Editor note: this post is not cooperating with the formatting. I may have to take it down and redo it. I apologize, but I’m so tired it will have to wait until tomorrow.
Written early in the morning:
I’ve been having so many thoughts swirl through my head about all the things I have experienced so far. I hesitate to express some of them because I don’t want to offend people who have a sincere, but different belief system than the one I hold dear. At the same time, I think it’s very natural to compare what I believe and do when I’m trying to better understand what others believe and do. Please know as you read this that it is not intended to disrespect any other religion, but only to be honest in my writing and self-reflection.
The crowds at some of these religious sites are so huge, I’ve had to wonder about how that might affect the spiritual feel of a place. I have been to several commemorative sites in the USA belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the atmosphere is so much different there. They tend to be more quiet and peaceful, but I don’t know how much of that is because they don’t draw as much of a crowd. Temple Square in Utah does draw some large crowds, though, and they seem to do a good job of maintaining a sense of stillness and peace there.
(Note: The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is controlled by 5 different churches who don’t agree or get along very well. Because of this, the church key has been kept and controlled for centuries by two Muslim families. I’m sure this also impacts the spiritual feel of the place.)
Yesterday at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher our visit was marked by a ceremonial procession by the Greek Orthodox Church. I have zero understanding of their beliefs or practices, but this experience was intimidating in its formality and severity, it was all very loud, measured, precise, and unapproachable.
After that big display of power, I was startled to walk around to the back of the shrine of the sepulcher to see a much humbler ceremony happening. I was drawn by the chanting and singing of some Coptic Christians. Their little sanctuary was sheltered by black plastic curtains, with a small, dimly lit altar space at which people could pray. The priests’ robes were simple and plain, but you could sense the earnestness of their devotion.
I’d been in search of the shrine for Mary, the mother of Jesus, but didn’t find it until later when we separated from our group and came back to the church to look for it some more. This time, instead of going left at the bottom of the stairs, we went right and found a chapel that was beautiful and brilliantly lit. And then just around the bend from that we found it. A beautiful shrine, so white and full of light. I was excited to approach it but we were stopped by a man who said there was a ceremonial procession coming and we had to stay back. So we stayed back and waited.