Durham Thoughts from Egypt

Added about 5 years ago by David Grieve

GUEST BLOG: David Grieve, author of our new release Love in Thin Places, shares some thoughts on Durham Cathedral all the way from Hurghada, on the Red Sea, Egypt.

Photo by Hajor (CC BY-SA).

I'm not quite as far away from Durham as I have ever been, but this is some thousands of miles. Tomorrow my wife Jane and I travel to ancient Luxor to embark on a Nile Cruise. It’s a holiday I never expected to take so we shall make the most of it. With all the meaning that Egypt has for Christian and other world faiths it is special to be here; here in a land where Jesus was.

Jesus and Jerusalem

He was crowned in Jerusalem, on the cross, and Durham Cathedral has often been likened to Jerusalem. This cathedral, dedicated to Christ, the Blessed Virgin Mary and St Cuthbert, has blessed and inspired me for virtually all my life. I’m sixty years older than when I first saw it close up at age seven or so. It’s a place of worship, welcome, wonder and, among many other things, pilgrimage. One of the poems in Love in Thin Places is “Holy City”. It mentions Jerusalem, of course, a place to which I have yet to go, but also the Christian life, whether in the Holy City, Durham, Egypt or anywhere, as pilgrimage. We’re on our way, journeying to God’s eternal life, via various places and experiences within mortal life.

Jerusalem is where, seeking, I find you,
not in the dusty pathways of sacred history,
nor in the narrow streets clogged with gunmen
and pilgrims on the move,

but where your presence transfigures
wilderness and grace,
and makes a Jerusalem place.

I recall your presence in the comforted yesterdays,
so glad that you were there then.
I saw your face.
But in the daily dying and the going on is
my Jerusalem place.

“Holy City”, from Love in Thin Places, p. 60

Pay Attention!

Durham Cathedral, one of the Thin Places of the collection’s title, is so much more than a World Heritage site. Older than many churches and cathedral cities yet younger by far than ancient Egypt, it is a place where God makes himself known through Jesus Christ, and it resonates with holiness. That’s part of what a Thin Place is and does. The Celtic saints of the British Isles knew this very well, and faith today owes much to them, particularly for Christians within “the patrimony of St Cuthbert”, who is interred in the Feretory behind the High Altar at Durham.

It also resonates for me with the Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, whose faith and practice are so aware of the closeness and immediacy of God, particularly perhaps in holy places, thin places. Of Durham Cathedral they might say to us: pay attention!

For the Cathedral, as this and previous generations have known and bequeathed it to us, is a place to know God and to be known by him in all life’s realities, its ordinariness, its crises and its special occasions. It welcomes Durham University in celebration and musicians in concert, school children in large or small groups, tourists by the thousands, as well as the anonymous visitors who may wish to light a candle and leave behind a prayer for whatever or whomever is on their minds.

As one of the volunteer Chaplains it’s my privilege to be available to anyone in the building who wishes to receive ministry in the name of Christ, no matter what. They are welcomed by a host of staff and volunteers, who number hundreds, and our intention is that as they feel welcomed they may know something of the love of God, but without any pressure except the warmth of his love.

Love in Thin Places

Why these poems? I've been writing for over thirty years ever since, while a parish priest in the Diocese of Durham, my health gave way and I needed to retire. Poetry—reading and writing it—became an outlet for expressing many emotions, and for growing my life with God. It was natural that the Cathedral should feature in some of them. Indeed it has not only been the subject but the place of writing. Encountering this Thin Place is a way in which I experience God's grace, love and kindness as well as wrestling with perplexity. I come to and go from there to be just one of the so many other pilgrims who are on the journey that we call faith. In this, Durham is no more nor less special than other particular places. Anywhere can be Thin in the sense of somewhere where God in Christ discloses himself to us.

Durham Cathedral sits on the old hill of Dunholm, where the travelling community of St Cuthbert were led to make a permanent home for the saint whom they were carrying. “Half church, half castle ’gainst the Scots”, as Sir Walter Scott coined it, this magnificent building speaks of the turbulent centuries after the Norman conquest. It is no mere monument or museum, though, but a place of encounter with the God who became one of us in Jesus Christ, who forgives our sins and prepares us for the glory that is life beyond death.

Although no words can do justice to the reality of mystery, I really hope that Love in Thin Places will speak to its readers and be of help on the journey.

Each visit a pilgrimage,
and each duty a joy.
I bless Him whom we know here
and His saints at rest in hope.

Each encounter extraordinary
and each moment a gift.
Even the low days and ordinary
yield their efforted fruit.

Each leaving a commissioning
and each leaving a truth,
told in the language of glory
and the metaphors of grace.

“Each Visit a Pilgrimage”, from Love in Thin Places, p. 62


Back to Egypt, where Jane and I hope that our encounter with antiquity in modernity will be an experience to treasure and to make a difference to our lives.

Love in Thin Places is a new collection of poems by David Grieve, a chaplain at Durham Cathedral. With him we walk around the building that is both practical and poetic, a space for sanctuary and prayers spoken and unspoken, for human encounters and burning questions, and also for university events, concerts and exhibitions. Get your copy today.

Please note: Sacristy Press does not necessarily share or endorse the views of the guest contributors to this blog.

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