More Like You
Candles of a lost faith shine bright under museum lights.
Lost things, found,
and displayed like trophies or artifacts.
More history than living faith.
You stand and listen, and feel.
Something in you hears the song of the priest,
feels the yearning of a generation of lost princes
and failed monarchs,
the holiness of the flawed
more like you than any could imagine.
The photograph is from the Romanov communion silver.
Yeah, those Romanovs, the royal family of Russia. The murdered Romanovs. After the communist overthrow of the czarist family, it was broken apart and lost for 75 years. Slowly gathered together, it is finally on display for the first time since those murders, at the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts.
The Museum of Russian Icons is a tiny little place, with a breathtaking collection of Russian icons from every era of Russian Christianity. The woman I love and I go there a couple of times a year. It’s a longish drive, but worth it.
To me, it is more than a museum. It is a holy place. Most of these icons, and certainly the Romanov silver were made and lived in churches and chapels throughout Russian. How did they end up here? I have no idea. Each icon, I am sure, has a story of travel or escape from their Motherland. Telling those stories would make an engaging book.
But for me, despite the modern design – the museum has lighting that changes color constantly, and clean, sharp design inside – this is still a holy place. The holiness of the churches and chapels that they came from still lingers.
I have an affinity for holy places, not just churches and chapels, but holy places of most all religions. Something in me is calmed. I find peace. I feel close to God.
There are generally two definitions of religion. One is the one we often think of when we think of God, in whatever form we think of him. That definition speaks to perfection and goodness and righteousness. All the things most of us aren’t. Only God is.
The second definition is one for us mere humans. It speaks of searching and devoting ourselves to God. And that is where holy places come in. They are the places that speak to people, that still their “monkey mind” (to steal a Buddhist phrase).
“Wherever two or more of us are gathered together in my name, I will be there also.” (Matthew 18:20). That’s a familiar verse, even to many non-Christians. I think it speaks to these places. Churches. Temples. Holy bowers. All of them are gathering places, places people come together to search and worship and pray. And there is power in that, I think.
I am as Christian as you get. Raised in it. Faltering in it. Saved by it (literally), my faith has seen me through a messy life. I have studied other faiths, some of them deeply, but nothing makes sense to me as much as the message of love and grace that is at the heart of the Christian gospel.
But I love certain aspects of other faiths. I have no problem integrating aspects of other faiths into my own practice. The way I look at it, religions have been stealing the trappings of each other for thousands of years. Christianity, while it has some spiritual distinctives that are uniquely Christian, is, as a religion, quite the mongrel in terms of many of the practices and traditions we use. So are many other faiths.
There’s a big difference between religion and spirituality. Religion is corporate. Spirituality is personal. The irony is that often we need the corporate to help us discover and learn the things that make our spirituality full and rich and complete. Most all the people I know who don’t go to church or temple any longer, and still have a deep personal faith were formed, got the education and understanding of their God in a corporate, religious place.
There is a power in togetherness. Go to a large church and hear the singing of hundreds of the faithful. Go to a temple and listen to the mantras of a room full of believers. There is power there, as if all those people, gathered together, seeking, worshiping, praying, bring the God-in-them and meet the God who is wholly other into that space, whatever it is.
Maybe it is superstition, but I have always felt such places, after being worshiped in for so long, held some of that holiness, both the seeking kind and the goodness kind, in them.
I am a seeker. Yes, I have a seminary degree and I know a lot of stuff. But I am always seeking that sense of holiness. There is a peace in it for me. I can find it in the simple spaces of a Quaker meeting house or the ornate halls of a cathedral. I can find it in the little neo-gothic church I worship in each week, or the small chapels that dot the countryside in rural England. I have found it in Buddhist temples, Hindu Temples, and even in the meeting space of the Bahai.
And I find it in museums when they have holy relics or temple bells or any of that.
A peace. A power that still, for me, emanates from these things that were once part and parcel of someone’s worship, where two or more or lots more, were gathered together. There is holiness in it. We only have to seek it.
And that is the thing. We have to seek that holiness. We have to let it in. We have to find our way to it. We have to realize there is no need to be perfect to be holy. Graces saves us from that need to be perfect. God does the rest. We only have to seek, worship and pray.
Yes, the icons and crosses and all the other symbols are trappings. But if they are trappings that lead us close to our God, they are good things, in whatever form they take.
And as I stood in front of the small group of Romanov communion silver, the altar candles, the plates for the bread and cups for the wine, the tabernacle that carried the bread, and the candlesticks for the altar, I was in a holy place.
I was in a holy place surrounded by the elements of a faith I do not subscribe to or even fully understand. But rather than feel challenged by it, I was able to simply soak in the holiness, the shared desire to find, and worship, God, always flawed, always seeking.
Be well. Travel wisely,