One of our tour guides shared with us that his favorite part of Irish history is the ability to touch it with your own two hands. During my three weeks in Dublin for a literature and gender class, I absorbed more history than I ever thought possible. Being able to visit a place I’d just read about hours before was a learning experience unlike anything I’ve ever done, and unlike anything I’ll ever get to do again. Everything in Europe is so old. I saw a play in a theatre built in the 1662, and ate at a pub that’s been in operation since 1198.
Ireland is 85% Roman Catholic. The history, literature, culture, and modern politics of Ireland are heavily shaped by missionaries, Church teaching, sometimes misguided legalism, and ultimately the Spirit of God.
The base of the Wicklow Mountains is home to one of the oldest Catholic monasteries in Ireland, with stonework roughly 1000 years old. The entry arch is still perfectly intact--no glue, no cement, no nails--just blocks of stone carefully, painstakingly filed down until they fit together. As early as 900, monks or priests returning from a mission would touch the archway to say that they’ve returned, thanking God for a safe, successful trip and asking for His blessing as they come home. We took turns touching that very same arch.
We stood inside the remains of a 1200 year old church.
A couple weeks later, I got to see the Book of Kells. In the 8th century monks in Kells, a town near Dublin, slowly and carefully transcribed the Gospels in Latin, adding elaborate illustrations and designs in the margins, and painting pictures of Jesus, Mary, and the four Gospel writers. The Book of Kells was so large and ornate, it was most likely intended for display on holidays only. There were also smaller Gaelic prayer books and Latin Bibles used for personal devos and evangelism.
We toured Christchurch Cathedral, built in 1030, walking in the footsteps of knights and musicians, tourists and schoolgirls, nuns and artists.
As I breathed in the history of these places, just a few of many, many incredible sights we got to see, I was struck with a simple, but important truth.
My faith isn’t young.
Christianity isn’t an American thing. Or a 20th century thing. Or a white thing. Or an English speaking thing.
God is outside of space and time. As if that wasn’t enough, Jesus Himself is our peace and unites us in the Spirit with believers across all barriers, differences, and time periods.
Cultures change. Languages change. Technology changes. Relationships change.
But Truth doesn’t change. The character of God doesn’t change. And if we’re being honest, neither does the character of people. Sin takes many different forms, but it’s there in all people and all cultures.
The very same faithfulness, love, grace, justice, and compassion promised to those 8th century monks chanting their Gaelic prayer books is also mine and yours, through Jesus who never changes.
I don’t know about you, but at a time in my life with so much rapid change, it’s deeply comforting to be reminded in such a powerful, personal way that some things will always stay the same.