Posted by: Terry | August 29, 2015

Climbing to the chapel

IMG_1268The village of Moustier Sainte Marie clings to the side of a high rocky cliff in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence region of southeast of France. There is one main road that winds up from the valley below, curves through town then winds back down the other side. It is a town for walking not driving, most areas are reached by narrow streets laid down long before the idea of motorized transport.
The village itself radiates from the church in the center of town. A bit further up a small old chapel sits next to an olive orchard; Chapelle Sainte-Anne.

Moustier owes its existence to the monastery and the monks that built a chapel, even higher up the mountain, in the 12th century, the back corner carved into the rock itself; Notre-Dame de Beauvoir. The chapel is reached by way of a long, 262 step, steep stone path path punctuated with the stations of the cross. It is easy to imagine the monks climbing that path, stopping at each station to meditate on the journey of Christ on his way to Golgotha. By the time they reached the chapel their hearts and minds would be ready for prayer and worship.
There was no rushing to church, frantically dressing, eating, and one last cup of coffee, arriving half way through the first song, slipping breathlessly into a pew while quickly glancing around to check out who else was there. Today worship, prayer, and time with God are too often done while we are doing something else, scheduled into 15 minute segments, squeezed into our already too full days.

The chapel is dark, except for the light entering through stained glass windows, and the flicker of prayer candles lit by the few who make the climb and stay long enough to pray and meditate. The furnishings are rustic, yet just being there moves me to sit and pray. We need more places like that in our world.

Worship is enhanced by preparation and purpose; there is something about the climb that prepares the heart for worship. Abraham built altars before he worshipped, the Law prescribed requirements for “cleansing” before worship. God set aside specific days, times, locations, and rituals for worship; a practice the early church embraced with the first day of the week and Eucharist.

We are readied for worship by anticipation, regularity, and exclusion. Though amazed daily, and startled frequently by God, moving one to express gratitude and prayer, there is a depth of worship found only in “The Sweet Hour of Prayer.”

Anticipation includes a time and a place, an expectation of the experience. Climbing the hill to the chapel built their anticipation of spending time with God. Most nights when I go to bed it is with the anticipation of tea with God the next morning, though I look forward to bed each night, I rarely struggle to wake up because God is waiting for me to join him with tea. On those days when I can’t or don’t have this time, I end up regretting what I missed.

We are creatures of habit, the products of our routines. Practice does not make perfect, but it does make permanent, sporadic times with God never produce the deeper intimacy we could have. Just as a casual date is never the same as what we find in a marriage; any relationship is enhanced by frequent and consistent interaction. The disciplines and sacraments, when a routine part of our life, draw us closer to the God we claim to trust and desire.

Possibly our chief hindrance to worship is distraction, the opposite of exclusion. By the time the monk climbed to the chapel and settled into a pew, the village below had receded both geographically and mentally; we need that same clarity in our times with God.

Worship and praise are not easily accomplished while thinking about the football game that afternoon, where we will eat, or our to-do list for the day. Even our prayers may distract us from worship if concerns and needs are predominant. There is a a lesson in the Psalms, repeated by Christ in the Lord’s Prayer – worship God first for his person and his providence, then offer up requests to the one who is wonderful enough to deal with them. Worship places God at its center, his glory, his wonder, our gratitude.

Jesus, our example, regularly withdrew to remote places, it was there he communed best with the Father. We do well to follow that example, and find comfort in the blessings that are sure to come.

I come to the garden alone,

While the dew is still on the roses,

And the voice I hear, falling on my ear,

The son of God discloses…

And the joy we share as we tarry there,

None other has ever known.

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