Voices Like Snow



Winter is descending in Yorkshire. The air bites and leaves play tag on the bare, December pavement. As the countryside settles grass dies back blanketing the cold earth, and squirrels pull lichen from twigs, lining their fat paunches with winter nourishment. Of a morning frost-
painted patterns worthy of exhibition cover the paving stones of the square in front of the art museum. Hibernation calls, but so does the looming deadline of two essays I have to complete for the term. The world around me is slowing down but I am a roiling ball of nerves. I look for solace in the little things that surround me: in friends, unanticipated encounters, beautiful details.

And so I found myself recently sitting with a couple friends in the nave of York Minster, decorated for the holiday season with an abundance of decidedly pagan-looking greenery – so at odds with the cold, hard stone of the immense spaces. The air smelled strongly of frankincense, myrrh and beeswax: an unfulfilled promise of warmth. 

From within the wooden choir screen, voices rose. My eyes involuntarily traveled upward, following the heavenly sound as it climbed the stone pillars, vibrating off the bright crayon-box-colored windows, pushed higher with each new note until being captured by the strong, high stone vaulting. There it rested, in the dark niches of the ceiling coffers. I breathed slowly, deliberately; eyes closed, head up to better absorb the sound. Deep chords of the organ punctuated the air. Then like snow choral voices descended from the ceiling, surrounding me. Finally, if only for a moment, I was still inside.

The idea of organized religion is foreign to me. Spirituality seems such a personal experience that the concept of regulating it seems counterproductive. This view and these eyes were all I had to experience that evening at the Minster with. Yet I couldn’t help feeling that I was reacting to the space exactly as its designers intended. I was taken out of myself for a moment and connected with something greater. And the connection that was made somehow created a little bit more space in my soul… maybe even enough space for an essay to grow (hopefully).


1 comment

  1. You're absolutely right, whatever our religious persuasion (or not) buildings like the Minster can be totally awe inspiring. That is why we are doing what we do after all, and as you note, it is one of the things they were built for....

    Take care
    Mark

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