We’d been in line for what seemed like an awfully long time to get up an apparently quite small staircase. Yes, it was narrow, but it wasn’t long and people seemed to be making the business of ascent far more time consuming than required. I snapped away taking pictures and waited, and eventually we got through.
The staircase led us behind the altar of the basilica to what I’d assumed was just a really nice view across the church; it was only when we reached it that I realised I had become an unwitting pilgrim. There were few people who had been ahead of us, but each had stopped afront a small black sculpture of Mary to reach through a hole in the perspex and touch it, praying for a blessing that wood cannot give.
I didn’t touch la Moreneta. I didn’t need to, I don’t need to, I won’t need to. It turns out that it’s a venerated old sculpture and that some ancient Arthurian myths hold Montserrat to be the location of the Holy Grail. It was interesting, while I was in Catalonia, to see up close the signs of pilgrimage and the veneration of particular sites, places and things as holy.
I greatly enjoyed visiting historic cathedrals, basilicas and churches, but the truth is that we don’t have to travel to be close to God; we don’t have to be in a specific place or next to a specific sculpture, to be where we can receive from Him.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
– John 4:19-23 (ESV)
In the old testament access to God was through a complex and corporate system that culminated in a high priest entering a physical temple once a year. Drawing near to God was considered a matter of where and when; the Samaritans believed they should approach God at a place called Mount Gerazim, the Jews believed only in the temple in Jerusalem. When Jesus came He showed that we don’t draw near to God because of where we are, that we don’t gain special access to Him by our physical location, but by Him.
My trip last November did actually leave me with the feeling that I had spent time with God, I thought about many things that I will in time write about, but the reason for that isn’t that I travelled. My trip was not a pilgrimage. The reason I so often feel closer to God on a trip away is because of that wonderful word; selah.
In the chaos of life few, if any, of us give God the focus He truly deserves. I read the word, I pray, I serve, but in amongst the stresses and the things competing for my time I don’t always make enough time to just be with the father.
It’s so often in the moments when we make the choice to take time away from the day to day that we find ourselves more open to God. I wasn’t more acceptable to God because I prayed to Him in one of the world’s most magnificent churches, I didn’t receive more from Him for being in close proximity to a relic. So often God speaks when we listen, when we take the time to pause and focus.
Day to day life can become full of distractions and diversions. A wealth of things, many of them good things, can start to crowd in on our lives and before we know it God isn’t getting the focus and attention that He deserves. We don’t have to fly anywhere, go far away, or make a pilgrimage to be close to God, what we really have to do is to carve out space in our lives to get close. That might be taking a few hours to go to a favourite place and focus on Him, it could be taking a Sabbath to really seek Him, it could just be finding a little private place near work where you can be with Him on your breaks.
How much would our lives improve for more of those moments where we just spend some time away from the stresses of the world around us? In the Garden of Eden God’s desire was to spend time with His creation; He walked in the cool of the day to see them, I believe His heart is still for spending time with His children.
And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…
– Genesis 3:8
Selah. Pause, and calmly think about that.