The Cave Awaits: The Green Martyrdom and the Fate of Christianity

Yesterday, I shared some from Hunting Magic Eels regarding the ascetical practices of the Celtic monastic tradition. 

Paul Kingsnorth recently wrote a lovely meditation in First Things about the Celtic monastic tradition and the future of Christianity. Kingsnorth uses the green martyrdom to describe "a wild Christianity" that holds promise for the revitalization of Christian faith in our increasingly post-Christian world. 

Kingsnorth writes toward the end of his essay:

Everybody is talking these days about the decline of the West, and with good reason. Some people think that Christianity should have something to say about this: that as the faith was the rock on which the West was built, so the faith should rebuild it again, or defend it against its enemies. We need a Muscular Christianity! they insist in the comment sections. Bring on the Christian knights! they shout on YouTube. But I don’t think this is how it works. When the last empire collapsed, the Christians of Europe weren’t trying to build, let alone defend, some construction called “Christendom.” They didn’t plan for the dome of St. Peter’s or the Battle of Lepanto. They were just trying to do the humblest and the only thing: to worship the true God, and to strip away everything that interfered with that worship. They took to the deserts to follow Christ and to battle the Enemy. Their work was theosis. They had crucified themselves as instructed. What emerged as a result, and what it turned into—well, that wasn’t up to them.

In a time when the temptation is always toward culture war rather than inner war, I think we could learn something from our spiritual ancestors. What we might learn is not that the external battle is never necessary; sometimes it very much is. But a battle that is uninformed by inner transformation will soon eat itself, and those around it. Why, after all, were the cave Christians so sought after? Because they were not like other people. Something had been granted to them, something had been earned, in their long retreats from the world. They had touched the hem. After years in the tombs or the caverns or the woods, their very unworldliness became, paradoxically, just what the world needed.

Is it a desert time again? Of course I think so..

None of this is going to happen on its own, of course. If we want it, we are going to have to build it. Saints don’t just turn up. They have to be created. Maybe we are able to take only one small step in this direction. Maybe we can’t manage a full night alone in the rain—not yet, at least. But let us start walking, down the track toward the crag. We can’t put off this pilgrimage forever. The cave awaits.

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