Mount of Beatitudes (1983)

I must say for myself, the land has meant more and opened me more to scripture than the stone venerated in Jerusalem and elsewhere, The stones of Jerusalem are like no other; have captured my passion, but the stones of the churches commemorating dubious biblical locations, while beautiful stones, don’t tell me of spiritual things.

Scripture and self have come alive in the desert, the hills of the Galilee, the serene shores of the Lake of Galilee.

On the Mount of Beatitudes, the hills that fall away to the Sea of Galilee, in whose folds Jesus spoke those heart-rending words of the Sermon on the Mount, there is a lovely church, octagonal in shape, its size only allowing an altar in the centre and two or three rows of pews around the perimeter. Glass windows surround the interior on each wall and above the altar a high and uplifting dome rises.

 As I sat there for some time it struck me, seeing both the hills through the windows and the altar, that the ritual of the eucharist in this place would seem so foreign and unreal to the setting. The cascading hillsides, grass blankets, and the birds surfing on the sunstreams, seemed the more congruent with the Lord’s teachings than many liturgical prayers and versicles about hierarchy and obedience. The true time of the Spirit at the church is when it’s silent, unobtrusively silent, when nature, the slope of the hill was the inspiration for that first gathering, and so again I look to nature to sing her tranquil song for the message to penetrate my cold stone heart. Somehow voices undermine the solemness. There should be just one voice heard here, the Silence that speaks to us, for we humankind with our cultic ways are so foolish.

Of course the inevitable tour groups line up to peer about then disappear. The Tour Guide’s voice crashes with thunderous overtones echoing from the walls and the ceiling she’s describing: “the gold represents the wheat, the gray the water, and the specks in the marble, they say, are the multitudes gathered to hear Jesus.” Click goes all the cameras.

“On the floor,” her voice careens from pillar to pillar, “is depicted some of the human qualities the beatitudes are promoting: temperance, prudence, faith, hope, justice.” They leave.

The swallows return to circle their dome, silent, so silent as they soar; like our response to the words of the Lord.