‘Stone Altars’ (Part 1)

My beautiful wife to be had a dress fitting on a day that was inconvenient for her bridesmaids (our journey to getting married was littered with moments like these where all we had was each other and the love we shared to call on, and fight for). I accompanied her to Chichester where the dress shop was but owing to the role I had in her life – bridegroom – the forcefield around the shop wouldn’t let me near. I decided to spend the hour or so in Chichester Cathedral speaking to the only man I was certain – at the time – understood what I was going through.

If you’ve never been to Chichester Cathedral, I suggest you take the trip. In fact, I recommend a trip to any such Cathedral. The collision of art, religion, culture, power, wealth, and politics is both fascinating and awe inspiring. This however, wasn’t my reason for going. It was the closest church to the dress shop and I wasn’t in the mood for a coffee. That said, the magnitude of the edifice wasn’t lost on me. I wondered around it toward the front door, overwhelmed by the sense that if God did come to earth, he was certain to fit in a building so big and wouldn’t feel out of place (Glory and all) in a place so adorned and revered.

Quietly and slowly I walked up the small steps, forgetting the feeling of difference that had earlier occupied me as I walked through the town center (I get these bouts of insecurity whenever I feel like a minority – which happens a lot especially in the countryside). God had to be here, and he would give me reprieve from the worries of un-approving parents and friends.

Four pews in I turned, any further and I’d be within speaking distance of the priest – not what I was here for. I sat facing the altar, which seemed almost a mile away, and focused in on the silence; hoping for that ‘still small voice’. After a few minutes within which I failed to concentrate, distracted by the whispers carried down the great hall, and the silent footsteps I could feel around me, my thoughts cleared. It was as though I had been running through thick forest and suddenly had come upon a treeless landscape, just green grass as far as the eye could see. In the bliss of the moment, a sentence emerged.

I asked for your hearts, but you built these stone altars for yourselves

Then… silence again. Then the whispers. Then the footprints. Then the priest turned and began to walk towards my pew. Stereotypically, I put my hood on: it was time to leave.

Almost two years later, I haven’t fully understood – and graple with – the significance and meaning of that sentence. As I left the church I felt fairly convinced that it was a clear message to rebuke the sentiment I had that God lived in buildings such as the one I had been in. It was an open rebuke and, excited as I was, I was equally disturbed. The contradiction being that I had to walk into the building to hear/ see/ sense/ think the words I believed were relevant.

The connotations carried in the ‘for yourselves’ made me feel as though I should never set foot in a cathedral again. It convinced me that – and this may be true – the place for a Christian isn’t inside the building but outside it. Continually being a part of the Church (collective of Christians) while living and serving within the community. The building was unnecessary as love dwelt and poured out of the heart. The buildings felt unnecessary, almost tower of Babel-ish; a distraction from the deeper sense of conviction and relationship that meeting with a dynamic, living, kinetic God would bring.

I asked for your hearts, but you built these stone altars for yourselves

For the good that that line of thought did me, I had missed one crucial lesson which I only began to gather this week.


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