Today - August 13th – the Church of England remembers someone you may well not have heard of: Jeremy Taylor.
Taylor (1613-67) was born in Cambridge (his father was a barber). He was baptized next door at Holy Trinity where his father was churchwarden. He went to the Perse, and then studied here, at Caius (though its Puritanism was not to his taste). He was a Chaplain to Charles I (one tradition places him in the King's company in the Tower immediately before Charles' execution), and a military chaplain in the English Civil War, after which he was imprisoned. He lived at a time that was marked, not only by political and social upheaval, but intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual change too. After the restoration of the monarchy he became a Bishop in Ireland. His turn of phrase is quite something: he has even been called 'the Shakespeare of divines'. He was deeply affected by pain and grief in his own life, enduring the loss of his first wife, and all of his five sons. Perhaps that is why his writing - and there is a great deal of it - is so authentic, and inspiring, rich in allusion and beauty. His descriptive powers are truly poetic.
One of the epithets attributed to him (much quoted by Michael Mayne) means a great deal to me:
There should be in the soul halls of space, avenues of leisure, and porticoes of silence, where God walks.
I have these words framed in my study, next to my desk: some of you have seen them there. When we feel over-heated (in every sense!), over-whelmed, or under-valued, this is sacred shade we would be wise to seek. If we can discover the spiritual halls, avenues, and porticoes that Taylor sought, and found, then there is a chance that our emotional and spiritual wounds can be healed.
It's lovely to think that Jeremy Taylor would have walked passed Great St Mary’s – and perhaps worshipped here sometimes – as a young man and student here. Lovely - but not as lovely as his words. Go on, read them again. Then, don’t just look at them on the page – translate them into your life. In these complicated, hot, and stressful times, here is a recipe to stay cool from a man who knew suffering, but was not crushed by it. A man who called Christ 'the brightness of God', and reflected his light.