Monday, September 27, 2010

Montserrat and Deus Absconditus

Originally uploaded by goforchris.
All the guide books and sites tell you that a visit to Montserrat from Barcelona is a must. We did the trip on a pretty overcast day, when the famously jagged peak of the mountain - or peaks, for there are so many of them, great rounded fingers of rock pointing into the sky - were drifted with cloud and the Benedictine Abbey overhung with gloom. The crowds were huge - the weather didn't seem to have put anyone off, and by the time we entered the Abbey church we had to hunt for a seat.

It was not that we were all overcome by a need to be holy - of that more in a minute - but that the famous boys' choir sings at 1pm daily. And sure enough, after a few prayers in several languages, there they were. Beautiful voices, yes - though nothing that those of us familiar with the English Cathedral tradition wouldn't recognise. The direction, however, left much to be desired, with a slack beat and flaccid rhythm, and the arrangement of the traditional song they performed was wooden and uninspired.

This pause in the church, however, left space for reflection. The original monks who had struggled up here to found their community were presumably seeking God in the solitude and the silence of the peaks, and in the photo I've chosen you can perhaps get some sense of that - I've managed to lose most of the crowds. But nowadays hordes of tourists flock there, as we did, lighting candles, taking photos (with varying degrees of aggression), shuffling, eating and shopping - and I had the distinct impression of a Deus absconditus, a God who wasn't there any more.

It's at moments like these that I think of our own empty mountains, or of the wind howling through the peaks when the tourists have gone, and experience a strong fellow-feeling with those who say they don't need church to find the presence of God. We humans, we have a terrible tendency - do we not? - to crowd God out, to replace the divine with the digital and the spiritual with the sensual.


  1. Oh, I love this post! So much meat to chew on!

    I have been slowly making my way through a book called Simple Wisdom for a Complicated World: Amish Peace. Funny. Seems to tie in quite handily with your post!

    The good news is that even in the hubbub of modern life, God is always there. It is we who are distracted and not seeking...aren't we fortunate to have such a loving Father that He seeks after us even when we nearly "hide" from Him?

  2. "replace the divine with the digital and the spirtitual with the sensual" how sad and yet unsurprising. When the Divine office is commercially repackaged as "chill out" music that would seem to be the end result. And Monserrat is where St ignatius of Loyola laid down his arms and became a "milites Christi".