The words of the Magnificat weave, re-weave and weave again around the cathedral; the word’s of Mary’s Song are sung, echoed and repeated until the soul of the listener is wrapped in staves of music awakening, refreshing and sustaining the soul with each new note.
In the setting of Choral Evensong the music takes the long way around, the psalms are many and the readings substantial. In the main the worshipper responds in silence, absorbing not participating, following a particular phrase or musical chord where ever it takes the heart and mind of the listener. The particular content may be lost as the experience washes over those gathered. All that matters is to be there, no need to be religious, just be present. How you engage, what world view you bring, your faith, questions, uncertainties matter not; it is enough that you have come.
In the world of the soundbite, the 140character tweet, and the promise of an advert break after no more than 15minutes, this experience is profoundly countercultural and its sheer rarity is why it is so special. In the midst of the busy-ness of life to stand, to sit, to kneel, and be caught in something so different and beyond the normal everyday is to be given a glimpse of another way, a different possibility.
The mind starts to cease its turnings, breathing becomes slower and deeper, the heart beat returns from its racing. When the echo of the final Amen fades amidst the ancient, prayer-soaked walls, problems have not gone away, but life is more centred and the next step seems more possible.
Some may long for something, shorter and snappier and more participatory. That may be more culturally attuned but that only seeks to confirm not challenge the mantra of busy, trapping us again in our doing and not our being.
As others have discovered the virtue of slow food and slow towns, to this cathedrals offer slow worship. By discovering the value of slow, deeper connections are made and a different rhythm calms, heals and restores. Slow worship allows the soul to stop and stare – in that moment of stopping is opened up the possibility of wonder and mystery, an essential pause that adds perspective and proportion.
To the busy and time pressured, the cathedral offers slow worship with its gift of, yes catching up with ourselves, but more important still, catching up with God and all the possibilities that can bring.
Don’t hurry by, stop and come in and taste slow.