Reflections from Turkey, Day 6

“Is that the crying Imam?”

Our journey today traced the footsteps of early Christianity as we made our way through Ephesus.  This city is important for two reasons to modern-day Christians: first, according to tradition, after the death of Jesus, John was told to care for Mary, the mother of Jesus, and he brought her here to Ephesus.  After some time here he died and was entombed.  It is rumored that Mary, too, died and was entombed here, though nobody knows for sure.  According to Catholic tradition, she lived her years here and died; Protestant tradition has her returning to Jerusalem but being entombed after death in Ephesus.  There is a tomb known as “Mary’s House” that has been a site of sacred pilgrimage for almost 2000 years, though scholars are fairly certain that the body in the tomb known as “Mary’s House” is not Mary.

As we made our way through the sites and the Roman ruins, I kept thinking about Clifford Geertz.  Clifford is a cultural anthropologist who has published volumes of work, though my favorite is his understanding of the cockfights in Bali.  He observes a tradition and attempts to map out the players, the audience, the history and the meaning behind the action.  Geertz presents a fairly controversial theory through his documents: meaning is more important than fact.  I thought of this as I walked the streets where Mary walked and observed other tour groups, some with tears streaming down their faces.  I considered this fact as I stood at the tomb of “Mary” and witnessed a nun guarding her remains.  I reflected upon this as I saw a half-dozen believers drink water that was believed to have sprung after Mary died.

I don’t know if meaning is more important that fact.  I like to think that the two go hand-in-hand; that when a “fact” is disproven, we move on and abandon the activity that reflected said fact.  But I know that we don’t, and I know that not all “facts” can be proven.  And when a fact can’t be proven- like who, exactly, is in the tomb of Mary?- behavior in itself becomes a matter of faith.

Before I could intellectualize it too much, I saw one of my fellow pilgrims wipe a tear from her eye.  I knew then that it was time to stop thinking and start, well, behaving.

We held the Christian service in the Colosseum, which can hold 24,000 people.  James Lamkin led a beautiful service and the Christians all participated.  One of the more incredible moments occurred when a Korean tour group started singing.  Keep in mind, we were in a public space- a very public space- and distractions were the norm.  At one point, the Korean group of women started singing, “How Great Thou Art”:

O Lord my God/when I in awesome wonder/consider all the worlds your hands have made/ I see the clouds and the rolling thunder/ I see the power of the universe displayed/ How great thou art, how great thou art.

They sang in Korean and members of our group, taken by the moment, began to sing along in English.  It was one of those beautiful moments that one simply cannot script, and one that cannot be replicated.

Following our visit to Ephesus, we went to a nearby masjid for prayers.  Upon our arrival, one of the pilgrims asked, “Is that the crying imam?” referring to a gentleman coming out to greet our bus.  As the story goes, this imam preached a sermon in 2002 about interfaith relations and the importance of working closely with Jews and Christians.  As if on cue, but with no advanced warning, the first World Pilgrims bus drove up and unloaded for prayers.  Without saying a word, Jews and Christians joined their Muslim friends in worship.  The surprised imam finished prayers and went to greet Plemon, the Muslim head of our group.  Upon learning about the World Pilgrims, he began to cry.  He sat and chatted with the group for a while, remarking about how surprised he was to see the group and how surprising it was to see Jews and Christians jump right into the Muslim prayer line, doing the motions and praying with intention.  And with that, he began to cry.

Since then, each Turkey pilgrimage has stopped by.  And since then, whenever he sees us, he begins to cry.

Crying Imam?  Meet the crying Pilgrims.

Cut and paste this link to see my pics: http://www1.snapfish.com/snapfish/thumbnailshare/AlbumID=2439522017/a=8330155_8330155/

Cut and paste this link to see Joel’s blog about the day’s events and much, much better pics: http://www.Jkmclendon.com

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Published in: on April 25, 2010 at 8:35 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. You visited Ephesus… how I envy you! Those were some pretty impressive ruins, no matter who’s taking the photos =) My in-laws visited that house where Mary may have spent the rest of her days, and were also very touched.

    The story of Mary living with the Apostle John is more than, well, a story: John records in his Gospel (John 19:26-27) how Jesus, while on the cross, commanded Mary “behold your son” and to John, “behold your mother”; and after that, she went to stay with him. A passage that’s of great significance to Catholics, as we understand that commandment to apply not just to John, but to all of humanity: thus, the Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary as Mother of the Church, Our Lady, our own Mother, and so many other titles.

    I’m surprised the Assumption wasn’t mentioned at the site of the “tomb” (there’s another one in Jerusalem!). Catholics (both Western and Eastern) believe that Mary was assumed body-and-soul into heaven after the completion of her earthly life (http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/02006b.htm). Kind of like Elijah at the completion of his life (2 Kings 2:11). No certainty on whether she died first, but that wouldn’t change the belief. There’s a conspicuous absence of Marian relics, which is telling, since the bones of the Apostles and martyrs were zealously guarded and highly prized.

    Really enjoying the stories and photos from your pilgrimage. That bit about the crying Imam is really touching. Wish I was there!


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