd misread the announcement on the web-site. The meditation started at twelve-fifteen, not twelve-forty-five. I was cross with myself for having made such a stupid mistake, but all wasn't lost. If I walked very quietly down the passage alongside the glass wall, I could sit in the comfortable chair that was positioned at the end of the passage and feel that I was a part of the group. As quietly as I could manage, I crept along the passage. It was a very comfortable chair positioned at the end, it looked just as though it was sitting there awaiting someone. Gratefully, I sat down and started to meditate.

After no more than five minutes I once again heard the scrape of moving chairs. I opened my eyes to see that all those in the chapel were now on their feet. I, too, rose to my feet as the door from the chapel into the passageway burst open . . . a figure was hurrying towards me . . . to my total astonishment I found myself face to face with Rowan Williams . . . !

It was one of those bizarre moments. A moment when a face, so familiar through television and the Press, suddenly, and unexpectedly, takes on physical reality . . .

Panic took over. . . !
The chair . . . ? The chair that I’d been sitting in . . . ? Surely this was the rightful occupant of the chair . . . ?
The Archbishop looked at me, and smiled . . . clearly he thought I was part of some reception committee. I smiled back . . . it didn't seem the moment to tell him that I was there
by mistake . . . that I had nothing whatsoever to do with St. Ethelburga's . . . and that I only wished I'd never sat in his chair! He continued to smile, his eyebrows raised enquiringly . . . I continued to smile apologetically . . . heaven knows how long we'd have stood there - our smiles becoming more enquiring, more apologetic - had not the vicar put in a merciful appearance.
The vicar pulled the Archbishop to one side and I tried to make good my escape. It was useless, they were blocking the way. The vicar then turned to me. Clearly, having found me with the Archbishop, he, too, thought I was someone of note.
"I'm so sorry," I blurted out, still convinced that I’d missed the meditation group, "I mistook the time . . . I arrived late . . . "
"But you made it!" exclaimed the vicar enthusiastically, clasping both of my hands in his, "I'm so pleased you made it!"
This time I did manage to get away. Not before I'd looked back and been tempted by a thought. Had I the audacity to go back to the Archbishop and say, "Please your Eminence (or whatever you call an Archbishop), may I take your photo?"
You'll be grateful to hear that I lacked the nerve!
As I came out into the courtyard I was approached by a very pleasant, fresh-faced woman.
"Have you come for the meditation?" she asked, "It's starting in a moment. We have it in The Tent."

And so it was that I ended up in The Tent. What the other service was I've no idea - it didn't seem the moment to enquire. The Tent was bright and welcoming, there were ten people for meditation, and it was a wonderful and profound experience - by this time I felt truly in need!
I did return to the chapel before I left. As one would expect after the visit of an Archbishop, there was a beautiful bright orb at the top left of the picture (just to the right of the light) and more can be seen against the woodwork behind the altar.

A memorable day . . . ? Definitely a memorable day!