There was quite a long time between the building starting to hum, and my realising what it was. Even longer before I chose to break the spell and find the source of the drumming.
What I experienced in the mean time was an extraordinary freedom.
This is fundamentally my trouble — with life, with church, with who it is I am called to be as a priest: I think that York Minster is of an appropriate scale.
And that is just not realistic.
But it is glorious for time of standing there, still, while the whole nave hums.
I feel endlessly frustrated by the ways we domesticate God.
Yes: I can sense the presence of Jesus in a child’s laugh, or a meal shared. But when I do, those things become bigger — rather than God scaling down to size.
The reality of God is too intricate, beautiful, complex, vast to be held on a domestic scale. I need something less manageable, less predictable.
Thus the resonance of the cry across the plains, the cry across the nave, the hollow sound of voice-meets-wind echoing through the stones.
But I long for that sense of vast freedom to be embodied, realised, expressed.
When I finally broke from the blazing cross, and left the nave for the transept I could tell the drum was near. And oddly, the nearer I got, the smaller it sounded.
All that sound was in fact the result of two men, sitting amidst a clutter of instruments: large drums and flutes, grand piano and sound board. They were playing for —
a group of people dancing.
a group of people preparing to dance.
a group of people doing T’ai chi?
a group of people embodying prayer, freedom, longing, peace, joy.
I had never seen anything like it.
It was most like T’ai chi. But they were dancers. I say ‘they’. In fact, I stood watching only one woman, whose every movement was un-self-conscious beauty.
I later learned that what I was watching was their warm up. There would be a more choreographed performance later on. With costumes, I suspect. And it would have been good to see the leader looking less odd. But I just ignored him, and watched the embodied elegance of woman in front — flowing through ballet-meets-martial-arts-meets-prayer.
I cannot explain it.
The rhythm, the repetitiveness, the stretching and flow and shift of tempo — they spoke most clearly of prayer.
I had been thinking (amidst the wildness; against the memory of more common domestication. amidst the flashing of cameras and the crashing of scaffolding.) — what we do to God is terrible. How can we learn to express God’s freedom? order? beauty? grace?
And then, there she was.
being all that I wish the church could be.
But I can’t create that for you here. Maybe you’ve seen her?
What I saw today was something called Moving Visions — part of Rambert’s cathedral dance research. But don’t follow the link, because it won’t show you. It will look like other dance performances you’ve seen; or worse, stir your prejudices against liturgical dance. And that’s not what it was at all. (though if you do look, the one I couldn’t stop watching is the one who flies. the one who was utterly grounded.)
I’m glad I got lost on the ring-road and that I fell into the minster’s pull.
I’m glad I fought through the crowds at the door and the terrible ticket desk that tries as hard as it can to tell you that you are a tourist, and that God will be back on Sunday.
I’m glad that the building knows otherwise, and the drummers, and the dance.
But I still don’t know how to do it here.