‘Stone Altars’ (Part 4)

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

Under the spell of the Bishop’s hat, which towered above the crowds now gathered on the steps of the Cathedral, we listened as the canon read from the book of Moses the story of how God delivered and led the Israelites through the parted sea and away from the pursuing Egyptian army. He, the Bishop, then began the service and marched us – crowds and candidates – into the huge cathedral doors, stopping by the font where the waters waited. With vigor and verve, he blessed the water and began to baptize the candidates. Each name was spoken with a deep sense of passion and enthusiasm, this man celebrated each face the drops touched, pronouncing the blessings surrounding the choice to pass into death and emerge into life with Jesus – Him for whom we were gathered.

(It is an interesting thing, that the church chose to have baptisms and confirmations on easter Saturday. I will cover this in a further reflection. For now I must return to the issue at hand).

I was impressed by the manner in which regardless of the number of people being baptised, the Bishop’s enthusiasm and sense of privilege never waned. Once the baptisms were done, He invited the rest of us – the confirmation candidates – to renew our vows before God by symbolically drawing the cross upon our foreheads with the waters from the font. When this was done, he led the procession down to the front, underneath the great dome. Candles in hand we all sat – the crowds joining in the scramble for good seats.

Being on the first row, my confirmation came and went quite quickly – I’m certain there is still a lot of processing to take place of what went on within me during those brief moments, what you are getting here is what I have been able to digest so far and feel is relevant to the issue of stone altars. As I mentioned in the preceding post, I was privileged to have been sat next to a young lady who was being baptised and confirmed on the same day. It was an honour to explain some of the liturgy and symbolism to her and see the effect of her grasping the depth of the steps she was making, even sharing her first journey to taking holy communion. This, and the long list of names that – like me – were called up to be confirmed, gave the occasion a sense of grander that surpassed all sense of ego that had developed within: leading up to the service, I had grown to believe in the speciality of my place but seeing and feeling my name vanish into a list that seemed endless was humbling. It was at this that the statement rang again.

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

Yes, there was an altar made of stone (a hardening) that I had built for myself. Not to give God glory or even to lead me to a place where I could, but rather to keep myself in an elevated place. It was an altar well concealed in the sentiments of radicality and difference: in the desire to be set apart, to be distinctive. All these things in and of themselves aren’t bad, it is the secret edifice that they had allowed me to build without my noticing that made me shudder. As the names were called out, I realised that this vow that I was making wasn’t being done just by me. In fact, I was joining a whole host of people: becoming one of many. I was disturbed by the fact that I wanted the service to end quickly so I could go out and celebrate. The other names had began to make uncomfortable listening. The arrow to heart was the fact that for all his pomp and age, the Bishop remained enthusiastic about each name he read and blessed each one aloud and with such favour.

Skirted by a sense of self-righteousness masked in good intentions, I had erected my name, my reputation and adorned it with many things – words of affirmation, prophecy, and works, I had built myself into a tower overlooking the city so much so that in many ways I despised the Cathedral, trying to depose it.

A friend had asked me how our worship made God feel. This in an attempt to understand how to worship God in ‘Spirit and in truth’. My response was to say that our drive to worship shouldn’t be one that seeks to affect God, for he is suited in Glory already. Worship, and all it’s acts, were there as responses to God in all his splendour. This is right I think as it focuses our lenses onto the heart, which turned out to be the most important part of the sentence I heard.

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

The heart is the most important word in that line because it canvases everything else. If the heart is correct, then the pieces of bricked up stones cease to be altars for selfishness but tools for mission and service. God doesn’t need beautiful buildings in order to be glorious or reveal his Glory. Neither does he need the pomp and ceremony of religiosity to touch the heart. It is in the heart – like that which I saw displayed in the Bishop’s sense of privilege in service – that God dwells and affects hearts. The real cathedral was in the heart of the man serving within it.

When we attach a deeper Spiritual essence onto the bricks and mortar, and beautiful artwork, we elevate what is architecture into something that it isn’t. On the other hand, though it isn’t the house of God, it is the house of God’s people and where they are (two or three) there He is also. I had walked into Chichester Cathedral thinking that God would speak to “me” there because “I” had gone into “His house”. I forgot that he could speak to me at any point and at any time thus the rebuke I think (and the rebuke was word from God spoken to me – I believe – inside the Cathedral: chew on that).

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

I come from a continent that isn’t adorned with many cathedrals and churches. The church there is very much carried within its people. The many Church buildings that Britain, and Europe, are blessed to have are, and will always be reflections of the people within the church. They carry the sense within us of God’s grandure and hospitality but can be stumbling blocks to the development of faith within the heart. Like the dinner table for sunday roast, or Christmas meals, or Easter turkey, these spaces provide avenues for us to celebrate with each other the deep sense of hope that our faith gives us. It gives us space to share that hope with guests to our family. These things however, like the faith, do not require the space the buildings provide in order to be done – as I have experienced in Africa and is documented in many places. God is preached on streets, in homes, in fields and felt in hearts.

We cannot escape the privilege however of having these beautiful buildings and must, like Peter and the boat, cease to see them as means of surviving on the water but rather tools from which to preach the possibility of walking with Christ. We can only do this once we, internally turn our eyes heavenward, and not to fresco’s and domes. Remembering out own brokenness and folly in repentance (destroying the architecture in our hearts that keeps us from humility). Only then can we respond to the call the heart in true worship.

I was reduced to tears after sharing the peace with my family and friends who had journeyed to take part in the service with me. The joy they had in their eyes, having watched what had taken place, humbled me. It reminded me of the call to serve and invigorated me with a passion for them. It was their eyes, handshakes, hearts, and hugs that broke the bricks that supported my internal dome.

As you read this, please do place me in your prayers as the journey towards a truer understanding of my place in God’s kingdom continues. I know that within me is the urge to shy from addressing my own brokenness so desperately I ask for your intercession as I try and tear down the boulders within.

Finally, think on the statement and feel free to converse with me on your reflections.

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

‘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 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

 

Solitary Confinement

If the wicked didn’t flourish then the choice to do good would not be under such scrutiny and I wouldn’t understand the well within my conscience that Love eternally refills.

D. Adide

So it’s been a short while since my last post. If I’m to be honest, I have been witnessing a battle between my deflated ego, my heart and my mind. The three, swords drawn at each other, have been in unrest since the realisations that I alluded to in the last post: The Pangs of Desire. The result of this war is a sentiment that, until now, I have been unable to kernel.

Some call it the man cave, that space where we – from time to time – have to disappear to in order to recover (or rediscover) the senses of self necessary to rebuff the challenges the world sets. It is that desolate space where you see yourself in all your complexity. The space where good and evil feast together, morality and immorality grey, selfhood and external influence interplay  betraying yet portraying who you are to the seeing eye. (Worth a mention here the great difficulty in actually quantifying how the idea of selfhood arrises. The more I contemplated myself the more I realised that the self I was watching was a reflection, an apparition even, and not the ‘I’ that was watching. It’s an almost Hegelian multiplicity with the other constantly emerging.)

Deeper and deeper into the recesses of my own desires and thoughts I found myself treading. The abyss never ending: so much so that the distance back to the surface seemed closer and best of all more appealing. It was then that I came across the image below.

(Take a moment and scroll down, have a look, then scroll back up)

I am comfortable being confined in there because I know now that I cannot rescue myself. I lack the language to battle the sense of reticence, neither can I avoid the tug to silence. Worst of all, I do not yet fully understand what the man in there is trying to say and as his character is still an enigma to me, I fear setting him free. The reality though is that, it is I who is trapped and not he. The world is small in comparison to the grounds he Lords. This I know because when I shut my eyes and visit, he always takes me to a new place with immeasurable beauty, each surpassing the last.

NOW TO SPEAK ENGLISH

The desire that had been plaguing me, to unleash the deamon within and quench my conscience, first seeming bad, proved to be a very good lense on my character. Where I thought that my actions were governed by a fear of their consequence, I subsequently found that it is Love, and not fear that governs my choices – especially those that involve the welfare of others. The only person I am unable to properly serve is myself, and that is because I am broken and am unable to resist pandering to my own depravity. I am fully capable of resisting the selfish surges when the outcome is pain for others. Love – that complex diety – guides my hands but like Paul with the thorn in his side, keeps me grounded. If the wicked didn’t flourish then the choice to do good would not be under such scrutiny and I wouldn’t understand the well within my conscience that Love eternally refills.

 

Love Fearlessly, to whatever end!

 

The Pangs of Desire

This has been quite an interesting two weeks, thus my silence. I have encountered a whole host of people who are either unaware of the ill they do, or are aware and ignore the voice of conscience. Ok, I wont stand here and judge like I never disobey what my conscience says or even claim to have never caused any harm by my disobedience so take this toasted lament with a pinch of salt, a hint of pepper and some Marmite (which I hate by the way).

You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?

Jeremiah 12:1

The question that has been marinating in my heart is this. Do the wicked have no conscience or is its voice dimmed?

In my own life I’ve found it quite hard to make a cup of tea for myself without offering one to whoever was around me. I struggled to eat the last biscuit in the pack, and used to buy two chocolate bars so that when asked I had one to share. I try to do what I can to be a positive in people’s lives. This is quite difficult as my desire is to serve myself, thus wrought for others seems vain. My conscience however, loud as a drum, kicks in and wrangles with my self-centeredness whenever I turn away from serving others.

This moreover is a world full of people who can be ungrateful, and utterly selfish with no regard for their neighbour’s wellbeing, and seemingly get away with it. This makes the whole turn the other cheek thing tough; not because the other person is relentless but because deep down I wish I could get away with doing what they are doing. This is at the core of my complaint. It is such a devastating lens focused onto my own depravity: that it isn’t against the wicked that I lament but a desire at very center of my heart to be one. I genuinely love God and would like to think that my actions in line with His will are rooted in a love for Him rather than a fear of my actions’ consequences. But that root isn’t as straight forward as I find as similar a mystery as is the nature of Grace at the core of my desires.

I honestly do wish I could get away with half of what I have seen people do this week and am – like Jeremiah – complaining about it. At the same time, I know how harmful selfishness can be and am – in a small part – grateful that I know I wont actually get away with it. It doesn’t stop it being painful to witness, neither does it make doing good easier.

Our faith is difficult one. I suppose if you aren’t grappling with it constantly then you’re either almost in heaven or most certainly angelic. It’s answer to the pangs of desire is to ask us to pursue someone else’s: God’s. This doesn’t stop them from being pangs. I suppose the idea of ‘carrying a cross and following Jesus’ is this sense of doing something difficult for a cause that transcends our own. It’s a noble thought that like a drop of water skims the surface of a furnace almost mocking the hope of dousing the flames.

Evidently I am in complain mode so I will not put my positive thoughts. (Out of disobedience because I hear and feel the answers to my complaint: take what you will from that.)