I’m stuck between a memory and a thought.
Memory: the chapels in France where I meditated every day while living in the village Montaigut le Blanc.
Thought: how grateful I am for all the chapels, all the churches The Church built during its fabulous expansionist medieval colonization of Europe: nearly all the villages in the part of France I was living in, no matter how small, have a church. I am doubly grateful for their near abandonment now and the fact that despite their abandonment The Church keeps them open for pilgrims to come into and sit for awhile and meditate.
The memory is cool and warm.
The thought is calm and angry.
How often I’d sit in one of the chapels, in Antoinght, in St. Nectaire, in Olloix, in Collanges, where it was so quiet I could hear my breathing, and meditate. Fifteen minutes, twenty minutes, a half hour, it didn’t matter how short or how long a time I meditated, when I was finished I was finished. There was no blueprint of time imposed on me. I don’t know that I’ve ever felt freer! I can’t remember that I ever have, or have since.
I remember too how well the chapels, even though many of them no longer held services, were maintained and that there were frequently fresh flowers in a vase near the apse, There was almost always a posted note from The Church saying that Mass was now held in a church in a larger town like Brioude, or a city, Clermont-Ferrand, and the smaller chapels I liked to mediate in mostly held special events—a wedding, a night of music—no longer held Sunday Mass. What a gift to the people I’d think. The chapel’s were always cool in the summer heat, a real refuge, private, quiet, so quiet I could hear the singing of the congregation 200, 300 years ago.
Calm from meditating, it was only when I was walking away from one of the chapels that I began to rethink what I’d just experienced. Conquest, dissembling, power politics, sexual perversion, religious wars, hypocrisy, floggings, drunkenness—the stuff of empire-building that no doubt went down in the little chapels left behind that I so loved meditating in, and if not going down directly inside the little chapels they were nevertheless emblematic of a crueler even less innocent time than the time I was living in then, the time the USA had just invaded Iraq.
Angry for a while, feeling I hadn’t progressed at all from my dark ages, I’d walk back to the little house I was staying in and have something to eat, a bit of bread, a hunk of Pavin cheese wrapped in the yellow and blue paper that looked like a painting.
Only later did I learn the church(s) didn’t own the land: the formal separation of Church and State of 1905 saw to that. The communes—the local governments—own these little chapels.