by Joanie Butman
One of the best things about my whirlwind tour of London last week was visiting a dear friend who I don’t get to see often. She’s one of those rare individuals you can sit down with after five days or five years and pick up where you left off. To help plan our trip, Cynthia compiled a list of things to do and restaurants to try. Whenever you ask Cynthia for advice, she puts a lot of thought and effort into her response, so I trusted her implicitly and followed her expert guidance to make the most of our short visit. She even pulled off the miraculous – obtaining entrance to Highclere Castle, where one of my favorite TV shows is filmed. Not only that, she was gracious enough to let me nap while she drove us from the airport to Highclere and then into London.
At any rate, with only four days at our disposal, my daughter and I had a lot of territory to cover and hit the ground running. Systematically, we tackled our list of must do’s:
Highclere Castle √
Big Ben √
London Eye √
National Portrait Gallery √
Trafalgar Square √
Fashionista High Tea √
Hyde Park √
Kennsington Palace √
Tower of London √
Notting Hill √
Victory & Albert Museum √
Good Friday found me sitting in St. Paul’s Cathedral, which is billed as one of the places of interest in London. Personally, visiting cathedrals isn’t my favorite thing to do as a tourist. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all - though this was the one where Mary Poppins sang Feed the Birds. I remember visiting Rome with my sisters and our tour guide took us into cathedral after cathedral. Seriously, after the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s why bother? At the end of an exhausting day of countless basilicas, Pino was leading us towards yet another church. Well past my cathedral threshold, I blurted out, “Unless this is St. Gelato’s and they’re serving snacks, I’m done.”
In deference to the solemnity of Holy Week, there were no tours at St. Paul’s. Visitors were strongly encouraged to simply sit in prayerful meditation. I noticed that most tourists ignored the request, but my Catholic school background kicked in so I did as I was told and sat there taking it all in. St. Paul’s was quite grandiose, as most cathedrals are, but what touched me deeply was the dichotomy between its grandiosity and the starkness of the rudimentary wooden cross they had erected in the center of the church in commemoration of Good Friday. To me, the contrast epitomized what the Jewish people were expecting their Messiah to look like and what they got. Christ wasn’t locked in the “golden tackle box” (as one of my second grade students referred to the tabernacle). He was on that simple, wooden cross – for me.
I didn’t stay long, but that site left more of an impression than any other on my checklist. On my way back to the hotel, I walked past Trafalgar Square where they were reenacting The Passion of Christ. I stood in the crowd and watched for a while, did a mental check off my list and continued on my way. I wonder how many travellers did the same in Jerusalem that day, oblivious to the story unfolding before them and the impact it would have for eternity. I thought about how quickly I do the same in my daily life rushing through my checklist. How often do I just sit at the foot of the cross in awe and gratitude for the incredible gift of grace I’ve been given and at what cost? Not nearly enough.
During my brief stop in St. Paul’s I was also thinking about Lent and what an abysmal failure I am each year in observing my Lenten sacrifices. I’m always impressed and more than a little envious when I hear people discussing how they stuck to their Lenten fasts. It’s been years since I’ve succeeded for Lent’s entirety. So why do I choose to continue the exercise year after year? You’d think it would be discouraging, but actually it is an excellent reminder that I can’t do it on my own – not even the little things. If I could, Christ wouldn’t have had to suffer on my behalf. Do I wish I had better self-discipline? Of course, but despite my noble intentions, it's my failures that actually bring me into His presence better than any of my accomplishments because it reminds me that “His grace is sufficient for me, for His power is made perfect in weakness.” The more I recognize my need for grace, the greater my understanding of its power and the greater my appreciation of the gift I celebrate on Easter and every day.
Easter may be over as well as my London excursion, but the whirlwind of life continues along with the outpouring of grace that Easter provides. So I choose to start each day in stillness remembering with gratitude that wooden cross in St. Paul’s as the first thing on my checklist every morning.
One last note, not everyone is blessed to have a Cynthia in their lives, but as the song goes, “we all have a friend in Jesus.” He is the friend who is waiting to share everything with you and offer expert guidance in how to live an abundant life during your short time here before you are called home, the one to provide miracles in your life, the one willing to drive when you are too tired or worn out, the one who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Even if it’s been a while since you’ve enjoyed a chat, why not choose to sit a while and rekindle that friendship or maybe begin one? You won’t be disappointed.