Last Sunday we visited Stonehenge. And I must admit that initially I wasn’t all that thrilled about seeing it. My mates here in England apparently have traveled to Stonehenge through the years on school trips, family outings, etc. and have “seen enough of it”. Some friends in America who have toured the site reported that “it wasn’t worth the trip”. So even though Stonehenge is just an hour from where we live, I hadn’t been highly motivated to make the journey south. What could I see there that I hadn’t already seen in books or documentaries?
But all my preconceptions were wrong! Stonehenge is massive, that I knew, but the magnitude of the work involved in carrying and assembling the stones is astonishing. More interesting to me of course is the ‘why’?
The true purpose of Stonehenge remains a mystery. The massive stone circle was erected 4,500 years ago by ancient people using simple tools. Was it a temple, or a burial site or maybe some kind of solar calendar?
Legends and theories abound. One of my favourites is that the wizard Merlin magically transported it to Wiltshire from Ireland. Some folks believe aliens built it as some sort of celestial observatory. Others are convinced that it is some great spiritual destination and that stones have healing powers (we even encountered a few self-proclaimed Druids on our journey).
Walking through Stonehenge I was struck with a great sense of loss. These giant stones were assembled by ancient people using tremendous strength, spending countless hours, and employing precision calculations. This must have been an important place! How sad that today we have lost whatever significance was once attributed to this great monument?
Will our own churches, mosques, and temples someday only be a curiosity to future generations? Will our places of worship become just tourist destinations? Will they someday only be a place for smiling photos with friends with no consideration of the significance of our beliefs?
Recent trips to great cathedrals, abbeys, and ancient churches have made me ponder if my own Church is not at risk of someday becoming extinct. As I’ve walked through many hallowed buildings it seems there is more tourism than worship; more photography than prayer; more indifference than belief.
I believe that Stonehenge may be a cautionary tale. Were the “men in charge” more interested in ‘the rules’ than they were in the worshippers? Were some people deemed unworthy and forbidden entrance to this sacred place? Did Stonehenge become a center for intolerance, derision, oppression, discrimination and hatred based on nonconformity or failure to walk in lock-step with those in authority? Were wars and tyranny justified in the name of Stonehenge?
In my opinion, my church, the Catholic Church, can avoid becoming obsolete (and a hollow ruin) by embracing the love that Christ preached. We should be building bridges; not walls. We should be reaching out to all peoples with open arms; not turning our backs on those with whom we disagree.
During this Lenten season I am trying once again to embrace Jesus’ love for all. And struggling in my own humble, flawed way to follow His tremendous example. I’m reminded that God didn’t create me to hate me. Why should I be any less loving to others?