Although I’m converted to the belief that clearing clutter can radically transform your life, my house offers scant proof. Like Christian Scientists who re-read the writings of Mary Baker Eddy to keep themselves invigorated and true, I study Clear Your Clutter every six months just to find a surface.

Paper clutter is condemned utterly and I’ve religiously tossed out magazines, newspapers, old wedding invitations and school reports. So it’s amazing that the Order of Service for the Installation of the 81st Dean of Lincoln Cathedral, May 12, 1989, has survived. That ceremony ignited a period of intense turbulence: a zealous and fiery dean in battle with a liberal and dogged sub-dean. My only reason for keeping this record is the inscription inside to Saint Hugh who rebuilt the cathedral after the earthquake in 1185. It begins:

Hugh

Trained to not feel cold & hunger

To see the King in the Beggar

To see the Beggar in the King…

To laugh spiritual laughter…

To call the bluff of false reverence…

To reconcile with ready wit…

To be cool at a showdown &

At the showdown of death to see Heaven.

It’s longer than that and I’ve never tracked down who wrote it, but my reunions with St Hugh meant that when I received my invitation to the Installation and Seating of the Reverend Doctor Samuel Thames Lloyd III as ninth dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, I wasn’t thrown by the word ‘Installation’, merely wary. I couldn’t shake off the memory of huge and sad divisions that I associate with the dean’s job.

Sam Lloyd, husband of my beloved cousin Marguerite, is an unusual man of God for these times. With a PhD in English literature-he wrote his doctoral thesis on the poetry of Robert Penn Warren-he brings literary order and grace to his sermons. Maybe it’s his love of literature-as well as living with two teenagers, daughter Cooper, 17, and son Gabriel, 15-but Sam, to a rare degree, lives a complete and rounded existence, all the better for healing divisions.

And the installation a few weeks ago in that magnificent and youngest of cathedrals was grand and beautiful. As Sam wryly put it: ‘Welcome to the world of cathedrals . . . which by nature do things grandly and beautifully, offering an experience of God and the things of God that stretch our imaginations and beggar our words.’

Not a lover of pomp and ceremony, Sam believes the National Cathedral, where presidents are regularly blessed and occasionally mourned, is called to be a place of reconciliation. Washington is now more divided-economically, racially and politically-than ever. Even the Episcopal Church is also painfully fractured.

The cathedralist in me sat in a stained-glass trance, filled with a sense of sacred space. The secular me chewed over an article I’d read in Harper’s: 30 million members of the Association of Evangelicals, one quarter of America’s eligible voters, were all urged (strongly) to vote for Bush.

With perfect clarity and poetry, Sam calls for a generous-spirited Christianity, the cathedral as a place of reconciliation and healing. Listening to this cousin-by-marriage makes me feel like a member of the wedding. I’m not sure I’ll make it down the aisle of forgiveness-the power of the fundamentalists and evangelicals scare me stiff-but I understand what the new dean is saying: we must clear our clutter and make room in our minds for one another.

This article first appeared in Country Life magazine on May 26, 2005.