by Ruth Gee.
It was in February that the royal visit took place. When the first invitation arrived, I knew only that there was to be a special event, no details were given. Much nearer the time, the official invitation arrived; the Prince of Wales was to attend a concert in Durham Cathedral. With the invitation came instructions: the time to arrive, the dress code and the prohibition on taking bags into the Cathedral. Colour coded invitations ensured that we would all be in our proper place and I turned up correctly dressed, without handbag, in good time. We were warmly welcomed into the cathedral and I took my seat and waited expectantly.
The choirs and orchestra were composed of young people and they were rehearsing for the big event. I enjoyed listening to them and looking out for people I recognised while chatting to the new acquaintance sitting next to me.
After a time the special guests arrived and were directed to the front. Expectation grew and at the appointed signal we all stood. Words of welcome were spoken and the concert began.
I assumed the prince of Wales had joined us, though I had not seen him and still could not do so. If he had arrived he had come in at the front and there were a lot of people between him and me, but he had been welcomed and there was some evidence of the royal presence.
The concert was in process, it was beautiful and this time there were no pauses or repeats of particular sections of the music, it was obviously the real performance for the prince.
On my left, I saw two men with radios, they were not looking at, or listening to the performers but they looked at the rest of us and walked up and down the side aisles. One of the men had a camel coloured coat over his arm: I had seen the prince wear one like that.
The concert ended and still there was no sight of the prince but some-one was talking to the young performers and they were responding, there was much laughter, clearly they were enjoying this encounter. They felt valued and affirmed.
Then we stood again and some people walked quickly past me down the central aisle and towards the exit – I thought I glimpsed Prince Charles.
Hints and glimpses, the promise of a royal presence and other people’s reactions, this was my experience that day.
I have since thought that this has also been my experience of the presence of God. There are places and times when I expect to be in the presence of God, but I don’t always see God clearly. I pick up hints that God is among us because of the words and actions of others. The more often I put myself in those places where I can focus on God, the more easily I pick up the signs of divine presence.
I meet God in some of the most unexpected places as others are touched by the warmth of God’s love or encouraged because they have been noticed, appreciated and valued. I am reminded of God’s love and justice by the actions and words of others or by their inaction and omissions.
Just occasionally I glimpse the glory of God more clearly as God passes by, just as Jesus passed by the boat on the Sea of Galilee and as the glory of God passed by Moses on Mount Sinai.
The first time I ever saw Prince Charles many years ago, he was walking with friends in a wood in Wiltshire. We met on a wide path and he disappeared to one side very quickly and his hosts, who knew my parents, spoke with us for a few minutes (it was their wood). I only knew the prince had been there because my parents told me. I was reminded of that glimpse when I was in Durham. I was also reminded that people often only come to recognise the presence of God with them if we first draw their attention to it and we can only do that if we become so familiar with God that we recognise God’s presence even in the most surprising places.
Mary recognised the risen Christ when she heard a familiar voice speak her name, the two disciples recognised him in the breaking of the bread and Thomas was convinced by the sight and feel of his wounds. God is with us and we have seen his glory.