‘Stone altars’ (Part 3)

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

A strange nervousness and anxiety began to take hold of me the closer we got to London. My wife and I had spent the morning in Gloucestershire celebrating our God-daughter’s first birthday party. It had been an early drive and my nervousness had ensured that I volunteered to do both legs of the journey – to and from Stonehouse: I needed some sense of control in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the, and I thought at the time, unnecessary excitement. Each mile that I conquered seemed to amplify the rumble at the pit of my stomach, increasing the thump of my heart while drawing it closer to my throat. I couldn’t admit the extent of my turmoil to my wife, but rather soldiered on: if I crumbled now, we might not make it to the Cathedral.

Slowly the roads got busier and so did the frequency of buildings and traffic signals. It seemed as though the 100 miles or so between the beautiful young lady and the huge edifice – concealed by its modern counterparts – had sailed by. Right onto the A501 – Southampton Row, then Kingsway. Left onto Fleet Street by Bush House. I finally convinced my wife to turn off the satnav, I knew very well where we were and the most important thing then was providence: we needed to park.

There had been a bit of a rush added to the journey as, unbeknown to me until the night before – as always – I had to be at the Cathedral an hour and a half before the service to rehearse. This meant leaving the party early and putting my foot down for most of the trip. Had we been aiming for 7pm, the day would’ve been less stressful and – maybe – the journey less anxious.

She – the Edifice – pushed the rest of the quite tall building aside and lay the skirting of her dress around the space she had made. Standing tall she proclaimed her majesty and magnificence, highlighting the exquisite stonework in the pillars that held her court. We drove round, I in awe again, and were lucky to find parking on Paternoster Row. In haste we made our way toward the nearest tea place in order to sit and top up on caffein and food before going in – we had clawed back half hour which we intended to use ‘wisely’. Somewhere between parking and walking, I lost my appetite. The first tea place was full, and so was Starbucks. The cafe inside the Cathedral Crypt was also closing. M&S was our only hope.

As we emerged from the crypt, at whose doors a well built gentleman was ushering patron’s out, we spotted Azariah – my presenting Clergy and friend. He had his robes in the bag he carried. Unnervingly for me, he seemed aware of the depth of my anxiety – at least it seemed to me he did; with a hand on my shoulder he silently said what was needed to cement my walls of self assurance until the next onslaught. I downed the mango, pineapple, and passionfruit smoothie he bought me in one go and followed the calmer two, my wife and the vicar, into the Cathedral.

I had never been inside St Paul’s and almost expected pixie dust to fall. Following Azariah but keeping close to my wife, I gazed at the different works of art and genius that formed the inside of this beautiful monument (I do not use that word lightly: all connotations are apt methinks). He found my seat where my service order was waiting and after a few conversations with other candidates and clergy, I settled down for the rehearsal. (My wife must have been bored stiff).

Two things – that I retrospectively reflect on here – happened. The first was that I was placed beside a young lady who was due to be married. She hadn’t been baptized or confirmed and needed to be in order to marry in the church she was a part of. This was interesting as I wasn’t confirmed in the Church of England when I got married, a statement of the breadth within the Church. She had no idea what was about happen – I realized when I joked about the pool beneath the floor infront of us in which she would be dunked that nerves overcame her.

The second was the care with which the Chaplins and deacons took to prepare in order that the Bishop wouldn’t have any unpleasantries: their honest diligence was inspiring. Would I happily dedicate my life, and time, in the service of another man – He would have to be a great man (as it turned out this Bishop was).

After running through the important aspects of the liturgy with us, we were set free for the half hour or so before the service. The charm of the building had began to be lost on me. My nerves were vanishing quickly and the cocky side of me was slowly increasing the number of ill timed quips and jokes: my mind was beginning to disengage with the vows I was about to affirm.

The crowds began to gather outside the Cathedral where a fire had been lit by the vergers. I had been saying hello to the friends and family that had come along to the service in support and thus missed out on the prime spots. ‘How religious’ I thought when I saw the two lines of clergy in file along the steps from the Cathedral doors down to where the fire burned. Imagining the laughter of an athiest at the sight of the robes, and the Bishop’s hat, I chuckled – missing part of the reading; a nudge from my presenting Vicar and friend began to knock me back into the proceedings…

 

 

‘Stone Altars’ (Part 2)

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

I think the drive to be as irreligious as possible is in reaction to the deep sense of calling to serve within the church. I have been baptised and confirmed in the Catholic church, Baptised in the sea by an evangelical charismatic pentecostal church, and now am about to be confirmed in the Church of England. Stone altars eh?

PS: My Journey is a funny one. At times I feel like the Isrealites with Moses in the desert, knowing where Canaan is but feeling compelled to follow the pillar of smoke by day and the pillar of fire by night. My experiences in the various churches are a result of a distinct tug within the heart which my head and person knew not to dissobey. There has always been an overwhelming sense of direction which following has yielded a deep – identity forming – lesson. My father is a Catholic, my mother is an Anglican, and only recently understood my faith after spending what in hindsight seem to be malting seasons in the various churches.

So, the journey of selection for ordination training requires that I be confirmed in the Church of England by the Bishop. This meant that I will be confirmed by the Bishop of Kensington at St Paul’s Cathedral. This is due to happen this saturday at a service from 7pm.

Now… I hope the thoughts that follow make sense.

At the back of my mind was the idea of confirming your baptismal vows on easter saturday, which traditionally is a day of mourning as Jesus was in the grave that day. I didn’t dwell much on it though, recognising it as an other that I could ignore for the time being: life was proceeding, it was just another ceremony in another ‘stone altar’.

One of the requirements was that I hand wrote a testimony (Short blurb of my Journey to faith). Being efficient at missing details I didn’t see the instructions to do this until last friday: the letter was due on tuesday morning. After a weekend of procrastination and other responsibilities I found myself on monday night, having written what was neccesary, driving to St Paul’s. The sun was in the west, its light still keeping the sky a dark shade of blue. I’ve never enjoyed going into London – if anything was a ‘stone altar’, the city was. I am in love with open expanses and find busy streets and traffic jams really annoying. This night however, there was no traffic. The lights seemed to give way and so did the buses and taxi’s. It was as if the universe needed me to get to my destination on time.

Having left the Great Western Road, I turned onto Southampton Row, then onto Kingsway, and finally left onto Fleet street past the strand, totally oblivious of where I was and completely depending on google maps to guide me there. As I crept along something caught my attention at the road side. There was a man waiting by the zebra crossing, but none of the drivers were stopping to give him way. He distracted me enough that when I turned back to see the road ahead, there it was.

I recall reading William Wordworth’s account of Crossing the Alps in The Prelude where he speaks of the actual mountains being different from the ones in his imagination: they had ‘usurped upon a living thought’. Nowhere had this sentiment carried than here. Towering over the buildings infront of me was the iconic dome. I felt a deep sense of awe as I continued my approach. It was as though the breath within me had left. Slowly she skirted her way, separating herself from the buildings around her until ‘there’ she stood, bold and commanding: the Edifice.

After parking walking around it twice (trying to be Joshua like) I delivered the envelop and quickly left: I was due at a meeting within the next half hour.

Giles Fraiser, former canon chancellor of St Pauls, in a radio 4 program – which I listened to on my way home that night – spoke about the place of the Cathedral in today’s society. He said (or the sense I got from what he said was) that it gave the church and Christianity both presence and platform to become.

We are not the religious wing of the National trust

Jesus died on the cross and was buried, and rose from the dead because we couldn’t attain righteousness through religiosity. But why let history happen, why show us how to be religious. Far from just being a very effective way of understanding faith and the Divine, religion serves the same purpose: to give presence and platform for Christianity and the Church (the cloud of witnesses) to become.

Confirmation and Baptism are all about declaring faith to the world. So too are these buildings.

Yes! These ‘stone altars’ were for us. That doesn’t negate the call of God to the heart, neither does it negate the place and purpose of the platform. The quiet space that the building provides is important. The church can thrive and survive without it,however, that these edifices exist is – in a way – a good thing (and this is the thought I’m currently grappling with.)

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

I’m still dissatisfied with where the statement has left me but will continue to follow the pillar of smoke and fire, when it rises or rests.

Talitha Koum!

‘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.

God is frustrating. As creatures in his image we yearn for control thus making trust – or faith rather – difficult. The absurdity of prayer, its necessity, the frustration of unwanted responses – silence included – add to this difficulty. All we have is the hope that within the eternal scope, the completely wise allpowerful will be true to his promises of unconditional ans unflinching love.

Calling people to him, we musnt hide from the difficulty while marketing the hope. Keeping aware of our own pain makes us sensitive to the pai mm of others. Only then can we draw near to the cross together in gracious hope.

I celebrate muamba’s recovery but likewise mourn with the many whose pain has been rekindled and highlighted in its wake.

Good reflection.

Thanks

astoryoffailure

It’s been quite a while since I wrote on here. I have surprised myself with my silence. The truth is – the quiet has been a combination of two facts-of-life: 1. Busyness 2. Complete dearth of inspiration.

Work has been busy – for which I am deeply grateful. Life as a freelancer is constantly unpredictable and I am very happy to have an influx of work, which will keep me busy and out of trouble for a few weeks.

Mostly – and this I suspect is the “real” reason – I just haven’t felt inspired. Haven’t known what to write about. Haven’t felt that I had anything to say. Fleeting thoughts have crossed my mind but nothing has taken root.

Until today.

This morning, I went to church. It was a lovely service. On the whole. A guest speaker and lots of happy faces. All was going swimmingly. And then…

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Poetry 027: Gull

It baffled me to see gulls
this far in, away from the sea.
Probably as much as it did him
to see me – a man of colour –
this far from the metropolis.

I wonder whether
He thought it a hunger –
similar to that
of my winged counterparts –
that had led me to sing
Away from ‘home’,
and not the Love
Whose white hands I cling.

© Denis Adide 2012

Poetry 026: Fruit Picking

They were the hot summer days,
The ones we favored for picking.

She smiled whenever the idea came up,
It was possibly the only thing that I saw
Would light up her demeanor.
Excited she would dance, almost glide
Her way to the car and wait beside
The passenger door.
Her strides small and quick,
Making her hips swing and hair float.
She’d never gloat but it seemed
It was gentleness she gleaned from me
As I slowly, as was my pace,
Walked toward the door and
With a smile, opened it for her.

Those were the hot summer days
The ones we favored for picking.

Radio four would carry us there,
Away from the care of a crumbling exhaust
Or the sticky clutch.
She’d sat in silence as the seconds flew
Alongside the cascading landscape.
For she had said and knew,
That in those moments the roots
She dug and tended would –
After winter had come and gone
And spring had rained
and sun had shone – bear fruit.
She watched the world without a care
Staring through opposite windows.

Those were the hot summer days
The ones we favored for picking.

The warning light flashed and the gate
To the farm, a local favorite,
Slowly swung open as the heat
poured in through my window.
She fanned her face with paper,
One of the ‘just in case cards’
She usually stashed in her glove-box.
We exchanged smiles,
Her hand resting on my thigh
I quickly pulled my trouser legs
Down over my socks and steered.
The car – a present from her dad –
Obeyed.

Those were the hot summer days
The ones we favored for picking

Her hands, whose touch I often feel
Even her absence, softly caressed
The rose red cherries that hung
From the upper branches of the tree.
With her small feet pointed
She tiptoed and stole for me
The fruits she thought were sweet.
Her lips, watered with desire,
Wrapped around a raspberry
Soft pink blushes washing
Across her happy face as she ate
Free from, work and worry,
And almost free from me.

Those were the hot summer days
The ones we favored for picking

Her eyes spoke of days without end
Fires without ash
Or burning heat: just warmth.
Her smile spoke of receding pain,
Eroded by the warm soft rain
That fell upon our faces and hands
As we stood entwined: and sold.
Her heart, like mine, sang of hope;
Our hymn of a happiness bespoke,
Spread upon the grasses,
Glistening as the evening sun
Sat in and glowed.
I couldn’t have loved her more.

Those were the hot summer days
The ones we favored for picking.

© Denis Adide 2011

 

Poetry 025: Seasons of Migration

Musing on the Exotic unknown

Looking down her naked body
I’m struck by the contours,
Rising and falling like dunes
On this, my beautiful desert.
Golden from the sunshine,
Smooth from the warm infrequent rain.
Like a precious jewel, her body glistens
In the candlelight.

My once lost love was found
In the distinct, yet fading, border
Between her skin and mine.
Like the etchings of time
Plastered on the cold concrete floor
On which our feet slowly danced,
My banner nature dissipated,
Flowering beneath it, an expansive
Array of colors – unseen but felt
In the subtle caress of navels.
With my fingers I forget the rocks,
The crowded hills, the voices of ancestry,
And with the chains of an inexplicable love
Embrace her.

I dine to die, die to rise, and rise a’new!

© Denis Adide 2010

Broken to be shared

 

The sun beat thorough the windscreen keeping me awake while I waited in the parked car for the school bell to ring. I work with Children and had to supervise this particular child’s contact with his brother. On the radio, the last minutes of the Radio play ended followed by the news. Most of what was being reported was innocuous and breezed from ear to ear without registering. This until the story I will focus on for this rant-ish.

Two clergymen were arrested for allegedly assaulting a series of young men. I turned the radio off. Tears rolled down my cheeks.

Context

I had just come back from a weekend away ‘Exploring the call of God’. There had been teaching on ‘calling’ – that deep sense of a specific direction within which to pour our passion. Mine felt like it was to be in the church, working towards healing and reconciliation by building gracious communities.

The tears fell because I knew that dysfunctionality wasn’t something that few suffered. Something only experienced by the impoverished. It is, in fact, something that everyone must deal with. The bible says that ‘all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God’. There are no exemptions made for neither pope nor murderer. We all bear the scars of sin and sinfullness and are all in fact working out our salvation in attempting to lean on the Grace of God through Jesus.

The tears fell because I not only empathised with the young men who were allegedly assaulted, but also felt a deep sense of sorrow for the clergymen. We are all victims of sin. It wasn’t into a glowing beacon of perfection that I was being called to serve, it rather was, and is a collection of Fallible men whose hearts are directed toward good.

Depth

Jesus took the bread, and broke it. If he didn’t break it, it wouldn’t be shared. Here we see the Son of Man, who yielded himself to being broken: the bread of life, exemplifying the heart of God while teaching the solution to the human problem. None of us are whole. The more we attempt to deceive ourselves and others into believing that we are whole, the more we break them. When we do not accept out brokenness and share our pieces, we break others by taking from them. The opposite to service is abuse.

For a Christian, the core is Christ. So unless you break and share, you keep Christ hidden within and stifle light from shining, not only into your life, but into the life of others. It’s like putting a cup over a candle, with no oxygen to burn, the candle dies out. Do not harden your heart, be bold, be strong, be free and vulnerable, let Christ out and watch him pour in.

For the Church as an institution, accountability is key. What price is being paid for the lack of accountability between these two men and their fellows. Being called to serve is being called to break even further. To open your hands, and heart, and mind to those you serve. Knowing our weaknesses, and having them known, helps protect the vulnerable world we work with, but also us from temptations that the world presents. Acting out of fear, folds away the hands of love.

Confess your faults to one another, and pray for each other that you may be healed

James 5:16

I shed tears because I knew that the story would be told every half hour for the next day, portraying the church as an unsafe place and tarnishing the good work of many great friends: fathers, daughters, sons and sisters to whom the call to serve is received. It is for these, equally broken but diligent in love, servants that I wept, praying all the while that their work would not be stifled or undermined.

I wiped my cheeks with a growing determination and a prayer for continued humility within me. For that hope in Love to increase so that when the time did come – if God willed it – I wouldn’t shudder and hide.

Healing

The church is imperfect. It has imperfect people within it. It needs your accountability – so ask questions of it. It needs your input – so ask how you can help. Most of all it needs the same forgiveness it preaches. These three things will ensure it continues well in its work of healing, one person at a time.

 

Poetry 024: Snowdon

Today the sun shines
And I can see the roof
Of our solitary mount.

I kiss its merry heights,
Pivots for our memories
And joints for our delights.

I see the snow that
Like fresh water-lilies
Speaks of our love

The hillside meadows
Peppered with sheep
Like spots of time,

And in a daydream,
leap from the cliffs
And soar.

For that brief moment,
Heaven bows,
And I am not alone

The wind whispers in
Scents fresh, almost old,
Never forgotten,

And the little droplets
Ferried by the breeze
Soft upon my naked skin

Feel like a touch
Faint and free, almost cold,
Not forgotten

It’s like your warmth floats
With me, over the downs
Toward the open sea

From whose horizon
The assailing clouds rise
Barring me from the sunset.

When for night again,
You away, and I –
To silence – return

From the invisible hills,
With curtains drawn to sleep,
Missing you.

© Denis Adide 2010

 

“The Woman YOU put here”

The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.

I decided to catch up on BBC’s Question time this morning and abruptly stopped a second after David Starkey finished speaking. It is a mystery to my why the T.V channels insist on bringing him on their shows because for a historian, he seems out of touch with the many lessons that need learning from the scoured past. His comments on race during the London Riots were bad enough and I assumed that he would have learnt something from the backlash that followed. It was with attentive ears that I listened as he pigeon holed women as sentimental and irrational (how irrational of him.)

I tried to watch the rest of the show but couldn’t, the bee was disturbed and its buzz would would only be satisfied by the hammer of fingertips on keys so here.

Supremacy is one of the biggest problems humanity faces. it is this sense within us that we are completely without blemish, and should be so in all circumstances. It is the resistance to vulnerability and the root of negative pride (the kind that surpasses the honest sense of self worth). It is the same that resists repentance – by which I mean a changing of the mind as well as an acceptance of brokenness. I will delve further into the ramifications of this later.

The most crucial part of Adam’s response to God’s question about the forbidden fruit is not the part where he blames God for his wife (A thought worth developing on its own). It is the part where he admits to eating the fruit himself. In the moment that he blames his wife, Adam ceases to act out of love for her and quite selfishly dooms her to guilt while keeping himself elevated in his illusion of innocence. Now, whether you take this story as literal or not, it is clear to see this thread of selfishness across human history. The man declaring himself as superior instead of accepting his equal capacity for folly.

Someone once asked me what I thought of women in positions of leadership and authority. My response was to ask whether they would happily be led by a woman. If yes then I needn’t respond to the first question, and if no then he/she was proud. The testament that the women I know have given for their gender is extensive and the vast expanse of wise, intellectual, Spritiual, as well as sensitive, women keeps growing. Honestly speaking, I find their potential intimidating.

So what am I saying?

If we all stop trying to be superior to each other (As the devil attempted on God). We would find ourselves in a more open and honest space where in accountability we would lead each other by serving each other. Furthermore, we would help each other lead by serving each other, and thus make each other better leaders.

The seed that led Mr Starkey to make the comments he made is sowed in all of us. My apology is to the many women who have been belittled by the result of such thought. It is a sad fact that in this day, that we glorify as advanced, lessons haven’t been fully learnt that’d ensure greater equality between men and women.

Blessings.