|Angela Glajcar's 'Within the Light' installation for Lent, Southwark Cathedral, 2015|
Today's piece is a poem written in Southwark Cathedral during a poetry recital by Carol Ann Duffy, on the same day that the General Synod of the Church of England voted against the ordination of women as bishops. Carol Ann Duffy was angry and swore loudly, her words echoing off the pale walls. For me, it was a moment of power and deep beauty and I was glad to be in a place that could withstand the anger of women and not crumble. Of course, since that time the church has voted to allow women's ordination and Libby Lane became our first female bishop in January 2015, several thousand years too late some might say but better now than not at all. I am reminded often that there are edge-walkers in all religions and that in Christianity there have been, and are, many.
I do not always have an easy relationship with the Christian church, or with any organised religion, and yet Southwark Cathedral has become a beloved place of peace and spiritual sanctuary. Often I struggle in churches, finding their opulence incongruous and bloated in a world in which so many don't have enough food to eat. Resting close to the river and growing out of the soil of the Borough, one of the poorest areas of London, it might be assumed that the cathedral in Southwark would have the same affect on me and yet it feels that Southwark knows her place and that her place is with the poor and the vulnerable. She is my rest and my mother source and I love her. Here is the poem written when filled with that love, and with the anger of women....
Carol Ann Duffy at Southwark Cathedral
I come, dressed as crow.
Am sensuous. Black as chaos.
And full of poetry. To this
“most human” place of moon-grey stone
and sun-fire gold, forced summer,
where Mary bends to soothe
her broken child and beggars
sit on cardboard boxes,
hold out hands for Fools' Bronze in the rain.
But we are warm in this candlelit communion of words.
We are all poets here.
And you are raven, dressed in black and blood
red jewels where claws of Bridie's wolves
have marked rhyme into your skin,
are angry at the church who won't let women in.
Outside, the Goose Girls whirl and wild the wind
in skirts of autumn leaves and lure their lovers in
with goddess eyes and stolen gin.
We are all priestesses here.
I love this moon-milk place,
where I could dance, save for these pews,
make spirals, spin away
the dust of two thousand years, make history new
with black feathers.
But still, poetry comes, cracks through
the walls with words, to let
the soft subversive paws of prayer song in.
Jacqueline Woodward-Smith, 20th November 2012, Southwark Cathedral