“Thou art there within the cloud
to challenge us to love.
Show to us the glory in the grey.
Awake for us Thy presence in the very storm
till all our joys are seen as Thee
and all our trivial tasks emerge as priestly sacraments
in the universal temple of Thy love.”
–A portion of a prayer from the Iona Community
A few Sunday evenings ago, I participated in a Celtic Eucharist at Church of the Ascension, Knoxville. The nave at Ascension was marked that evening with a deep sense of silence and candlelight that gave the strongest illumination present as early evening approached.
I was asked to offer a homily. The evening had space for silence, prayer, music, Eucharist and for the collective silent prayers of the gathered to speak. It was a deeply moving and prayerful time.
Included in the evening was a poem/prayer that spoke of “the glory in the grey.” I had never heard the phrase before. Now, I can’t stop not hearing it. Whenever I have thought of Celtic liturgies, my mind goes to Iona, to those “thin” places where heaven and earth draw very close to each other. So many thin places also might be thought of as places of deep physical beauty. Now, as cooler temperatures are finally returning to East Tennessee, the sky at nightfall in our region is witnessing to us that God’s beauty is found in these holy hills. So, our home places are also “thin” places, places where heaven and earth draw close. These extraordinary mountains express a sacramental quality to them, as God’s revelation is seen in the earth and sky before us.
But it is not simply the places that are beautiful that hold sacramental significance. “The glory in the grey,” the places where we might not expect to find beauty can also hold God’s grace and mercy and joy—hard won but granted all the same. The ER visit on Friday night is not recommended to tourists when they arrive at local visitor centers, yet God’s spirit, God’s glory is found there, too.
I hope Ascension will offer the Celtic Eucharist again. I hope the candlelight, the silence, the music, will help us pray more deeply, more honestly. The nave there, like so many naves in our East Tennessee parishes, inspires belief simply with its beauty. But I also hope I will remember that God also made the grey, the forgotten places, the hardship behind the hospital door.
There, in the grey, God challenges us to love.