Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏹️

The group of pilgrims by The Balbusso Twins, from their illustrated book: Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, 2014

Now therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Consider your ways. Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the Lord.
Haggai 1:5-8

The name Haggai may be derived from the Hebrew verbal root חגג (hagag), which means "to make a pilgrimage." Haggai's pilgrimage, like many before and after him, was to the temple in Jerusalem. Only at this time it was as yet unfinished. Work had started on the rebuilding with the return of the first exiles from Babylon, but had come to a halt amidst many difficulties. Haggai' single-minded purpose was to see the building completed. He sees the people living in their own homes, growing their own food, perhaps working for others and earning a wage, but in all cases they are short, still hungry, thirsty and broke. Without a place to worship their spirits will be forever dry. They live, but only in some kind of half-life, separate from one another and from God. Haggai sensed the importance of completing the temple. The people needed a holy place, a place to bind them together under God. The importance of such a place in our society is captured beautifully in this passage by G. K. Chesterton.

"Morality did not begin by one man saying to another, "I will not hit you if you do not hit me"; there is no trace of such a transaction. There is a trace of both men having said, We must not hit each other in the holy place. They gained their morality by guarding their religion. They did not cultivate courage. They fought for the shrine, and found they had become courageous. They did not cultivate cleanliness. They purified themselves for the altar, and found that they were clean."1

Our holy places today are disappearing. Traditional, community-centric churches are emptying and closing, and in their place we have either nothing-at-all or evangelical mega-churches, more driven by personality and profit than by reverence and community. People are more likely to find personal holy places in nature, alone, which for all their beauty and solitude just perpetuate the cult of self that is slowing eating away at the heart of civilisation. The alter of self is a bag with holes through which all hope of community and God-centredness will fall—is falling.

Consider your ways. Haggai came in God's name to wake people up. Get out of your homes, he told them, go to the mountain—not to find isolation and worship trees and views, not to 'get away from it all' but to gather wood and return to build a place of worship, a place of community, a place of glory. More than bricks and mortar though, it is the spirit of togetherness we need to rebuild, a love and respect for our fellows. In the age of self-worship and division this is no small task, and will never happen at all if it doesn't start with desire. We must each make a pilgrimage to the mountain, and return with resolve.

1 from Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton, 1908.