I travelled to Great Britain a few years ago with my wife. On our first day exploring the sprawling city of London, we came upon St. Paul’s Cathedral. The early 18th century cathedral is an architectural masterpiece designed by Christopher Wren; however, what we found when we went inside was no mere monument to a man’s creative and engineering genius. We found a place to worship God. I wrote this poem describing our experience attending an evensong service at St. Paul’s.
Evensong at St. Paul’s
Jeremy W. Johnston
In a city of beautiful buildings, here is another,
yet unlike any other: St. Paul’s.
We walk, we gaze, we wonder
is there time?--
The evening is here. Day is closing for the day.
But then a sign
calls us—a literal sign—invites us to
We climb up stone steps, enter in.
Even the small doors seem massive doors,
weighty tomes hanging on brass hinges
that shut out distractions, shut in the distracted.
The walking and talking and busyness and bustle all
become strangely dim. Silence becomes our song.
We are submerged into the stunning stillness.
So much larger on the inside.
Look up, can’t help but look up—in life we need to look up more.
A twilight, sky-like ceiling and world-like walls, so vast yet still too small.
Even here is too finite for the infinite to
This man-made place for the maker of man:
the best we can do—this! is barely a droplet of dew.
Outside, we’re wanderers in this city, tourists in town, set apart, outsiders.
We’re aliens in—but not of—this urban place.
But in here, inside,
We’re now in and a part of this sacred space.
The ancientness. The art. The Faith. I belong here.
Still I feel painfully exposed and alone.
It’s humbling to be so small for this brief hour.
God seems so distant here because he is echoed everywhere.
Indeed, we are separated by an infinite divide
but we begin to chant, and recite, and sing, and hear of the One
who fills the boundless chasm, who spans the ever-expanding space.
Holy words for Holy God; carefully prepared words,
some ancient, some old, some uttered soft, some spoken bold.
Haunting voices rising up to darkness and mystery--
my ears, my neck, my mind, my skin—I feel the sound of truth
immersing me, gently washing over me like the very breath of God.
Words so right and real; this place, so here and now.
God’s beauty is seen, the goodness of the Good News is heard--
every note, every utterance, every square inch alludes
to his wonder, his transcendence, his descent, his ascent, his nearness,
This is Evensong. This evening service of prayers, Psalms, and singing
a symbol of unity, harmony
a paradox of the near farness of God.
Liturgy, ritual, words recited, words sung--
We’re reminded that this is a religion as well as a relationship.
He is Creator, we are created. We are together, we are alone.
This is not yet heaven, though it is heaven that this hour harkens us to see.
So, despite the wonder, so much to look at, too much to take in,
I still find myself on this earth. My feet still feel the floor.
My body is still a body, pulled down by gravity of the world
So the tide begins to rise, the tide of blood, muscle, and bone rises
over my mind, my soul.
My weary traveller’s bones—the night of flying, the day of walking,
the hunger for seeing, the desire for doing, and the peace
of this place--
overtake me. My lids slip down beneath the surface,
over my eyes,
like the not-so-watchful three in the Garden of Gethsemane.
This edifice, this service, my effort to worship
One who exceeds imagination.
We’re always reaching up, but you, O God,
must always lift us up.
And you do.
Jeremy W. Johnston
Christian, husband, father, teacher, writer.
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