This morning’s post in the series Easter is Coming: What Do We Hunger and Thirst For? is by Greg Valerio. Greg is a follower of Jesus and explorer of Columban Spirituality. He is a co-founder of the Contemplative Network (https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Contemplative-Network/) and is currently studying an MA in Celtic Christianity at Trinity St Davids University of Wales. His day job is as a Jeweller and Activist and one of the principle architects of Fairtrade Gold. He is the Founder of CRED Jewellery (www.credjewellery.com) and co-founder of Fair Jewellery Action (www.fairjewelry.org) and advocates for human rights and environmental justice.
Alongside Ruth (wife) and Mali and Jemba (children) they aim to enshrine a lifestyle of voluntary simplicity and activism in both the local community and the wider world. He describes himself as a ‘Contemplative Activist’.
“Monsieur, L’église est fermée”, said the old man as I wondered round the Sint-Niklaaskerk (Church of St Nicholas) in Ghent St Pierre in Belgium at 9 am. An hour I did not think was particularly excessive.
I am currently in Belgium for three days contributing to a series of talks and presentations on the ethics, (or lack thereof), in the gold business. I try where ever possible to maintain a rhythm of morning prayer. Ghent St Pierre, is a beautiful Renaissance City so a morning stroll through the town to the local Church seemed in order.
At this point an old lady, who was busy brushing down the altar turned to me and in a sweetest English accent said “The Church is always closed”.
So welcome to my morning meditation. The Church is always closed. I despair. I was not even sad about it, I was furious. How the fuck can the Church be closed? No wonder the state of the community of Christ is in such a trauma across western Europe with a practice like that.
The sweet old lady informed me that they had just finished mass, and I could come back at 10 am when the Church opened for tourists. I explained I was not a tourist and I wanted to find somewhere to pray. She was clearly perplexed by my reply as I also indicated I would like to take part in mass. “You cannot do that”, she said “we have finished, you should have got up earlier”. The old man repeated I should leave as the “L’église est fermée”.
With these words ringing in my ear, I wandered further up the road to St Bavo’s Cathedral, the home of The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb by Hubert and Jan van Eyck. As I prayed in front of this iconic painting, the anger of a closed Church burned in my head. The deception of a philosophy of Christendom as a twisted witness to the authentic Jesus of Nazareth came into sharp focus for me. My anger began to give way to the grace of tears as the realisation that with the collapse of Western Christendom almost complete, I am free to enjoy these ecclesiastical art galleries, as the Cathedral of Christ can only be found in creation.
The post Christendom landscape of Europe presents us with a wonderful opportunity to find the real witness to Jesus, without the baggage of religious ideology fused with State patronage. The doors of Christendom’s buildings may be closed, but the community of Christ is open. Is open to imagination, open to opportunity, open to encounter and open to a rediscovery of ancient pathways made new.
In the build up, during lent, to our Celtic Easter celebration on 15 April, I am conscious this is where I am, in the landscape of re-imagining. Walking an ancient indigenous British path, rediscovering its rhythm of practice, learning to walk under the sun of the Son. The Monastic Church of the British Isles, a distant memory to the contemporary Church, is awakening again. A Monastic Church that in the fire of its youth, did not swallow the lie of the Emperor Constantine’s settlement of Christianity as the religion of the empire.
As I stared at the Mystic Lamb upon the sacrificial altar in the Van Eyck painting, I could see the early Churches emphasis on the redemptive sacrifice of Christ, the helpless lamb, led to the slaughter, a willing sacrifice for the horrors of humanities cosmic error. This willing submission to powerlessness and service as authentic witness is the road on which the true disciple walks. My prayer is that I will have the courage to keep walking.