In Cambridge, The Stars Shone A New Light On My Religion

I found my religion tucked between the spaces of the nighttime stars.

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Outside King’s College in Cambridge, England | Feb. 6, 2015

I first realized this while I was sitting under the receding lights from the stained glass windows and the flickering wax candles in King’s College Chapel. My friends and I had taken a day trip to Cambridge, the historic college town about 60 miles north of London.

It was 5:30 on a Friday afternoon and I was attending a church service. I wasn’t alone. About 25 other people — tourists I’m assuming — took the opportunity to sit in on this famed church for free.

As the all-male King’s College Choir sang a capella prayers, I craned my neck to see the intricacies of the building I was sitting in. The chapel was constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries — taking nearly 100 years to erect. Its stained glass windows were progressively turning gray as the sun outside went down. Yet I could still make out the familiar Bible stories that were illustrated on them. Most of them involved Jesus’ miracles.

As the church service went on, I found it more and more difficult to see. It was so dim in the chapel. My eyes strained to read the program in front of me. There was a call-and-response section, but I couldn’t respond to the call because I couldn’t read the words in front of me. So I sat back and listened.

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Inside the Bath Abbey in the city of Bath | Feb. 7, 2015

The choir’s words flowed through the church. Salvation. Mercy. Grace. The promises filled the whole chapel. And then my ears perked up.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, the choir sang.

Creator of Heaven and Earth,  they continued.

I flipped my program back and forth to try to find where the choir was reciting this from.

His only son, our Lord.

He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit.

I couldn’t find the section! Everyone around me just sat facing forward, choosing not to search but instead to just listen. But I couldn’t. These passages just felt too familiar.

He descended to the dead.

On the third day he rose again.

I racked my brain, trying to pinpoint where I had heard these phrases before. I didn’t think it was at my Baptist church back home in Evanston. Or the Apostolic Church of God, a mega-church in Chicago, I had attended previously before that.

No, it wasn’t there but I swear (oops, poor word choice) that I knew these words.

And then I heard myself whispering under my breath, I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins.

It was the Apostle’s Creed. A creed I had memorized at least eight years ago at my Lutheran middle school.

….the life everlasting.

Amen.

The choir sang one final song and then as silently as they had proceeded in, they glided out of the chapel. My friends and I stood up. We also filed out of the ornate chapel. I turn my phone back on — instinctively reconnecting with the 21st century — but first gazed up at the sky.

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A design on a mausoleum in Bath | Feb. 7, 2015

In those 45 minutes of being in the chapel the night had completely cast its darkness over the sky. And I could see stars. It reminded me of last year when I spent my spring break in rural Alabama and at night looked up and could see the Big Dipper. Unlike the big cities I was used to, my view of the stars were unobstructed by street lights or headlights.

I remember thinking, These were the same pattern of stars that my ancestors were guided by, towards their freedom. And when I looked up at the stars in England I knew they were the same stars, seen worldwide. They were the same stars that the people who built the chapel 600 years ago looked at. They were the same stars that King James VI gazed upon in 1604 when he commissioned the translation of the Bible into English.

Those stars witnessed the pivots in history that would bring me to this very moment, this  moment where I was standing in Cambridge in the same place that Alan Turing and Stephen Hawking and Winston Churchill once stood.

And now they were the stars I would see for years to come. I found my religion tucked between the spaces of the nighttime stars.

But for now, they are the stars still twinkling in my mind as I write down these thoughts for you to read.

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