Carson Mowery, Staff Writer
Following the tragic fire that destroyed parts of the Notre-Dame de Paris, commentary has resurged regarding the role of Christianity (and religion overall) within our society. Despite religious barriers, historical holy places such as this one are beloved by many and are regarded as a loss to more than their congregations. In an NPR article, a Muslim taxi driver laments the destruction of the Notre-Dame de Paris in saying, “It’s not about religion. It’s about 800 years of history of France and the whole word, really. It’s a symbol that’s even stronger than religion.” The significance of these structures extends far beyond institutionalized religion; they have united individuals from all backgrounds for centuries. In a world craving unity more than ever, the hope associated with these places of worship is what connects us the most.
The same can be said about the Canterbury Cathedral in London, England. For two years in a row now I have had the opportunity to visit this stunning cathedral, and to stand in awe at the structure with a life and history much richer than my own. The breathtaking architecture and vibrant stained-glass windows are enough to render one speechless, but there is a provocation that occurs immediately upon crossing the threshold into the sanctuary and beyond.
In the crypt of the Canterbury Cathedral stands a podium for individuals to present their prayers for later readings by the priests. As I ambled through this lower level, breathless from the solemn atmosphere washing over me, I read these prayers. Petitions for healing and peace and progress were laid before me, and I was overwhelmed.
When reading these prayers, I contemplated the places I pray. In my car, in lines, at my desk, in churches, and a myriad of other places. I considered how many times I have cried out in desperation, needing relief from what binds and debilitates me. When I consider that now, I think of these prayers. I imagine the varied scrawlings on powder blue post-its requesting hope and freedom and the promise of just one more day, and I think about how similar we all truly are.
I don’t like to tell people that I am religious—I simply don’t care for that term. “Spiritual” might be a better alternative, but “religious” seems to instantly divide people with the legalistic barriers religions have installed. “Religious” implements an “us vs. them” mentality. When I read these prayers, I didn’t imagine the afflicted only wanted those of a certain religion to pray for them. Religion divides people, but hope is unifying.
I prayed in this church, and a surge of emotions enveloped me while doing so. I prayed for freedom in my own life from anxiety and panic disorder. I prayed for the peace and hope and freedom that these individuals requested. I wrote my own prayer and posted it on the podium among the multiple other petitions. Those prayers struck my heart so deeply, because when legalistic religion is set aside, at the root of everything we all yearn for the same promise: hope.
Hope is what propels me in this life. When anxiety threatens to overcome me, I remember that it won’t plague me forever. The promise of a new day, a second chance, and the opportunity to work towards a better humanity has prompted me to reconsider what might have been life-altering decisions. When I prayed in the Canterbury Cathedral, I remembered all of the times I didn’t think my life would get better. I remembered the long, dark nights of hopelessness that crushed my spirit. Despite feeling small within its chambers, the Canterbury Cathedral reminds me that each of us matter, and that our contributions have the power to ignite a spirit of hope in humanity.
I cannot say that I would still be here if my faith hadn’t given me the promises of hope I so desperately needed, and still need currently. Feeling God’s presence in the Cathedral and being reminded of that deep, guttural hope that pushes me forward in life is relieving. That’s what hope is: a relief. Knowing and believing in the promise of something better is enough to save a life. It saved mine.
I think of those blue post-it prayers often, and I pray those individuals find the healing they are seeking. The Canterbury Cathedral and its centuries-old history reminded me that life is fleeting, but it is not meaningless. Millions of individuals have visited that cathedral with the intention of finding hope for their lives, including myself. That structure has outlived those people, it will outlive me, and my blue post-it prayer will be lost among the countless new ones posted far beyond my lifetime. But the footprints of those needing hope are embedded in the structure, and the atmosphere of the structure is a testament to the human spirit. The world is heavy and burdensome with terror, pain, hatred, and more. However, just as the human heart offers the promise for hope, so does the Canterbury Cathedral: a unifying place of worship and fellowship for all to find relief.
Photo by Lucy Roth