When we first came to live on the Rotherhithe Peninsula our only connection with the outside world was the P11 which occasionally turned up at the windswept bus stop before wobbling off into the mist rolling off the Thames and heading down to join civilisation. Over the last twenty and more years, the transport links have improved so that no longer do we live in a backwater left off the A-Z: the P11 has been replaced by the 381 and joined by many others all with their own journey and story to tell.
Last week I boarded the C10 at our nearest bus stop on its way upstream to Lambeth Palace, where it conveniently stops outside the main gates, for an almost-once in a life time experience: the Daisosho - that's the 15th Grand Master of the Japanese Way of Tea - was visiting to make a cup of Tea, in the Archbishop of Canterbury's private chapel. He was last in Europe 6 years ago, when we all travelled to Rome where he made a cup of Tea for peace in a huge Catholic church. Of course I was there, but the journey was nowhere near as easy as this C10 excursion.
Lambeth Palace stands on the south side of the Thames, facing the Palace of Westminster, aka the Houses of Parliament. From the bus window it doesn't look much, lacking all that pomp and circumstance of the neo-Gothic facade across the river, and that grandiose scale of many of the churches of Rome. Do not let that deceive you: it doesn't need it. The presence created by continuous daily worship here for over 1000 years has built its serenity and glory without the need for overt display. It's understated, simple, almost homely.
The private chapel, scene of our Evening Prayers, is intimate and pervaded with its daily functional use as a place of worship and reflection. It doesn't stand on ceremony for high days and holidays; oh no this is the engine room of Christian spirituality. The kneeler in front of me was still indented from prayers, probably earlier that morning. Entering in, past the large bowl of sacred water with which to touch my brow, was to come into another world, a far cry from the tooting of the bus pulling out from the stop outside. Suddenly I was reconnected with other buildings which have touched my soul: a tiny little church in the rolling South Downs, the Golden Temple in Amritsar, a stone circle in the wilds of Wessex, Notre Dame in Paris, and many more.
When sacred music is sacred and echoes around such spiritually integral buildings it is sublime. The ethereal notes resonate beyond the limits of space and time, form and substance. They unite. What joy must surely fill the Archbishop on hearing such beauty daily! I have always loved the service of Evening Prayers; this though was a treat beyond my highest expectations. Whoever chose the service could not have been more thoughtful in how to honour such a dignified guest as the Daisosho. The prayers started with "That this evening may be holy, good and peaceful, let us pray with one heart and one mind." which is essence of Chado, the Way of Tea, which the Daisosho not so much represents but embodies.
The Archbishop of Canterbury's Homily was one of the most powerful sermons I've heard delivered (and believe me, in all my schooling I heard a lot, an awful lot). He spoke of compassion and generosity without a state of anxiety which are what Tea represent. It was so on point that I realised that it could only be coming from his heart, not from some speeechwriter's well-researched pen.
As the service drew to a close, and the stained glass windows were no longer being lit from the setting sun, the Daisosho made a cup of Tea to offer for peace. The chapel already stilled to silence from the service assumed a new dimension of containment. We were witnessing the four tenets of Tea in action: purity, harmony, tranquility and respect which are, when all's said, and all's done, what unites us all, whatever route we've taken to get here. In the context of the small silver cross behind the altar, it reminded me so much of the celebration of the Eucharist. The Daisosho offered up the tea before placing it on the altar by lifting up the bowl and moving it in a circular motion in front of him just as Swamiji does every evening at Rishikesh, on the banks of the Ganges, with the utensils and blazing candles for Aarti, Hindu Prayers. The dimming light outside at just the moment of transition and offering always happens too each evening at the Golden Temple in Amritsar. This was an experience beyond words, beyond silence, beyond gesture.
The Daisosho's London visit is part of his tour to celebrate his 88th birthday, a highly auspicious occasion in Japanese Culture, by visiting his family around the world. The ease with which he moves and the radiance with which he shines are testament to what ease, generosity of spirit and compassion a life in Tea can bring. The flexibility of his deep bow in front of the altar was a great example on a physical level of how Tea does indeed involve the whole body, mind and spirit. I rather wonder if Rowan Williams will not start to do a little more stretching with his morning prayers to achieve the same effect in his own later years. I do know from the warmth expressed between the two of them at the reception afterwards, how deeply what we had just witnessed touched him, and us. It is that common unity, which creates a global community built of being at one with each other. Isn't that the definition of peace?