‘What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.’
These lines were written more than a century ago as an antidote to the pace of modern life. I remember them running through my head as a child: a licence to stop and look, to take delight in the greenness of grass, or the sway of wind in the trees.
Many years later, I was being interviewed for a job in teacher training in Lincoln. Looking around uphill Lincoln, in the lee of its magnificent cathedral, I saw a small group ahead of me. A boy of about eight, hand in hand with two younger siblings, was standing and staring, transfixed by the building that soared into the sky above them. This little scene helped persuade me to take the job, and I spent thirteen years close to this great building. During that time, I worked with many school groups who visited Lincoln and spent time exploring the cathedral. We walked with one group slowly through the exchequer gate arch so that the floodlit cathedral, golden against the velvet blue of twilight, loomed up in front of them. The children, giddy with delight, cartwheeled on the grass in front of the west doors, and lay spreadeagled, gazing upwards in awe.
We took children into the choir to see the misericords, and would then sit down and just look. For ten minutes or more we let the silence seep into them as their necks craned and their eyes roved around the lofty vaulting, the intricate carving, the arches, the organ pipes… Children are natural observers and less imprisoned by time than adults. Yet they often lack opportunity to be still, to reflect and to focus deeply, so the belief grows that the young cannot concentrate for long, have a short attention span, and need constant entertainment.
Despite the thundering traffic, ours is a village that offers the chance to slow the pace of life, to observe the trees and the changing colours of autumn, and to sense the presence of the past. The parish church, our oldest building, is open to everyone every day. Young or old, churchgoer or not, we can stand and stare, gaze upwards in wonder and, for a moment, let time stand still.