What makes you cry?


What makes you cry?

by Adrian Plass

I wept in Winchester Cathedral once
It was a winter afternoon
After speaking at a lunch in town
There was an hour to fill before my train was due to leave
Yet again, the beauty of that ancient building
Drew me like a child into its echoing embrace
I knew it would, I have such scant resistance to cathedrals
Particularly this one

This time I did two things
First of all the lighting of a candle for my father
Just because I wanted to
Theology is very thin sometimes
A candle’s flame is fat and rich with mystery
The second thing was climbing to the balcony
(they let you do that now)
And, as I stood there, leaning on the rail
Feeling warm at last and looking down
My heart went out to this old, slumberous house of worship
Built for God
Its stonework soaked with centuries of prayer
Tears and passions of belief and doubt
Flowing from a million souls
“How can you tolerate these days,” I softly asked
“The whispering obeisance of the secular patrols?” 

And then, quite suddenly, the children came
A hundred juniors or more
They sounded like a flock of seagulls
Looked like litter blown in by an enterprising gust of wind
They flung their coats down anywhere, and then
Armed with crayons, paper, pens and question sheets
They looked and listened, wrote and chattered,
Rubbed and roamed
With no respect at all for silly, solemn things
The place was full of them, their virtues and their sins
The building seemed to wake and blink and shake
Itself and smile
And draw itself to its full height with pleasurable pride
On finding all those children working, laughing, living
Unequivocally being there

And that was when I cried
Because I saw, and felt inside, the truth we once
Long ago, before there were cathedrals
That such as these – these unreligious children
With their earnestness, their busy-ness
Their unselfconscious cries
Form the best of congregations
For they simply are beloved
(much against the will of serious disciples)
By the only one who ever recognised
Like photographs of home
The Kingdom in their eyes”.

Adrian Plass – ‘Learning to Fly – a shared journey’.


  1. I am re-reading this in the Cloister cafe of Chichester Cathedral, I have a CD at home of Bridget Plass reading this.


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