Do you remember, almost a year ago, we had an Ancient and Modern lunch? We welcomed Emily (modem) to our community, and we celebrated 25 years since I (ancient) was ordained priest. Very kindly you contributed to a gift to me which consisted of vouchers for my family to visit The View from the Shard, London’s highest building. And so it came to pass that on Sunday June 7th 2015, eleven of us (Pauline and I, three sons and their wives/partners and three grandchildren) met up at the entrance to this amazing glass building right next to London Bridge station.
After security checks on our bags (filled with our packed lunches which we would have later) we entered the first lift. This takes you up to floor 34, and then you change to a second lift that takes you to floor 68. We emerged on to a carpeted floor surrounded by glass. It was a sunny day with very good visibility. To the west we could almost see the planes touching down at Heath Row, and to the east the River Thames winding its way through the Thames Barrier, past City Airport, and on towards Tilbury; to the north and south the suburbs of London. Nearer to us, it was fascinating to look down and see how the city had developed over the centuries from its small beginnings, focused on Ludgate Hill (St Paul’s) and Tower Hill (the Tower of London). We tried to pick out all the features of London that most of us know at ground level but rarely see from above. After taking lots of pictures and having our picture taken for a souvenir, we walked beside the river to a grassy spot next to Tower Bridge where we had our picnic. There was a final surprise as one of our number had found out that Tower Bridge was due to open at about 3.00pm. So an old Thames barge was duly allowed into the pool of London next to HMS Belfast. Soon it was time to find our way home after a memorable day, especially as it had been possible to be with all the family, a rare event these days!!
Later on, I found myself reflecting not so much on the experience of that day than of The Shard itself. On the way there I had asked my grandson (11yrs) what a ‘shard’ is. Rightly he replied that it is a piece of broken glass. It certainly looks like an elegant, slender piece of broken glass towering above all else. I had last seen The Shard on another memorable day when we visited that amazing display of poppies in the moat of the Tower of London. I reflected that the Shard was saying something about new life coming out of brokenness, a theme that we have often returned to in recent months with the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. So the Shard becomes a monument that the hopes felt by those who lived in the post-war years had to a degree been fulfilled, at least with 70 years of peace and a standard of living far higher than we could have imagined then. But, as the Bible reminds us “hope that is seen is not hope” (Romans 8:24). There is still much to do to mend the brokenness of our world, to fulfill the hopes of the broken. So the Shard lifts up our eyes, like the spire of a church, to remind us that there is a God whom we need to trust to see our hopes fulfilled, whatever our needs may be.
But a remark from a member of the family when we had come down prompted another reflection. The remark came as a slightly teasing question to me as a priest, and it was also Sunday. “Nearer to God?” That reminded me of the hymn that was being played by the orchestra as the Titanic sank “Nearer my God to thee, nearer to thee ………………………………… ” In turn I was reminded of that Old Testament story where the people had one language and sufficient prosperity to build a city and a tower. They built it so high as to reach heaven because they thought to make a name for themselves by reaching God through their own efforts. God thwarts their endeavours by confusing their language — a happening that was undone on the day of Pentecost when they could all understand one another whatever their language.
The vision of Irvine Sellar, the owner of the Shard, was “TO CREATE AN ARCHITECTURALLY STRIKING VERTICAL CITY INCORPORATING RETAIL, OFFICES, HOTEL, APARTMENTS, RESTAURANTS AND A PUBLIC VIEWING GALLERY.”
I am sure his vision has been largely realised. But would the people of Genesis have had a similar vision for their Tower of Babel? What might be the consequences if we put our trust too much in economic prosperity, materialism and scientific knowledge, enhancing the pretense that we have no need of God? And what might God have to say about that?
Visiting the Shard was a great experience — thank you. If you go I hope you enjoy it too. And I hope it will continue to make you think.