Sacred Space

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The Hagia Sophia: Church, Mosque, Museum

“So many people come here and for so many different reasons. Some to rejoice, some to mourn, some to worship, others to sit steeped in thought. Almost everyone who comes to this place must be united by one thing: the staggering awe of one of the most beautiful spaces on earth.”

I wrote this as I sat on a stone step in the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul in Turkey. As I entered this magnificent building I couldn’t help but be struck by its glory. The vaulted and domed ceiling towers high over the viewers head, and the space is suffused with golden light streaming in from the windows, around the domes, and emanating from chandeliers suspended from the ceiling. Gold paint and intricate mosaic tiles glimmer in the radiance. However, despite this magnificence and splendor, the viewer is immediately confronted with a stark juxtaposition of two religions. Islam and Christianity. On the walls massive discs with beautiful, gold, Arabic lettering bear the names of Allah and Mohamed. Many of these discs are hung directly beside a glittering mosaic depicting a scene of Christian iconography. Jesus Christ, Mary the mother of Jesus, a seraphim covered by his six wings.

As a visitor to this museum I felt a sense of unease at seeing a place that was once holy, first to the Christians, then to the Muslims, stripped of its identity like this. Neither Christians nor Muslims can now claim this awesome place as their own space of worship. It is a museum, neutral. Sacredness cross-canceled by competing religions.

Museum to Mosque

Now, as tension continues to rise in the middle east, there is talk of changing this Hagia Sophia in Istanbul back into a mosque. Two other Hagia Sophias, one in Iznik (once Nicea) and one in Trabzon have recently been converted into mosques. These events point to the possibility of the golden Hagia Sophia of Istanbul being converted as well. In an Article on Al-monitor Amberin Zaman discusses the conversion of the first two buildings and the implications that this may have for the future of Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum. However, in his conclusion he states that:

Western diplomats warn that the court ruling for the Trabzon Hagia Sophia has set a dangerous precedent. Even so, converting Hagia Sophia in Istanbul seems far-fetched. Restoration work on the famous basilica has continued throughout a decade of AKP rule, and new frescoes have been uncovered. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has himself dismissed speculation about Hagia Sophia’s future. Drawing around 3.3 million visitors in 2012, the museum is in the words of Kalas, the Byzantine historian, “a money-generating machine.” Kalas believes Hagia Sophia will not be converted into a mosque “precisely for this reason, … not because [the government] doesn’t want this to happen,” she concluded.

This sentiment is echoed in an article published in The Economist. 

While some spectators offer the Hagia Sophia’s monetary value as a museum as proof that it will not likely be converted, other evidence points in the opposite direction. In the Hurriyet Daily News an article appears indicating that due to the activism of some citizens parliamentary consideration is indeed being given to this proposal.

“Three citizens living in the northwestern province of Kocaeli appealed to the commission with a request to change the status of Hagia Sophia. A survey conducted with 401 people was attached to the application, in which more than 97 percent of interviewees requested the transformation of the ancient building into a mosque and afterwards for it to be reopened for Muslim worship.”

 

hagia sofia

Implications of the Conversion

The conversion of this building has so many implications. As a follower of Christ I see a direct attack on Christendom. While it is true that a relationship with God is not dictated by physical buildings, I can’t help but feel sad that the icons of the Christian church will be covered up once again. The tension that exists there now will give way to a victory for Islam.

This issue is not simply a religious one though. There are many pieces of art in this building created by Christians that are not allowed to be present in a mosque. This means that they will be covered in one way or another and not only will the public not be allowed to view them, but further discovery of such pieces would likely halt. The artistic value of these incredibly detailed mosaics is undeniable. The historical nature of this building and its extant past infuse it with cultural significance. Buildings like this one are important examples of byzantine architecture and art. The conversion of this building will likely cause damage as has been seen in the other two converted churches.

In 2011 Michele Stopera Frehauf wrote an article for Popular Archaeology in which she asserts that:

“Hagia Sophia represents the very essence of the history of Turkey and the continuous transformation it has undergone throughout the ages and even today … As a Museum, this structure must remain a testimony to its past, Pagan, Christian and Muslim alike, standing to tell a story, in its structure and stones.”

This museum is a rich vein of history and its conversion into a mosque would stifle the benefit of being able to explore such a sacred space in an academic or religious way. Is the fate of the Hagia Sophia in Trabzon as depicted in The Economist a window into the future of Istanbul’s building?

“A red carpet now obscures exquisite floor mosaics. Shutters and tents beneath the central dome shield Muslim worshippers from “sinful” paintings of the Holy Trinity. Shiny steel taps with plastic stools for ablutions clutter a once-verdant garden filled with ancient sculptures.”

This Haunting image of a once richly historical place now shrouded in obscurity for the sake of Islam is a grim one. Only the future will show what will become of this sacred space.      

Poetry as Promised

Four poems written during and after

reading the poetry of T.S. Eliot

  

On Reading the Poetry of Eliot

Eliot.

Poet.

Read it.

Confounded.

Get it?

Confound it.

Repeat it.

Got it?

Forget it!

Quit…

Revisit.

Find it?

A bit.

 

——————————

Kinetic Move

Time and memory swell and flow

Light dances with the shadow

Never lingering there too long

Gracefully flitting over sand and sea alike.

A man can be too still,

and Stagnation may be easily won,

More simply than silver and gold.

Yet still, time does not bother to stop.

Tell me, Thomas, when did you begin

To truly move in life?

was it Only once you saw the light

When you then sang of godly things?

Why is it then that I, your reader,

Feel less moved on drinking in those words

That feel to me so forced

—-Pushed

                                                                out—

                                                           painfully—

                                                    Where is the flow of light and time?

   —————————–

I Spy

Cut up

Fixed up

Jacked up

Mixed up

Snipped up

Picked up

Poetry’s not easy

Find the hidden meaning

or seek no meaning.

Feel the textured words.

Were we meant to see some truth here?

Or is it simply UP To interpretation?

———————-

 

The “Aha” Place

Words and phrases that are

Wound up like a spool of thread.

Like a child in a musty attic,

One comes to the pages to discover

Chrysoprase and porphyry beneath the dust.

Stretches of work, rewarded in kind,

with stretches of treasure, found.


Above one’s head, Edison’s invention,

A switch is flipped and it all converges,

This is the space of the “aha”.

“I get it now, I see the light”

One only hopes to reach that place


And oh, what ecstasy to feel

As though you were the first

To land on untouched soil, where

Other men have never stepped.

But then again how lonely…

I will feel the joy of seeing

That many more are here beside me

And rather than deplete the wealth,

Digging knee deep in the sand,

They multiply its opulence.

A strawberry nectarine kind of morning

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          This morning I woke up after a dream about making sweet potato pancakes and my mouth was watering. Unfortunately I don’t have any sweet potatoes right now so instead I went in search of other good breakfast recipes. I was inspired not only by my dream but also found the spark in Brett McCracken‘s latest article about Eating Christianly. The idea of paying close attention to what you are eating, to keep your body healthy and to enjoy the food you have is an awesome way to work on being whole human beings. With my fairy dust in hand I set about an adventure to take time to create something that I could then enjoy. It is a well-known fact that you gain more pleasure from the things that you work hard to get. In my search I discovered a recipe for a Peach smoothie, which looked lovely, so I repeated the experiment with a few changes.

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For starters I used a plain yogurt instead of Greek simply because my budget is a little tight. I also decided to use nectarines instead of peaches and add strawberries to the mix (using what I have!). The original recipe uses Stevia, which is a great idea if you like a little sweetness in your drink. I like my smoothies a little bitter and my coffee black (unadulterated pleasure!).

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Blend it all up…

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…make some French press coffee on the side, add toast with strawberry jam…

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…and viola! a delicious, contemplated brunch (it was 11 o’clock by the time I finished!). Two drinks too much? I think not, the warm, rich coffee did a wonderful job of balancing out the creamy, cold smoothie!

Connectitude

This is a story about connections. I’m telling you because of my own surprise and wonder at the impact that a glimpse at the fabric of our world, our Father’s world, can have on a person. It may have be one of those events where you just ‘had to be there’ but I’ll try and give you a feel for what I experienced.

I’ve heard so many times that this is a small world and yet, though you hear a thing a thousand times those moments where you really and truly grasp something not just with your mind but also with your heart can make a thing that much more real. Things still jump out of the bushes and from behind walls to give you a jolt and remind you of their ‘reallness’. This is a small world, and yet, not in a small way. There is freaky amount of veritable collagen binding our world together and the series of seeming coincidences which follow gave me a momentary vision of the magnitude of the small world.

I have a voracious reading habit. I don’t read because I am super intelligent; I read because I’m behind. I have a whole world to catch up on and I’m miles behind. Its a hard thing to keep up with the thousands of years of history and keep a tight enough hold on reality. You’ve got to remember that you’re alive and not part of some book, you live now and you have to see people and talk to them and then write the next story that people in the future will have to catch up with; but for now I am catching up.

I was reading an article in New Yorker Magazine and it told a story about some guy who cut and pasted every part of his spy novel from various places and then claimed that it was all his own work. The poor sap would have been fine if he had just admitted that it wasn’t his own, that he had borrowed work from everyone else. Its not that bad of a skill to be able to dissect, snip, and fuse chunks of other people’s writing into a cohesive piece; but the guy had to say it was his, not a mashup, but an original. Poor fellow. Of course he made some good choices on who to cut from. He picked people like Scott Bradfield, Robert Coover and Don DeLillo. I took notes on who he had picked, and went to look these fellows up. I found a Delillo in the library, not Americana, the novel our friend the klepto had lifted from, but instead one called White Noise. It was incredible. Thats the first part of my story. I was led to a great book, but it wasn’t even the one I meant to find. So far so good.

Another thing was this: A few weeks ago I went in to talk to one of my teachers about writing. He’s brilliant about it. Excited like a little fox chasing a squirrel, but he chases creative writing. Well I wanted some tips and tricks of the trade to push me along in my writing and he did not disappoint. He told me that Mahatma Gandhi had said that “Almost everything you do will seem insignificant, but it is important that you do it”. Basically you are only a tiny part of the big picture but you have to do what you do in the tapestry to make it whole. Good quote. I never wanted to be mediocre and he said maybe its fine if you aren’t on top, if you’re an Einstein or a Michelangelo you would know. I guess I know I’m not them. But I am me and I’m supposed to create. I want to contribute to the chunk of work about memory I told him. He said great, good idea. I told him about my inspiration, the last time this coincidence thing happened. I wanted to start writing about memory and then I read Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine which is all made a dredge of memories that resulted in this delicious book. As sweet as Dandelion Wine. So he gives me some tips on books on memory and on the list is something called Swan’s way (I learn later that its Swann’s way, I didn’t know) so I write that down and save it for later. So far so good. At the time I’m reading some other book called 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami. Brilliant stuff. Ate it up. Especially for a translated text, I’m in shock at how good the words taste coming off the page; incredible. As I’m eating this text, word by word, the main character is reading too. She has picked up a set of books known for being long. Almost too long to read. She has some time on her hands and starts reading ‘In search of Lost Time’ Which is by Proust. Great, sounds interesting to me. I’ll write it down, check it out later. I probably won’t be able to read something all the way through which is notorious for being too long to finish. Maybe I would just pick a section and get a feel for Proust (a name I’ve heard but never read). So far so good.

Next, go to the library and check for the books I’ve been writing down now. The culmination of a collection of various unrelated suggestions and indications for further reading. When I look up DeLillo and realize we have White Noise but not Americana, I second guess pulling this one out. I’ve never heard of it. Oh well its the only thing our library has. Apparently penguin liked it, this is part of a list of 20 books of the 20th centuries greatest literature. So far so good. I look up ‘In search of Lost Time’ and realize that ‘Swann’s Way’ is actually a large part of that series. Wow, thats a weird coincidence, my teacher told me to look for a book that just so happens to be mentioned in the book I was wading through at the time. So I look at the list in the beginning of the penguin book and lo and behold not only is One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest on there (a book I had just read two weeks before) but another book, not In Search of Lost Time, I guess that would be too big, no, ‘Swann’s Way’ specifically. These books are not even related in their content they only fall into the same broad time spectrum of the twentieth century.

How does that happen? How can all of the things I read be connected like this? Its uncanny. Its scary. it makes the world feel incredibly small and incredibly huge at the same time. Rough. I see spider webs clinging to my life in a raging network, and the spiders are on it yelling at me to remember that they’re connecting this whole world together. I don’t know whether to be happy or to freak out. So I do both. It just sort of makes you sit back and slack jaw for a good minute or two (just as long as no one’s looking). Its just weird to get a flash of a bigger picture. Sure you know that things connect, six degrees and all that. But its one thing to know it and another thing to really see it for a second and feel the weight of the strands that draw a world into order. Sort of deconstructing the chaos you thought had a part in life and putting things in boxes. Not boxes that restrain the content but boxes like little galaxies that contain universes planets and stars. Huge little places that contain mysteries, totally magic. Ridiculously intricate, not easy to get a handle on or wrap your mind around. You might think that seeing the organization might make things seem a little boring, not as free as you thought they were. Instead it has essentially the opposite effect on me. Realizing that everything I go for reaches back, around, through, and up, into, from, and by history is really a beautiful thing and it makes you feel small. Small but also like you could be a part of this, that you almost have to be a part of all of this. The things you do, make, create, are going to end up slung up into this web, part of the galaxies rolling around above our heads and surprising us when we happen to look up. That miraculous moment before we drop our bewildered heads back down to our chests and lose the glimpse once again. But we hold on to that remembrance of what we happened to see. It keeps us going for awhile and draws us upward to something higher. To spirituality, to holiness, to the divine, to God. It raises your soul up to see the degree of intimacy between the ideas, the writing, the art and the music that men make. An infinitely wide tapestry that is woven so delicately and beautifully you know we couldn’t have done this all by ourselves, we’re too close to it to see it all like that. I know in my mind that the one who made this work of life is omni, that he can do anything and everything. That of course he’s capable of building a matrix like this one. But when I see it, when I actually get a peek behind the curtain and see how big it really could be, I’m flat on my back. Awesome. Wow. Okay now don’t forget about it, let it inform your life. That’s the hard part. Well try. Okay, try.

“Wow”. My Aunt Sharon, who was the director of Camp Cherith at Sky Meadows for forty years, used to give star talks and weave wonderful stories to awestruck children about the bears, scorpions and hunters that glitter from the night sky. She is incredibly charismatic and has a twinkle in her eyes that may have come from the heavens itself. As she wraps up her talk she invites her audience, whose necks are getting sore, to lay down on the hard dirt floor and stare up at the sky. She says “Our God created all of this, doesn’t it just make you say…’wow'”. When I see the intricate nature of the cosmos, which extends not only to physical creation, but also to the moving growing hearts, minds and souls of mankind, I do want to say “wow”.