Let me clarify at the start (can you clarify before saying anything? Probably not…). This is not simply an excuse to display a bunch of holiday snaps. But Joshua and I had a little trip to some historical sites on our recent family holiday in Spain.
We went to a place called ‘Old Zamora’ or Castrotorafe. It’s actually a fair distance from the current Zamora (which is a town in Spain, not a football player). About 25 minutes drive away, in fact. But the scale is pretty impressive. The river is lined with stunning walls (albeit in a state of collapse) and there are the remains of fortifications.
It’s also covered with lots of beautiful wildflowers, but weaving them into this post, whilst possible, is a tangent I’d rather avoid.
There’s a little uncertainty surrouding the precise events that led to its ruination, but while it may have been the victim of some war or skirmish, it seems that abandonment also played its part. It would appear that people moved away. With no-one to look after it and maintain it, it just gradually crumbled. You can still see bits of it, of course, but it’s certainly not the vibrant, living place it once was.
From Old Zamora, we drove a little further and come to Monasterio do Santa Maria de Moreruela. The sheer scale of this monastry is pretty staggering. It boggles the mind to think that people were able to construct such impressive things without the benefit of much of today’s technology. And yet…
Whatever happened? The once-grand building, a centre of faith and practice, lies in ruins. You can appreciate the splendour it once radiated, but much of that beauty and splendour is now consigned to the history books. Its downfall was linked to the confiscations (much like the dissolution of the monasteries here in the UK) in Spain.
It was odd, there were some places where you could look from a certain angle and you wouldn’t know that the place was now desolate.
Yet from other angles, the truth was painfully clear.
This monastery, once a focal point of faith, is now simply an interesting tourist attraction off the beaten track. A glimpse of what once was. A place of decline and decay rather than life and vitality.
And that got me thinking. How do we protect ourselves from ruin? How do we avoid crumbling? Casting Crowns (an American band) talk about it in their song, “Slow Fade”:
It’s a slow fade when you give yourself away
It’s a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It’s a slow fade, it’s a slow fade
People never crumble in a day. The old city at Castrotorafe didn’t crumble in a day. The monastery of Santa Maria de Moreruela didn’t go to rack and ruin overnight. And neither do we. We, like they, need maintaining. We need a constant programme of care and repair. This is why I’m so keen on Spiritual Disciplines – Holy Habits that keep us going even as we keep them going.
But we also need honesty. You see, from certain angles, things might look fine, but maybe the truth of the matter is that things aren’t rosy. People might look at us and marvel at our faith, while we know that things are rapidly coming undone. The vitality that once rushed through us is now on life support, and things aren’t looking promising.
And yet there’s hope.
The same light that streamed through every window in that monastery in its glory years still pours through, lighting the dark corners of a forlorn place. And the same Life that once vitalised us still pours out in grace from our ever-faithful God, capable of refilling and re-energising us, breathing into us again, bringing life to our fading hearts.