Historical setting: 590 C.E. The church in the woods
Horses delivered and I start home, but this little church on the hillside captures my imagination. Now I find myself picking through a hunter’s path in the thickets. It’s in disrepair, more in the style of a Roman Pagan temple than either a Christian Basilica, or a Celtic Druid fire pit. Inside, I find the priest is present – a snowy-haired elder — a woman in a ragged white alb. She is sitting, watching a winter bird through the open space in the wall. I see the bird outside the window has found the seeds on the ground, no doubt, tossed from inside this place.
She didn’t hear me come in. “Pastor” I announce myself.
She can’t hear me. I speak it louder, and she is startled to find she isn’t alone.
In an uncomfortably loud voice I introduce myself, “I am Lazarus but the Christians of the monastery call me Ezra.”
“Lazarus” she looks right into my face. “You are Lazarus, friend of Jesus.”
“You know the story of my namesake?”
“I know you.”
With her sparkling obsidian eyes she looks deeply at me. Maybe she does know me, or maybe she is a bit off. Who am I to judge?
“You are the Christian priest here?” I assume.
“Yes, we keep the Christian worship here and the feast.”
She means mass, I’m sure.
All around the smoldering altar, central in this sanctuary, are special niches for worship. A many tiered Jerusalem cross is central, but also is statuary – Roman Gods and goddesses, little giftings of particular things of nature: an oaken burl, and some seeds and husks from trees gathered in a season of abundance. And here is a wreath carved and decorated in acorns and pinecones. I can see I have come upon something of a Ka’ba [Footnote] – a place I had known in the desert in centuries past where wanderers from all ways of knowing God, nomads, Zoroastrians, Arabs of all varieties, found a place for worship. My thoughts go to that Arab place I saw so long ago when a Persian Empire allowed Christians and Jews to practice their religions, until Rome claimed Christian as an arm of its empire. Then we were purged, persecuted, ravaged, so I’m here now in the fringes of wilderness.
It was the ancient Roman practice to build a Roman temple on the place of the temple of conquered subjects. So did Christians build over a Roman temple in this place, or are these icons still worshiped here?
[Footnote]Ka’ba or in English ‘the Cube’ is described by Reza Aslan in pages 2-5 of his book no god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and future of Islam (updated ed.) (2011, New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks) Blogger’s note, this book is well worth the read for an outsider’s introduction to the Islamic branch of the shared Abrahamic root.
(Continues Tuesday, January 17)