Last night, in a tiny apartment in Haymarket outside of Edinburgh, Scotland I slept for 16 hours without waking or turning. My hands were in the same position. My body was in the same position as when I went to sleep a few seconds after going to bed at 7:00. One wonders what a person must have been through to get to that place.

Last night, having enjoyed a piece of fish the size of a small shovel alongside thrice cooked chips and mashed peas with a pint, I wandered into a church on my way home to sleep. This is the image I found therein. It was Saint Mary’s Cathedral and this image is a painting within which was famous in its day.

Here worshipers gather at the front of the cathedral, decked out in their finery and going through their motions. Bishops and clergy are all up there strutting their stuff. But silently, at the back of the cathedral is a woman who is in grief at a terrible loss. She is poor and she is sobbing but she has her integrity intact even if not her life. And there Jesus is. Jesus is where the light is. The light of the Eucharist is evident from the high altar just as it is evident in the person of Jesus so present to this woman. The Painting is called “Presence.” When I saw it I collapsed against the wall and wept so deeply that a custodian asked if I needed help. Brought me a chair. War to find a minister. I escaped before they returned.

Today I am off into the old city of Edinburgh on a pilgrimage. It will be the first of many these next two weeks. I will hunt down the small cafe in which J. K. Rowling wrote her books while destitute, having been left by her husband to raise her children alone in a dank, dark, tiny hovel. She wrote in the cafe and the library across the street and the names of all the characters in her novels were real people’s names she harvested from the ancient graveyard behind the cafe. She is now one of the greatest philanthropists of Edinburgh.

We all suffer. We are all hurt and we all make stands which, though filed with deep integrity, cost us everything. But Jesus shows up. Jesus stands with enough light to show the way.

What I find the most amazing about this painting (and I know it to be true because this painting’s setting was indeed Saint Mary’s Cathedral – where it hangs and where I was seeing it) – what I find amazing is that this painting is painted to show the cathedral during mid-day. Cut off from natural light and natural beauty.

We must, all of us, remain aware and convinced that Jesus is with us, no matter what we are going through, Jesus is with us. Not just in bread and wine. Really with us, individually, without the mediation of priests and Bishops. WITH US.

One Reply to “Presence”

  1. You’re in the city I grew up in (though I’ve been in the US 32 years). I lived in Wester Coates (walking distance from Haymarket) and went to church and was married in St George’s West (sadly no longer used as a church) quite close to St Mary’s. But I’ve never seen that painting. Next time I’m there I’ll have to look for it.

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