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St. Patrick's: Uplift

25 January 2021

A Prayer for St Patrick – Uplift

Everyone was cantankerous and argumentative. We were, in fact, a van full of leader-women with no followers. And we were lost.

Jackie wound the large van around narrow streets, alleys, and avenues, looking for the St Patrick’s Cathedral spire, attempting to aim us by landmark. While she did, other passengers – navigators – pored over the map, calling out turns often too late. Poor Jackie.

Grandma and I sat in the back, quietly waiting for the issue resolve itself. We may have been silent, but little patience remained between the two of us. While I sat, biting my tongue, the spire spun about to the back of the van and then grew smaller and smaller in the distance: we were going precisely the wrong direction. How many matriarchs does it take to navigate to St Patrick’s Cathedral?

Eventually, one of the matriarchs noticed the spire was visible back on the skyline, and Jackie maneuvered the vehicle in a K-turn. With visual guidance from the group, our van finally made its way toward the Cathedral, humming all the while with negative energy like a disturbed beehive.

Jackie found an acceptable parking space two blocks away from the Cathedral, and our swarm of women buzzed and bumbled out onto the street. Now for free time. We designated a time to meet back at the van: two hours to explore.

Everyone was bent on walking the river and doing some souvenir shopping – except for me. It had been a long week navigating personalities with these women, and I needed space. While the six matriarchs all meandered slowly toward Temple Bar, my feet turned me west and south, and quietly carried me toward that stout, square spire.

Keeping the spire in sight, between buildings, up a street, on the left, just ahead, I hummed to myself inwardly – my own anxious song in my own time – in keeping with the quick rhythm of my footfalls. Dublin’s streets, clogged and sooty, full of people and traffic, were strikingly peaceful after the cacophony and negativity of the van. My pace steady, my heart rate and breathing joined in as percussion for this little song of liberty.

Coming south into the intersection of Bull Alley and Bride, the buildings finally broke onto the tidy green lawn of St. Patrick’s Park, and there, peeking out from between and behind trees was St. Patrick’s – up close. With a breath and a spring, my feet propelled me across Bull Alley St and into the park: my eyes wanted an unobstructed view – to devour.

Past the trees, the Cathedral came into full view: lumbering, pinnacle-pocked, with stones a curious mix of solemn shady and bright grey. The variety of stone colors, lighter along the edges, duskier along the expanses, gave the exterior texture, depth, and character. Vaulted windows in triplets, with the tallest at the center, lined the second story and peered down darkly and somberly, judging, into the garden below. Lower windows, as if in defiance of the upper windows’ seriousness, filled with more luminescent glass, hinted pleasantly at colorful staining that would only be visible from within. It was these windows that beckoned to me…and so I was obliged to enter.

With delight, I paid the requested donation for admittance and was ushered into a den of divine delight. The floor, so bright, was the first to capture the eye: interwoven geometric patterns formed into large diamonds spanned the entire nave, infusing the room with interest in emerald, amber, and rust. As if to give the floor sufficient reverence, the nave’s chairs waited until nearly 50 feet into the expanse before they dared to conceal it, leaving only ten rows, perhaps, in total, for the congregation’s comfort.

Many scattered people filled the chairs in the first three rows, but the rear rows were vacant: it was there, alone, where I took my seat.

The congregation was silent and still, in awe, as before them, the boys’ choir chanted their nightly Evesong. These pure, crystalline voices rose and rose, in flawless harmony – from the choir, past the organ pipes, up, and still upward, to fill the vast upper recesses of all the aisles, the arcade, the gallery, the clerestory, to press heavenward, lifting the very top of the Gothic rib vaults, as if to carry them off into the sky and forthwith to paradise. The voices carried. They carried souls, they carried prayers, and they carried me. As they tumbled and danced in precision, they captured the face of divinity and shone it down toward the witnesses below, imparting a bone-deep sense of wonder and peace.

My heart lifted with the song, and so did my eyes. Ranging the side walls, giving access to the aisles, squatted massive, broad pointed arches with rounded, pipe-shaped ribs. Before those, to the left, perched an ornately sculpted pulpit ranged round, at its base, with marble apostles, and capped with what appeared to be a roof – as if to protect the priest from the direct wrath of God. Beyond this, in tiered wooden rows parallel with the nave, sat and sang our choir. Every other song, a soloist would step forward to stand before the rest and sing, a dove with holy refrain in its heart – a bell that must ring truth. Each soloist more perfect than the last…

Back still further, past the chancel, altar, and ambulatory, along the back wall, rose three tiers of arches: the first and third tier contained tall and lean lancet windows – displaying delicate, luminescent stained glass, precisely as I had anticipated. As the notes wove together, I watched the light dance upon these colors, adding visible to the sonorous life in the vast space.

My breathing and pulse slowed as all tension released. Bickering and conflict lifted their weight from my chest and shoulders, and I tilted my chin upward to allow the vast expanse of the gothic vaulted arches to carry them up with the voices – away, out of sight. In their place, peace descended as a blanket, soft and comforting. Light blotted out shadow. Hope replaced disgruntlement. Time ceased, for just one moment, its relentless march forward. All that existed was the music, the vast space, and my own heartbeat.

Time…oh time! I glanced at my watch: I was supposed to meet everyone at the van in ten minutes!

Abruptly but calmly, quietly, so as not to disturb this moment for others, I stood and moved toward the narthex to exit. As I passed through the doors, the voices faded; their serenity was immediately replaced with Dublin’s common street noise – and the celestial ambiance dissipated into thin air about me.

I turned north and east to traverse St. Patrick’s Park in the direction whence I came and noticed that although the atmosphere, the sights, and the sound of the cathedral had left me, the tranquility which they had instilled in my heart persisted. The calm, with its quiet force, insisted and endured, and I was now prepared to re-enter the hive.

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