By Elaine Knudtson
This summer we visited Europe. During our three week stay, we always found ourselves drawn to the cathedrals and churches in each city or region. It connects us with believers down through the ages in various parts of the world. Our first week was in Molde, Norway, where Paul’s grandfather Eilert was born in the late 1800s. The following week we listened to a Schubert Mass in St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, and finally, we completed our journey in Iper, Belgium, at a cathedral damaged during the First World War. It was located in Flanders Fields, not far from the place where John Macrae penned his famous poem.
Three very different experiences joined together by prayer and liturgy; strange and yet oddly familiar, we felt part of something much bigger than ourselves.
(Worshippers gathered outside the Medieval Church near the graveyard waiting to get in)
“Perspective from Veoy Island “
Iron crosses and moss-covered tombstones recline in the spongy knoll overlooking the fjord on Veoy Island.
I sit silently on a cornerstone, waiting to go inside, listening for Your voice in this strange land of Norway.
Their voices are the background hymn to the joy of reunion on this misty summer day near Molde.
I cannot speak their language, but the tone and posture captures the easy comfort of being together.
It was the home left behind by the immigrants who came to Canada–the place that haunted their dreams and combined with regret and hope in their memories.
Homesteading transformed roses into dandelions, fjords into prairies, and fish into gophers.
Out of nothing they built my life, content to surrender their past for my tomorrow.
Soon the bell will toll and we will file inside the stone church to worship with ghosts from the past.
I am in the stream of pilgrims who responded to an unnamed call to a distant land, stoked by a longing for something more.
I will never again visit this place.
The door will close behind opportunity forever.
But I will remember, just as they did, when I stare across the lonely prairie and hear their voices echoed in my relatives who sprang from their pilgrimage 100 years ago.
We will picnic on the banks of the coulee, remembering the fjords, and the wild roses, and will speak of the greater glory of this day.
But I will be home with you, and we will embrace as the prairie sun sets in the endless sky.
(Schubert’s mass was sung by the choir from the loft on the side. The priest recited the liturgy from the front, and a schizophrenic beggar echoed his words from the back of the aisle behind us. Suspended in the middle of all this, was a crucifix, lost between the chandeliers. We went there on our 40th wedding anniversary)
“Impressions from St. Stephen’s”
“Get me to the church on time,” we chuckled, holding hands, strolling through the mist on our way to St. Stephen’s.
40 years since our journey began “Beneath the Cross of Jesus”, surrounded by the saints who have passed through the veil.
We carry their torch of faith to the next generation as we enter the cathedral.
The high Gothic arches stretch like the fingers of God above our heads, encircling us below in the palm of His hand.
The Schubert mass echos in the hollow spaces between the ornate pillars, chiseled and carved to reveal the cherubs and legends of ancient rhymes.
Candles illuminate masterpieces, positioned like banners on the walls, proclaiming the gospel to the illiterate.
I choose to enter as a child: innocent and open to the presence of God in symbol and sound.
A holy triangle is formed between the altar, choir and madman at the gate.
Each speaks in liturgy, song and words too deep for groaning:
The priest recites
The choir crescendos
The madman babbles
together in union, independent of each other.
I stand at the center, between them, under the suspended wooden crucifix, obfuscated by chandeliers and masterpieces.
His breath unifies us all beneath that cross–the nexus of faith between the priest, the madman and the tenor.
Our eternal praise rises to the throne of heaven, surrounded by those saints who sat with us 40 years ago in our own cathedral as we began our sacred journey.
“Worship in Ypres”
The carillon tolls its welcome to travel-worn pilgrims recalling the days of old when God was silent.
A century to sanitize the memory and rebuild the streets that teemed with soldiers marching to the Western Front.
What prayers did they offer as they passed the dead and wounded carried back from the battle?
Whose side was God standing on in the trenches?
What language did He speak?
Or did He turn His face away in horror at our shame?
He who taught us the love of neighbour stood alone, in the blood-soaked mud beside those breathing their last, while the bullets and artillery scattered all others.
They fought for King and country and a mythical kingdom called home.
Answering the call to preserve their empires, they are silent now while those who fought are immortalized in eternal flames and the last post from Menin Gate.
How can I worship here against the backdrop of catastrophic hate?
The beautiful cathedral has been rebuilt, in homage to the past, rising from the old foundations.
The crucified Christ slouches in the corner, unable to escape our sin as witnessed through the millenniums.
The true king waits, in the tear-soaked prayers of victims broken by the fall.
Thy kingdom come.