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The wisdom of Anglican thresholds

January 26, 2012

Part of what the offices are for, the evening office particularly.


‘Do not touch me’: the wisdom of Anglican thresholds

By Stephen Hough. Reposted from The Telegraph.

This past Sunday I went to Westminster Abbey to attend Evensong, their superb choir conducted by James O’Donnell and accompanied by Robert Quinney. Woven between Thomas Cranmer’s matchless words was music of Herbert Howells, William Byrd and a sparkling anthem by Jonathan Dove. If you are visiting London and want a perfect slice of England there’s no better place to go.

The Abbey quire at the end of Evensong.


The Church of England’s evening service, adapted after the Reformation from the monastic hour of Vespers, is a wondrous phenomenon. Even the word ‘Evensong’ is poetic, and it seems to chime in perfect harmony with England’s seasons: Autumn’s melancholy, early evening light; the merry crackle of Winter frost; Spring’s awakening, or the lazy, protracted sun strained through the warmed windows of a Summer afternoon.

Evensong hangs on the wall of English life like a old, familiar cloak passed through the generations. Rich with prayer and Scripture, it is nevertheless totally nonthreatening. It is a service into which all can stumble without censure – a rambling old house where everyone can find some corner to sit and think, to listen with half-attention, trailing a few absentminded fingers of faith or doubt in its passing stream.

'Nolle me tangere': Giotto


Most religious celebrations gather us around a table of some sort. They hand us a book, or a plate, or speak a word demanding a response. They want to ‘touch’ us. Choral Evensong is a liturgical expression of Christ’s Nolle me tangere – ‘Do not touch me. I have not yet ascended to my Father’ (St. John 20: 17). It reminds us that thresholds can be powerful places of contemplation; and that leaving someone alone with their thoughts is not always denying them hospitality or welcome.

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