August 3
August 3 E-mail


I woke up at 5:30 am, took my medicine and dozed until my alarm went off at 6:30 am.  I attempted to doze some more until my neighbor's alarm went off at 7 am.  It continued to buzz unabated.  Finally, at 7:30 I walked around to the next stairwell to ascertain the room number so that I could report the nuisance to the Porters' Lodge.  While looking for the room number, I noticed the door to the room was ajar.  I knocked.  Paused.  No one answered, so I went in.  The room appeared to be emptied of personal belongings and contained only packed suitcases.  I quickly found the offending alarm clock.  Not knowing how turn it off (and being technologically challenged), I remedied the situation by yanking the cord from the socket!  Breaking and entering, plus destruction of property, all before breakfast!

After the filling English breakfast, I walked around the garden and read in my room.  In lieu of a Sunday morning worship service, we would be having a "Service of Evensong" at Ely Cathedral about 40 minutes away.  The buses got us there by 2 pm so there was plenty of time to view the cathedral and grounds before the service began. 

ely 1

Ely Cathedtral

Ely was breathtaking.  The octagonal ceiling, the stone sculptures, the painted ceiling panels in the nave, the stained glass.  How could such architecture and art be accomplished centuries ago?  Before the tools of the industrial revolution and the computer?  Why are churches today bland?  They do not engender the same feeling of awe and transcendence that Ely, or even closer to home, Duke Chapel, does.  I've heard that the Reformers preferred clear glass so that the light of God's truth would not be diffused.  But aside from being beautiful, the stained glass serves as a wordless Bible, capturing biblical narrative for an illiterate society.  I see nothing menacing about it.  For me, the windows are an aid to worship. 

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Ely nave

Besides the grandeur, the ancient cathedrals are notable for the sarcophagi inside and out.  Vaults, presumably containing human remains, line the side sections.  With the larger ones, a stone figure in repose is atop the vault.  It's a bit spooky.  But perhaps a reminder of our mortality isn't such a bad thing.  How often have I heard a preacher say, "If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?"  Worshipping in proximity of tombs is a reminder both of the transience of life and the hope of the resurrection. 


Sarcophagus in Ely Cathedral

Earl Palmer delivered the homily at Evensong.  "Song" is the operative word.  I've never been in a church service that had so much music.  There were ten pieces, not counting postlude, procession and recession, which left precious little time for Dr. Palmer.  He preached on 2 Timothy 1:1-7, stating that Jesus disarmed the main source of fear at the cross.  I wish we could have heard more from Dr. Palmer.   

After a reception (i.e. dinner consisting of finger food), we walked to Great St. Mary Church (not to be confused with University Church of St. Mary the Virgin in Oxford!) in downtown Cambridge for another concert with pianist Paul Barnes and mezzo-soprano Kate Butler.  This evening's program was lighter fare.  Kate sang a whimsical song about a woman who would rather stay home and listen to her ipod than go to a live concert with friends.  This was the perfect lead in for Bruce Herman's talk on "Outgrowing the iSelf: Beauty, Personhood, and Pop-Culture: an Artist's Perspective."  Bruce is chair and professor of art at Gordon College.

There was much in his talk that I want to ponder further.  Here are a few highlights.  The idea of "making a name for yourself" began in Genesis 11:4 at the Tower of Babel.  Of course, the name I make for myself is nothing compared to the name Jesus can give me (see Rev. 2:17).  He talked about the ipod commercials where people are dancing alone in silhouette.  The ipod feeds on a culture of preferences.  This culture fosters an iSelf, which is an identity a person invents from, among other things, the consumer choices he makes.  Things like Facebook create an additional mask between the self and others which reinforces the sense of autonomous self-invention.  The result is a loss of a self that is embedded in real community, as opposed to cyber-community.