The 5th day of our England trip began with excellent weather conditions in the morning. We decided to enjoy it more by taking a short city walking tour to the British Museum, our first destination of the day. The view of Regent’s Park as we went through on a sunny day was extraordinary. Excuse my inability to describe such gentle beauty, yet I have to say, although New Yorkers might be proud of having Central Park as their peaceful reserve in the metropolitan area, Regent’s Park does a better job fitting into the elegant atmosphere of Central London — maybe it is just my stereotype against the noisy and crowded aspect of Manhattan.
The visit to the British Museum was a little bit disappointing, from my personal point of view. The closure of exhibition rooms holding Chinese artifacts due to maintenance was a big bummer since I had a high expectations of seeing them. The theme exhibition about the Enlightenment also failed to surprise me; the imposing George III’s study was a lure, while the collection there seemed to lack a sense of consistency. But at least the exhibitions of British watercolor works and Mesopotamian artifacts were as good as expected.
What amazed me most today was the visit to St. Paul’s Cathedral. The sophisticated Baroque style interior conferred by reconstruction in the 17th century after the Great Fire of 1665, made St. Paul’s one of the most beautiful and magnificent churches I have ever seen. Climbing up hundreds of steps to the famous Whispering Gallery in the dome, I could easily see the complete view of the church. One interesting fact about Whispering Gallery is that the round wall was built so perfectly that one can hear the words from the person that is on the other side of the gallery as the voice traveled around the wall. Unfortunately, there were too visitors up there so our attempt was unsuccessful.
Attending Evensong service at St. Paul’s was a very unique experience. The purifying voice of the choir and the powerful biblical words from the minister was quite touching for me, leading me to more consideration about religions. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I have never been a believer of any religion, though I always admire people that are able to repose their faith thoroughly in an ideology. Believers find nourishment for their soul and motivation for their physical existence through religious activities, while I am still bothered by the secular reasons that involve more empirical explanation of the world. But again, religion, just like science, philosophy, or other studies, started as an attempt to have deeper understanding about us and the surrounding world. The holy melodies presented here were just part of the results of such attempt.
Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? When I walked out of St. Paul’s Cathedral and looked up at the night sky, these most asked questions rose again in my mind, perhaps like what must have happened to those great prophets thousands of years ago. Certainly there are no universally accepted answers to these questions, yet religious services such as Evensong at least provide encouragement for confused souls and opens the door to a deeper reflection about human existence.