Foundation for the Biblical Arts

In sight of Truth Beauty and Goodness

Of the Dead and 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.

by: Jeff LeFever

Monday, September 9, 2013

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 photographing 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.

It was odd when I thought about it, that the place for the dead would be open while the places of worship for the living were closed. I walked in the Jewish Cemetery among the dead that day in Prague, in the rain among 12,000 tomb stones leaning and tilting poetically above an estimated 100,000 buried. Small pebbles rested atop the markers: 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, and that when Messiah sets foot down on this hill, the dead here will be the first to rise in the resurrection) – 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.

Here at the Muslim cemetery, in these simply marked graves, there is respect for the dead though there is little hope for the living.

When I think of a church as a consecrated space – one that visually tells the story of Grace, how that speaks to the eyes what the ears may not hear, I think of how Hope can be transmitted through the visual arts. Fewer churches serve us any more in this way. The churches that do speak with such beauty are falling to the ravages of time and a lack of money to repair.

There were cemeteries throughout Czech, that told of the Christian theology with beautiful tombs, like mini churches. In Florence too and Paris too. The  faith of the deceased was expressed, and I would reflect within the warmth of my own faith.

Further reflecting on the Protestant churches back home, and unlike those cemeteries embellished with expressions of Hope, where 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?

~JWL

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