As we approached St. Thomas Church, I said to Joe, “Love among the ruins.” St. Thomas has worshiped in a parish house for decades since the church was destroyed by arson. Only remnants of the old east wall stand at the end of what is now (for awhile longer) a park. Some of my best moments have been among ruins. Glastonbury Abbey, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, Coventry Cathedral, Qumran, the Parthenon, the old Benedictine monastery at Canterbury: all are places where I have experienced —what? A sense of Presence, perhaps. Not always the same, yet never very different. Something slightly eerie, an uncanny quiet, the gentle intrusion of a force I knew but could not name, a head-shaking moment when I second-guessed whatever it was and chalked it off to my imaginings.
St. Thomas’ gates unbarred, we entered. He was on his way somewhere else, I was early for a Maundy Thursday Liturgy. Voices floated down the stairs from where choir and others were rehearsing. I did not need to eavesdrop on that. I went outside among the ruins and chose a bench to wait out the half hour before things started.
A man and a woman walking dogs passed by and paid me no attention. Another dog walker passing through paid me less. Then a friend crossed the park, one whom I had not seen for awhile. Him I barely recognized, but called his name as he came close by. He lifted up a bowed head, did a double-take, said my name, “Oh it is you! What are you doing here?” I told him I had come to get my feet washed and maybe to wash his, it being Maundy Thursday. He laughed. We chatted for a moment. Then he made his way out of the ruins and up towards the chatting rehearsers.
I diddled with my phone, observed the sky begin to darken into rose and orange, studied the remnants of the old high altar, tried to imagine what St. Thomas had been like before the blaze took it down, wondered what songs back in the thirties they’d have sung in that space on Maundy Thursday, searched my mind for the words of a hymn I do not much like, rose and walked past someone munching on a saved lunch.
It was the day of the Maundy—the new commandment. “A new commandment I give you, to love one another as I have loved you.” I mounted the steps to the sanctuary, set with a table reminiscent of a supper, basins and towels visible for the foot washing to come. The whole evening was one that I somehow felt would wash over me, leaving little trace of itself. (Time will tell.) A good homily, a moment or two having someone kneeling down and touching my feet, then I kneeling and touching someone else’s, the long chanting of “Deus, Deus Meus” and its forlorn cry, “Why have you forsaken me?” were somewhat predictable. They are the stuff of Maundy Thursday. But I think what will last for awhile in my mind more strongly is the bit of time I spent among the ruins, watching dogs sniff and piss, in late March warmth, as daylight slipped into darkness.
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2016