Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A Skeptic Visits Calvary

I was raised by two very different parents. My mother is a woman of great faith. My father is a man of great intelligence. I don't mean to say those two can never mix, because my mother is also very intelligent and my father does have faith, just not in the things of religion. If nothing else, he has faith in my sister and myself. However, in their lives, it is clear that my mother's priority is faith and my father's is intelligence. These dual treasures are the tributaries that feed into me. My life is spent trying to balance the two.

I have told you before, I am a skeptic.

I have also told you how, in Israel, I was often bothered by churches built in holy places we were visiting. My entire experience at the Church of the Nativity was wrecked by a combination of my skepticism and my empath-tendencies (people all around me were tired and frustrated and that fed my own confusion). So, as we paused for lunch, just past the fourth station on the Via Dolorosa, I started trying to process the end of the journey.

We were making our way to Calvary.

I knew, from reading my little pamphlet and from all of our previous stops, I was going to find myself inside another church. There would be no tall hill overlooking Jerusalem where I could stand and see Mary sobbing and Jesus dying. The pictures in my head would not be realized in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Impossible. It has been 2000 years. No sooner had Jesus ascended than his followers were probably marking holy sites and worshiping at them. Humans have not changed that much in 2000 years, even if the landscape has.

Could the place I was heading be the actual hill on which Jesus died?

Yes, it could.

"Could" is nice and all, but IS IT THE PLACE?

Archaeologists are 95% certain this is the place. That's what our teacher told us. It was the most certainty I was going to get, and I wasn't sure it was enough.

What if I was making my way to a random rock on a random hillside now covered by a ridiculously overblown church?

I could tell my husband was growing frustrated with me, as he had when we left Nativity. He wanted me to relax, to take this as a time to remember, to not think so hard. But I am my father's daughter and I think. It's what I do. I wanted to have this thing all thought out before I arrived, because I didn't want to be rushed past unknowing, as I was in Nativity.

I wanted to understand.

By the time we arrived at Church of the Holy Sepulchre, I had made peace with the idea that I was, again, inside a church instead of standing in nature. I didn't really think I was approaching Calvary. Instead, I set my mind on the Western Wall, where we would be going when we completed the Via Dolorosa. THAT I knew about for sure. The Western Wall is the Western Wall. It's a manmade structure and it always WAS a manmade structure.

So there I was, climbing steep steps that informed me, yes, this is a hill top. I am climbing a hill, just as Jesus climbed a hill. I looked back, worried about Catherine, who is 83 and was already struggling to make this journey through Jerusalem. Was someone helping her up the steps? I couldn't find her in the crowd. I plunged forward, landing in a room covered in tiny tiles. The tiles formed intricate images from the Bible. I tried to make a joke about our new bathroom tile. Could I have that Adam and Eve scene by the tub?

But the joke fell flat in my mouth. I felt heavy. I strained to see the front of the line, where there was a low altar of sorts. This I expected. Many sites required you to kneel under an altar to see the spot marked as holy.

The heavy feeling grew.

We inched closer to the front of the room.

My heart pounded.

Tears sprang to my eyes and I wiped them away. They returned.

I could see Jesus in my mind, his feet near my eye level, nailed to wood.
I could see blood and I could hear Mary crying.

Or was that me?

The closer we got, the heavier my shoulders felt.

When my turn came, I knelt under the altar. There was a round hole, rimmed by metal. I put my hand into the hole, leaned so my arm went in, and felt my fingers splayed across cold granite.

My heart broke.

Quickly, I pulled back and stood up. I left the room, not waiting for Corey to follow. I made it as far as the doorway. I think there was art on the wall, someone looking at something.

I fell.

I have only felt like that one other time in my life, though that is another blog. Suffice it to say, this was no normal sorrow. My forehead was on the floor. My body was shaking. I could not think anything but this...

"I'm so sorry."

For a moment, I think I held the hammer. I think I placed the nails.

That was around two weeks ago and, if I am honest, I'm not sure I ever got up off that floor. Anytime the world goes quiet and I am alone with myself, I feel the heaviness again, and I think, "I am never leaving Calvary."

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