Amy Brenneman
Amy Brenneman

January 20, 2015

Darsan #3: Surviving St. Paul’s

Back to darsan and seeing the holy/god’s face/feeling the “ah-ha” in the most unlikely of places.


Needless to say, I dragged my children to a ton of churches in Paris, London and Edinburgh over the holidays. In the stones of Notre Dame, Sacre Coeur and St. Paul’s, I stayed alert to feel the Spirit Moving, but it was hard. Bustley tourists made it hard, and so did buried politicians at St. Paul’s. It felt more like a war memorial than a Holy place. The crypt felt better – after all, Blake was buried there.


Beautiful as they are, it’s hard to be in these grand European cathedrals and not feel the church’s bloody history of domination. Hard to think that Jesus would feel at home there; I think of him slapping his swarthy forehead, “Oy vey! What does this have to do with feeding the poor??”


And yet.


Amid the tourists (ourselves included) and the holiday crowd at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, a priest spoke over a microphone. “Excuse me,” he said in an impossibly plummy British accent. “At St. Paul’s we pause once an hour for a moment of prayer. I ask that you stop for a moment to observe that.”


Tourists shuffled, I cocked my ear like a terrier. Could it be? That in this church there was actually going to be some church-business?


He asked us to pause in silence to think about those folks who were struggling, in pain, without shelter or resources. In this grandest of cathedrals, with the whispering gallery soaring above us, some of us ceased our texting and guide booking and tried to do what the man said.


“I’ll be at the side chapel if anyone wants to talk about St. Paul’s or anything else,” he finished up. He sounded like, well, he sounded like a helpful clergy in an actual church.


Imagine that.


After the moment was observed, the tourists (ourselves included) went back to our texting and guide booking. My group moved towards the gift shop and as we went, I saw the priest. Much to the horror of my children, I went up to him. “Thank you for that, “I said, not really knowing what else to say. “That was lovely.”


The priest looked surprised, and suddenly shy. “Oh, great! That’s great! Let me know what else I can do for you and ….. Have a great day.”


Charlotte tugged at me to get to the gift shop. I nodded good-bye to the priest, amazed with his ability to create a holy moment of darsan in the midst of Disneyland.