A Moment to Reflect

6 July 2020

A Moment to Reflect -60

one of the monumental stone figures at Tiwanaku


Even higher than the city of La Paz lie the ancient ruins of Tiwanaku (Tiahuanacu) high up in the Andes, about 13,500 feet above sea level. It’s the highest I’ve ever been while still having my feet on the ground. The air is thin but clear. What is not so clear is the full history of Tiwanaku and the people who used to live here. It’s a fascinating but puzzling sight. (You can find out more about it here. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tiwanaku_Empire]

Unfortunately the first archeological explorations of this massive site (most of which has not still been uncovered) were not very well done and many of the important clues as to what happened to the people who lived here were lost. It had been a sophisticated civilisation (using pioneering methods of irrigation in agriculture for one thing.) It’s not known whether the power and influence of Tiwanaku was military, or more likely cultural, but there is no doubt that it was an important, wealthy and impressive place.

What led to its failure and rapid demise? No one really knows yet. But to me the reasons for the collapse of the empire are less important than the simple fact of it. For the stark lesson of human history, in every age and on every continent, is that all human empires (no matter how powerful or invincible they seem) sooner or later disintegrate. This is both a warning to the powerful and an encouragement to the powerless and a lesson to all of us of the need for humility.

So my quotation for today, before I take a short break, is going to come not from a novelist, but from the 17th Century hymn writer, Joachim Neander, who lived for only 30 years—dying less than a year after he began his work as an assistant pastor at St Martini Church, Bremen. Here are the first two verses of his most famous hymn.

All my hope on God is founded:
He doth still my trust renew.
Me thro’ change and chance He guideth,
Only good and only true.
God unknown, He alone
Calls my heart to be His own.

Pride of man and earthly glory,
Sword and crown betray his trust:
What with care and toil he buildeth,
Tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
Is my temple and my tower. Joachim Neander, 1650-1680