Those of you who know me, know I took a trip awhile back to several different countries – Brazil, the United Kingdom, Tanzania, China and Honduras for an casual observation of Christianity around the globe. One of the highlights of my stay was visiting London and getting to see St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Today, St. Paul’s is nearly hidden in the city’s financial district, as modern London has grown up around it during the years and now threatens to squash it.
An Anglican cathedral, the St. Paul’s of modern times is actually the fifth St. Paul’s constructed on its spot. While it was created in 604, it burned down in 675. The cathedral was struck by Vikings in 961, burnt again down in 1087, was struck by lightning and decay in the 1500s and finally, was almost totally charred by the Great Fire of London in 1666.
When I think of St. Paul’s, it brings back memories of a childhood favorite, Mary Poppins, in Jane and Michael’s nursery singing “Feed the Birds.” In the movie, Michael is given tuppence and wants to use it to feed the birds on the steps of St. Paul’s. However his father, a banker, will have none of it, wanting Michael to invest his money properly. There is a musical scene where the bankers dance around the bank, ultimately frightening the children and causing a run on the bank.
While there is no bird woman on the steps to give your money to, I was delighted to learn that the British existence of tuppence and the birds of St. Paul’s are not a myth. They are still there, swarming the steps and making a mess of just about hard surface they encounter. In fact, I might have been the only one on the steps of St. Paul’s that day who was enamored with the birds, as they seemed to be annoying everyone else.
Visiting St. Paul’s motivated me to go back and watch the movie, which was just as good as I remembered. I watched the lullaby scene in the nursery with new interest, no longer afraid to keep my eyes open in case Mary Poppins decided to hypnotize me through the television. After seeing St. Paul’s, I had a new appreciation for what the birds represent.
In a concrete jungle of buildings and statues and alleyways, St. Paul’s is a hidden treasure, and the birds its faithful congregants. The interior dome of St. Paul’s is brilliant but dizzying to the eye, as one is not used to looking directly up 15 stories at curved architecture. An estimated 260 steps will take you to the interior of the dome, called the Whispering Galley, due to the ability for one person to whisper into the wall at any point and be heard at any other point along the wall – even the opposite side.
The inside is filled with crypts and monuments, plaques and donations on the inside of the cathedral. And as impressive as all that is, what I will always remember about St. Paul’s was on the outside. The messy, humming throng of birds – helpless, directionless, even pitiful.
I think I agree with Michael Banks.
Perhaps, in a world of complex theories and theology, we are missing the obvious. Maybe all Christ wants us to do is “feed the birds.”