SILENT LIGHT, In the Land of Mary
"YOU ARE THE POT OF PURE GOLD WHERE IS HIDDEN THE MANNA, THE BREAD WHICH CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN GIVING LIFE TO ALL THE WORLD. RECEIVE THIS BODY AND THIS BLOOD FOR LIFE AND NOT FOR CONDEMNATION. WORLD WITHOUT END."-- chant of the ancient semitic liturgical language, Ge'ez.
The indigenous African Christianity of the Tewahedo church contains a spiritual nexus at the holy city of Lalibela in northern Amhara region of Ethiopia. This oldest, independent nation of Africa is also, arguably, the first Christian nation in the world. Its unique form of Christianity developed here in relative isolation, protected by the rugged Abyssinian mountains which provided a buffer to the Muslim conquests taking place to the north during the 7th century. Its faith stands apart in a belief, considered heresy by some in Western Christianity, that human nature may also contain the divine. Tewahedo translates as "being made one" or "one united nature".
During the 12th century, Lalibela became a "New Jerusalem" attracting pilgrims from throughout the ancient world. A King's vision of a church being built from a single block of stone began what would become eleven monolithic churches carved from the top down into the "living rock" to create a mecca of underground temples. The work was seen as a miracle created by the angels.
This center of the Orthodox faith is also at the footsteps of where human beings first evolved, in the Afar region of Ethiopia. The ancient landscape holds the remains of one of the most influential empires in history -the Aksumite-. Lasting almost one thousand years, its power stretched from East Africa across the Red Sea to the South Arabian Peninsula, linking both Rome and later Byzantium. Ethiopia's identity is tied to this ancient empire, which would become a Christian Kingdom and today is a modern nation divided by rival ethnic regions. Ethiopia has known great wealth, as well as great poverty. It resisted European colonization, but suffered enormously at the hands of its own brutal rulers. Through all of these centuries the silent movement of this pilgrimage has continued.
In Bete Maryam, the church of the most venerated saint in Ethiopia -the mother Mary- a pillar stands with the inscription: "to reveal the past and future of this world".
In my own work, I have found that those cultures that still revere the idea of the eternal, also share in the recognition that life is born of suffering and that this integral part of our human nature is its own fundamental strength.