In this series of short reflections on the Rule of Columba my aim is to explore the wisdom of Columba’s life in Christ and creation and to seek to apply this ancient rule, this daily walk to my own personal exploration of the life of the Spirit. In doing so I hope that in some way the principles of the Columban rule can find a newer expression and vitality in the modern era.
BE ALONE IN A SEPARATE PLACE NEAR A CHIEF CITY, IF YOUR CONSCIENCE IS NOT PREPARED TO BE IN COMMON WITH THE CROWD.
The more I reflect on the world around me the more convinced I am that God does not enjoy straight lines. the Trinity seems to rather enjoy circles, curves, organic shapes and flowing lines that are never static, that twist and bend with their own unique character and personality. Circles embrace, lines divide. Although I am no mathematician I understand that a straight line can never have a centre, by definition it divides. Even time is talked about in linear terms, beginning and ending, starting and finishing. I recall my first visit to New York in 1997, I loved the hustle and bustle, the lights, the music and noise, yet for many days I felt uncomfortable about the environment as whole. It was only after getting above the City to look down I realised there are no curves in the city planning. It is all based in straight lines and squares, it’s a grid system, it’s not organic at all, it is a premeditated imposition by the founders of a design philosophy and worldview that takes no account for the natural rhythm’s and patterns of the created order. I suddenly understood where my discomfort was emanating from. It seemed this place had not grown out of the landscape organically over time, rather it had violently imposed itself upon the land without any consideration for the natural order of life.
To be near a chief city places the pursuit of separateness with God near a city. Cities are centres of commerce, art, politics, war, industry, power, human authorities. They are centres that influence and shape the lives of people and creation for good or ill. They seem to be places where the collective ego of humanity emerges in contravention of the natural order as the story of ‘The Tower of Babel’ shows us. When I first began to meditate upon this, I found I could not reconcile the two positions of being separate and alone yet near a centre that clearly implied busyness and activity. However it was in the tension of the two position; stillness – activity, aloneness – company, separateness – community, that I began to view this tension as the dynamic mixture of the Trinity, the threeness and oneness. The natural state of the follower of Christ is to be alone in a separate place with God. Jesus is the centre of life (I am the way the truth and the life) and it is only when I intentionally removed myself from the false centres (chief cities) of my life that the space was created for me to sink into the voice of Christ and for quietness of the Holy Spirit to find her proper place at the centre of my being. Yet this did not mean isolation or a lack of influence. Being near a centre is intentional, not accidental. The call is not to be so far removed that we cannot be moved to influence when required the affairs of humanity, yet this influence is always from a position of knowing the natural state for the follower of Christ is to gather around the true centre that is the Godhead.
In my own life I have walked a path in the jewellery sector and called for fairness, justice, environmental responsibility and radical transparency in an industry that is anything but these values (www.blog.gregvalerio.com). As I reflect on this journey I can see that the critical steps forward that have secured the ground in this business sector for The Kingdom, have come from my aloneness with God, that has in turn led to bursts of activity that have cleared ground for others to inherit. This vocational calling has meant being involved with centres of power that are profoundly unrighteous. The pressure on me personally has always been to conform to how ‘we do things’. The false promise to me has been if you become like us you will succeed. Yet the voice of God has always been in opposition to conformity calling me to be separate from the mainstream and to stand in the space of Christ and when required be the voice of change and then step back to the place of aloneness with Christ.
The chief city is a physical place, yet it is also a state of mind, a way of thinking, a seduction, a weakness, a voice, an image, an activity. It is anything that asserts its personality in our lives over the presence of the true centre that is the person and Spirit of Jesus.
Columba understood this tension. ‘Be alone in a separate place, near a chief city’ demonstrates Christ is the natural centre of our lives and the world with all its pretensions, delusions of grandeur and promises of power, is the arena we are called to influence when appropriate, but is certainly not the environment we are called to spend the majority of our time in.