Sunday, July 04, 2004

Alive: the reflection paper part III

Of course, the places of worship often expressed the centuries of the faithful in several ways, as did our experiences in them. The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus has been a pilgrimage site for hundreds of years, and was one of the busiest and most active religious sites we visited. Shoeless people, many covered from head to toe (some even with their faces completely covered), walking about, praying, visiting the shrines for the heads of important people (John the Baptist and Ali both supposedly left their heads in Damascus), or just resting in the cool of the sanctuary. The church at Gethsemane has purple cross stained glass windows, amazing mosaics and a dark and somber feel echoing the events on its ground of nearly 2000 years ago and the attitude with which most people approach those events. The church I came to call the “Jesus Wept” church, with its teardrop design and the Korean group singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” as we arrived, and our group singing “Amazing Grace” as a few other random tourists joined us, singing as we looked out the window at the Old City of Jerusalem and the golden Dome of the Rock. The Church of St. Anne with its high ceilings, amazing acoustics, and our voices being lifted up as we sing the Doxology to the tune Old Hundredth—words billions have sung over the ages, a tune made for that space—a holy thrill. Both the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Church of the Nativity, witnessing to the too-old schism between churches/denominations, and also to the possibility of sharing and relationship between those of differing theological histories and worship styles. St. Katherine’s Monastery, with a mosque minaret next to its belltower, showing the world that peaceful coexistence can be more than just a dream. Each of these places gave voice to the church through the ages. They marked our way as we traveled these places we’ve read about and helped us fit ourselves into the divine-human narrative. The people of God, in every tradition, in every time, and even in every place, were especially alive for me in these spaces.

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