Friday, May 21, 2010

Stones Crumbling Under My Feet

Throughout our time in the UK we have repeatedly come across the ruins of cathedrals, abbeys, and churches, many dating back well over a thousand years. They can be quite fascinating with their towering walls filled with arched window openings. You can easily imagine the colorful glass that filled these holes, and the beautiful tiled floors that once rested where the grass now grows.

In some of them there is still a slab of stone where the altar once stood. Or you might see long stone benches that once occupied the chapter house, the place where the monks sat to hear their Prior teach, or where they may have recited prayers together.

Mass is still said on special occasions at some of the fallen Cathedrals or Abbeys. But, then again, there are other less sublime events held there too. 

Some are still actual graveyards, with tombs that are marked, though barely legible. 

As you tour the grounds you get the feeling that it was once a majestic Cathedral, or a stunning Abbey. Much more beautiful than most of the Catholic buildings in use today in this country. 

There are many ruins that are just drive-by's for most people. They sit on the side of the road like skeletons. Some of these are just ruined by lack of use. But many are in the same situation as the Cathedrals and Abbeys. 

They stand as stark signs of division. They stand as portraits of persecution. They tell the story of the fall of many priests and religious, the abandonment of many faithful, and the consequences of government that takes power over religion. 

Our American concept of "separation of church and state" is much debated. Most of the discussion revolves around whether or not the church ought to be present in state matters....we fight about crosses and bibles in classrooms and courtrooms, about prayers said on federal property, about Christmas trees in the town square. 

Those ruins stood there when the original American settlers left England to escape a government that wanted to dictate what religion they should practice. And, later, our founders wrote a constitution meant to safeguard religious freedom as well as other crucial freedoms (such as economic freedom and freedom of speech). 

To some, the ruined buildings are a tourist attraction at worst; an historical curiosity at best. Not much different than Stonehenge. 

To me they have become concrete evidence of what happens when government gains power over its people. And a bitter memorial of what happens when people put their faith in government, instead of God. 

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