I had a lovely break in the middle of the day today, however, getting the bus into town to go to a lunchtime carol service in the cathedral with some colleagues. I have a real reverance for cathedrals, partly because I still haven't gotten over my American astonishment that things can be so old, partly because they epitomise the mystical, dramatic side of Christianity that I find intriguing. Cathedrals are so impressive and intimate at the same time. I'm rarely disappointed by them.
On our honeymoon in Paris, we very nearly didn't visit Notre Dame on our last day which was pouring with rain. In the end, though, we were short on money and cold and Notre Dame was both free and dry so we thought we'd pop in for a look. A boys' choir was singing, and all around the church were little candles burning, each lit by a different visitor, all those prayers and rememberances floating up with the boys' voices into the rafters. I put a coin in the box and lit a candle for my dad. I always wonder what my dad would think of things like that, having been very unreligious himself, but I feel he would have appreciated the gesture. He had a soft spot in his heart for things like this - he always teared up, for instance, at the end of To Kill a Mockingbird when Boo Radley finally appeared. It's the sensory side of lighting a candle that does it I think - the flicker of the flame, the slight crackle and the faint scent of the burning wick, makes the act of rememberance feel physically real.
Anyway, the carol service today was lovely - only Once in Royal David's City really caused me any difficulty. I'm sure that I must have heard this one a million of times before in both England and America, but the tune never seems familiar. The version of O Come All Ye Faithful (one of my favourites) had the dreadful lyrics along the lines of 'does not abhor the Virgin's womb.' Go read it, really that's a terrible verse. The service was quite thoughtful and the presiding priest serious - I'm told that in past years it has been a little more joyful, but I don't mind my carols a little mournful. It feels more holy.