by lefever on May 9, 2011
I am at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem facing the entrance that opens up to the Stone of Unction. I am standing in the small courtyard just outside that front entrance.
I hear singing, a chant of sorts.
I walk to a small door at the right of the courtyard. This is the entrance to the Coptic Church and it is the service of these Egyptian Christians that draws me to witness.
The Coptic Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel is filled with a most beautiful and religious sound; a cross between two sounds I am familiar with (only for a rough reference), the Muslim adhan and Gregorian chant. Not knowing the language I almost feel it is stream of consciousness. It may be.
I open my eyes and see a man, a Coptic monk perhaps, outside the gated sanctuary.
His face is in an ecstasy as he chants along, holding on to the vertical bars of the fencing. He is in an area that seems to be his area of service, a plate for coins sits on a small table.
I do not want to disturb him in his engagement to the worship. His face is so blissful. The sound is enchanting. He is wearing hearing aides.
The Coptic Chapel, Holy Sepulchre, Old City Jerusalem
by lefever on May 2, 2011
Every crevice and crack within reach of a human hand, in and between the large Jerusalem Stones* of HaKotel are stuffed with prayers: pencil, ink, marker, crayon…a painting… on white and colored papers of all kinds folded so tightly and squeezed into any available space with the hope that here, more than anywhere, God will take note, and prayer will be answered. Pilgrimages are made to HaKotel to pray.
The sages state that anyone who prays in the Temple in Jerusalem, prays before the throne of glory because the gate of heaven is situated there and it is open to hear prayer. Though the Temple is destroyed, though Christians would argue that Jesus eliminated the Holy of Holies when becoming the High Priest– this wall remains and is said to have always been protected by God.
I have brought my prayers. I have brought the prayers on paper of family and of friends, and sponsors of this trip.
I must search for a space and then compact my delivered prayers even smaller to wedge them individually into different areas wherever I might find even the smallest cleft. Prayer notes fill the cracks like mortar.
These prayers get removed and buried at intervals. I am between intervals.
These paper prayers are everywhere in the Wall. Prayers for the dead and the dying. Prayers for blessing. Prayers for help and guidance, hope and need. Prayers of Love to Abba Father. Prayers of gratitude–and the Talmud teaches that all prayers ascend to heaven through Jerusalem. It is thought that writing a prayer on a piece of paper and placing it into HaKotel is like having a continual prayer linked to the prime source.
This Western Wall, the remnant of the Temple, is proof to the Jews of God’s promise to be with them and to never forsake them His Chosen People. Divine Presence rests on the Western Wall more than other places.
God’s presence is felt here.
The intent of the Jew is felt here. Facing the wall, prayers are read from books, prayers are recited and sung in minions.
Some people are here for hours. Joy and thanksgiving, tears and anguish permeate the air–and pleas for a restored Israel and the rebuilding of the Temple.
Here the art is in the performance of worship: written word, recitals and song, and the costumes of the religious all bring deep meaning to a space where God is met. It is history. It is legacy. It is intentional and it is now.
God and humanity imbue HaKotel with deep meaning– a sacred site.
* Jerusalem Stone is a general term, to be exact: meleke limestone (meleke- Arabic“royal” or “kingly”).
by lefever on April 11, 2011
Like the mosaic angels high above the alter, the man in front of me raises his hands in praise.
An echo occurs: his praise echoes the angels’ praise echoes the man’s.
It is poetic. There is reverence both represented and actual.
Holy is here.
Church of the Seven Nations, Jerusalem 2009.
by lefever on February 28, 2011
Took my time eating and reading the Jerusalem guidebook. Not planning to do much today, but I do intend to walk with minimal equipment and see what is around locally– get my bearings. This is my first morning in Jerusalem, 2009, and I head out to explore. I can see the Temple Mount Mosque from here. It stands out from among all Jerusalem.
I stop along the way shooting the neighborhood and eventually come upon a Muslim cemetery. I decide to walk among the dead… funny, one of the first places I shot in Prague was the Jewish Cemetery.
I remember arriving in Prague to find that too many churches were closed. I eventually meandered my way to the Jewish Cemetery – definitely a consecrated space, set aside for the resting of the dead and a remembrance to the living.
That is funny, when I think about it, the place for the dead would be open while the places of worship for the living were closed. I walked there among the dead that day, in the rain. 12,000 tomb stones undulate poetically above an estimated 100,000 buried. Small pebbles rested atop the markers as wishes and prayers, offering respect to lives once lived.
It is different here at the Muslim Cemetery. But also like the Jewish cemetery in Prague, it is open to the living to walk among the dead.
Cemeteries are spaces set aside.
They are consecrated.
This Muslim cemetery and the Jewish cemetery in Prague and even the most coveted cemetery in the world (the Jewish Cemetery on the Mount of Olives where it is believed by the Jews this is the closest place to heaven one can be buried, that when Messiah sets foot down on this hill, the dead here will be the first to rise in the resurrection, closest to The Anointed King) – yet none of these cemeteries tell me anything of theology but that below me the dead lay still.
Even among the aged trees of Fairhaven Memorial Park in California, very little tells me any tale to consider other than once, once there were people who walked this Earth and now walk no more there lives forgotten but for a marker that states they ever existed at all.
In these simply marked cemeteries, there is respect for the dead though there is little hope for the living.
I think of the idea of a church as a consecrated space – one that speaks theology, reveals grace visually in imagery to the eye so the eye can receive what the ears cannot hear. Fewer churches serve us any more in this way and the ones that do speak with such Beauty are falling to ravages of time and the lack of money to repair.
There were cemeteries throughout Czech, that told of the Christian theology. I knew of the faith of the family or the deceased and would reflect within the warmth of my own faith.
Further reflecting on the Protestant churches back home, and unlike those cemeteries in Prague where walking above the buried, one can fathom the sacrifice and the faith expressed in the resurrection, I think…those ‘parks’ are open and serve as consecrated space… yet the buildings where the living congregate to worship are closed, and though they may be alive come Sunday, how many seeking refuge come to the closed doors to only leave disappointed and tired in spirit, and with a hunger in their soul?
by lefever on February 21, 2011
St. James Cathedral of the Armenian Patriarchate in Jerusalem is one of the oldest Christian churches in Jerusalem. I had been there three times, twice with permission from Bishop Sevon to photograph.
St. James is not open to tourists during the day. The Church is open only for masses; morning, afternoon, special occasion: it is consecrated.
Bishop Sevon held my hand and griped my arm in front of the St. James alter, giving me a lesson on consecration through the story of James. The Virgin Mary was the vehicle to explain why James was not the blood brother of Jesus the Messiah, but only a “brother” in terms of association, like in a fraternity, or an order, or a nationality, as the Jews welcome one another in such a way once it is determined upon meeting that you are Jewish – like Christians too – brotherhood in the embodiment, but not …