ON MONDAY, I was fortunate enough to attend the 800th anniversary service of the founding of Salisbury Cathedral. Back in 1220, the original foundation stone of the new cathedral was laid, following the decision of Bishop Richard Poore to relocate from Old Sarum. The 2020 service saw a new Foundation Stone being unveiled by Prince Charles and dedicated by the current Bishop of Salisbury.

In normal times, the service would have been one of noisy celebration. But as with so many anniversaries in 2020, circumstances demanded a different way of doing things. There were barely 100 people in the congregation, each of us spread in socially distanced rows of single seats, participants in some strange game of musical chairs.

That human instinct for communication was curtailed – I saw people I hadn’t seen for months but was only able to observe from a distance. During the service itself, there was no singing from the congregation, prayers being mumbled from behind masks. But despite those restrictions, it remained a moving, affecting experience. The Dean, Nicholas Papadopulos, gave an eloquent and erudite homily, affording the occasion the sense of history it deserved. Eight hundred years is a substantial sweep of time. Back when the cathedral was being built, the Islamic Golden Age was still glowing and Kubla Khan had plans for a stately pleasure dome in Xanadu. Ordinary life was very different: everyday items such as eyeglasses, buttons and chimneys were in the process of becoming commonplace. Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Shakespeare were all still centuries in the future. Harold Wilson once observed that a week is a long time in politics. But in the grand scheme of things, a week is the blinking of an eye. Even the cathedral’s foundation stone is a relative newcomer compared to the stone circle a few miles north on Salisbury Plain.

With the pressures of modern living, and particularly in this year of years, it’s easy to get lost in the minutiae of the here and now. Getting through the month, or surviving until the end of the week feels challenge enough: as the song has it, you’re stuck inside a moment that you can’t get out of.

If, like me, you spend a good portion of your working week staring at a screen, then you’ll know the importance of getting out and about, finding space to take in a landscape view. Stretching the eyes is good, not just for your vision, but for the soul as well. Sitting in Salisbury Cathedral, it struck me that thinking in a similarly widescreen way about time is something we don’t do enough. By making time for time, we can help those moments we’re stuck in to become unstuck.