Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – Church


In the previous post you and I have met the role of the house as “object in the middle”. The role of the home has changed over the years from the environment where we live to a habitation. This habitation in the form of a house is seen by our ancestors as a safe haven and as a reference point from where the world is experienced. Recently, people started to identify with their home: they give shape to the house and the house expresses who they are. Our society demands of us more and more that we have a nationality and a permanent home and residence. Without these assets, people are not treated as full citizens.

Now you and I are looking into the role of the house of God as “object in the middle”.  The first sacred places, we have already seen. We have encountered sacred stones on our Odyssey. We remember the stone circles as places for ceremonies which we no longer know.

[1]

We also know the golden calf as an image of a (demi-) god [2]. We have read in the Old Testament about Yahweh who is present between the tips of angel wings above the lost Ark of the Covenant,.

Probably the hunter-gatherers have already given shelter to Gods. We have read about rituals performed by the hunter-gatherers to unite the hunters with their prey as redemption for killing of the prey, and to maintain the unique bond between prey and hunter for both their survival. The rituals may be performed at specific times and places. These sites may be seen as a precursor to the house of God. The many caves with paintings of hunting scenes are a next step towards a house of God. Probably, these paintings also had a religious background.

Many nomadic peoples have travelled around with their herds. They may also have known fixed holy sites. And probably they have seen sacred sites of established residents. Have they identified themselves with the gods of the established residents and the hunter-gatherers? Probably not, but maybe they have adopted some elements of the faith of other people. As nomads, they will have carried their sacred objects on the travels with their herds. In their tents special places are reserved for shrines. One example is the Ark of the Covenant that the Jews carried around on the travels and place in a tent during stages. Even in the temple in Jerusalem, the ark is placed with poles on both sides as a reminder and a preparation for a new travel.

The form of Islamic mosques reminds you and me of temporary stays – large tents and outposts to indicate the entrance point – in a desert. These mosques are transferred in imposing houses of Allah with courts and outbuildings around. An example is the Suleyman Mosque in Istanbul.

[3]

Farmers with fixed fields are moving into permanent habitations. Also the gods receive their private habitations. The recognition of the house of Gods does not happen overnight. When we visit the oldest stave church at Urnes in Norway, the guide explains that the woodwork of the church is decorated with dragon motifs on the outside to keep the many evil spirits outside. This is necessary in the long dark winters. The Vikings have to leave their swords outside next to the door. Inside the church has only a few small lights from above. In that light a wooden crucifix is seen from which redemption and access to the afterlife may come. The priests at that time do try to change the image of Valhalla – the hall where the honorary fallen soldiers during battle continue eating, drinking and fighting to the end of time – into a longing for deliverance from sin and a Christian view of the afterlife. The blue paint color – lapis lazuli – on the wooden crucifix from around the 12th century AD comes from Afghanistan according to the guide.

During the explanation of the guide I think of Jalāl al-Dīn – also known as Rumi, who is born around the same time in Vaksh in Balkh Province in Afghanistan. Probably Rumi transcends the “object in the middle” in his contact with Allah: “My thoughts are in the heart of Allah, the heart of Allah will be sick without the thoughts of me [4]”. Later on our Odyssey more about this.

When we leave this church, you say: “Those light openings under the roof remind me of a saying by Oscar Wild:” We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars “.

[5]

“Do you remember the first rays of the sun at 6 o’clock in the morning on the first day of spring? [6]” I ask.

“Whenever I visit a church.” You answer.

The next message continues on churches as “object in the middle”.


[1] Source of image: Marieke Grijpink

[2] See the previous post “Introduction: Three – Object in the middle – part 1” on 5th of May 2011

[3] Source image: http://www.islamleer.nl/islaam/biografie/geleerdenoverigen/758-kanuni-sultan-suleyman-i

[4] See: Nicholson, Reynold A., The Mathnawi of Jalálu’ddin Rúmí, Book II. Cambridge: Biddles Ltd, 2001 p. 281

[5] Source image: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/norway/urnes-stave-church

[6] See the last post on “Two” on 25th of April 2011

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