We recently visited the two Liverpool Cathedrals, the Anglican and the Roman Catholic . I have seen both before and enjoy being there. In the past I have always favoured the Catholic cathedral, finding the Anglican one too intimidating. I dislike places-or people- where I feel ” put in my place”. (This usually means that I feel small and unimportant- “a worm and no man”, as the Psalmist puts it.It is usually done by people who themselves feel unimportant or overlooked. I do wonder about the mentality behind the increasingly tall buildings going up around the world. What statement is being made?)
What I usually enjoy about the Catholic cathedral is its relative intimacy. Along with the art work and the fact that it is in the round, thus diminishing some of the traditional hierarchical structures that often prevail. In religious language it is the difference between the Immanence of God and the Transcendence. The maternal and paternal aspects of God.This element being mediated by our own experience of our parents.
This time, however, my experience was reversed. We visited the Anglican cathedral first and went up to the top of the tower, looking out over Liverpool.My wife and our friends spent much longer at this than me. I gave up after one walk round and came back to the main cathedral. I stood in the transept and found myself feeling unusually “held” in this space. Whether that was in contrast to the huge city scape I had just been seeing or a response to the space itself, I am unsure. Simply that I was in no hurry to leave it.
Later in the day we went to the Catholic cathedral, which I was looking forward to visiting. We went up the steps and went in. I quickly found that it felt emptier than I had remembered it being. I was quite unprepared for this reaction- and a little disappointed. I spent a quarter of an hour walking round, trying to find the “magic” that was usually thee for me. But no magic appeared and we left.
I wondered about this experience of absence-and presence. And its reversal. Finding what I had not expected. And not finding what I had expected. The psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott offers the idea of potential space. He suggest that that the place where the baby and the breast meet is a shared space that is not the property of either mother or baby. Rather it is a shared space. “From birth, ” he writes, “… the human being is concerned with the problem of the relationship between what is objectively perceived and what is objectively conceived of, and in the solution of this problem there is no health for the individual who has not been started off well enough by the mother.” (Playing and Reality 1971)