They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand:
“If this were only cleared away,”
They said, “it would be grand!”
I was walking through an ancient monastery yesterday, Thanksgiving Day, in a place lost in time and history. It is perched on the precipice of a gorge, far from anywhere we who live in the modern world would consider important; though greater significance in terms of the story of faith and freedom would be hard to imagine. Staying power – that is something that we don’t think much about. Our flames burn bright, extinguishing themselves quickly like one of those candle sparklers for my little boy’s birthday. Shiny and exciting and quickly forgotten as we move on to the next thing. I was studying the olden carvings in a strange foreign tongue when a monk sidled up to me, worn iPhone in hand and we had a Google-Translate conversation, and he told me of the ancient building and its secrets. He was only the latest in a long line of men who chose to use their precious time on this planet to safeguard something ancient, a living monument in stone to the one true God which had withstood invasions and plagues; famines and droughts and all the violence a wicked world can muster.
I woke up this morning thinking about that solitary man in that tiny place. Why would he after all choose that, of all things, to do with his years on the earth? Yet there he was; a look of calm and patience as he explained to me the stones and the arches; his sacred charge. Yet I’m sure he raged; I’m convinced he looked down into the gorge, as priests have done while Kennedy dealt with the Cubans, while Washington fought the Redcoats, while Napoleon’s war burned in Europe, while the House of Wisdom was sacked and the Vikings took to the seas and the Saxons migrated from their home in central Europe to England – and wondered what it was all about, human as he is after all. Did not even Mother Teresa, the great saint of our age, struggle with faithlessness and depression? If her too, why not that young monk – and if for him too, how will the rest of us, who live such frivolous lives, be spared?
Meaning; we live in the age of ‘influencers’. “Are you an influencer?” an app asks of you as you log in desperate to see if you have been upgraded to that coveted status, ‘not yet’ much to your disappointment, emoji frowning at you; “Be careful she’s an influencer” somebody says – and we tremble. But what does all this mean? That we can be more widely insulted? That my 140 character missiles will have a greater range? These days everybody wants to be an influencer. I just finished “The Crown” season three, and there’s a funny scene when Prince Charles is made duke and decides to insert into his speech some thoughts of reconciliation with the Welsh population, prompting an angry exchange with the queen; “Nobody wants to hear your ideas,” she says, “nobody.” Gone are the days that we have to entertain opinions of people based upon the blood flowing through their veins, much less the little blue check mark beside their avatar. Influence without insight, turns out, is tedious and not particularly helpful; the blind leading the blind, but it is those who allow themselves to be led who are cheated.
Back in that ancient monastery where the rock walls reverberate with the energy and hopes of generations of faithful come to ask God for help, to lay their souls bare before the Most High – where a young monk still sits in the quiet of a wintry thanksgiving afternoon pondering the great thoughts that do not change and losing himself in the majesty of the Almighty – silly concerns of algorithm-assigned status fade like the fog into the gorge below, overtaken by contemplation of the only influence that matters, one that endures forever.