Openings of Faith
If you have ever been inside a teepee, then you know that at the top of the conical structure is a small opening. If a fire was built inside, then the opening was enlarged to allow the smoke to escape. If you have ever made a cone out of paper, you know that by rolling the paper tightly, it can be used as a cup. These are two examples of how tightly closed can seemingly defy the laws of physics. After all, water is absorbed by paper and yet, paper can contain water. The teepee’s design which keeps in warmth and protects from rain can also allow the smoke to escape. These things protect and yet are permeable.
Yesterday stain-glass windows were discussed and how they use the idea of a window opening to tell a story. Scenes made from colored glass or painted on the colored glass, the making of which employs natural items and minerals to create beauty, prevent light from entering, one of the purposes of a window, yet use that same light to illustrate the design. The beauty comes from the contradictions in the making of the glass into something opaque instead of clear and in preventing the light from entering yet being necessary to see the vision created.
The Great Mosque of Djénné occupies a site which has housed a mud-brick mosque since the year 1240 ACE. The current structure is relatively new, dating back to 1907 and is also made in a blend of African and Islamic traditions. Constructed with dried earth, rick husks, wood and straw, the mosque sits on a high elevation requiring six stairways from the market center located below it. About this time every year, the outer coat of plaster gets a fresh coat of mud to protect it against the coming springtime monsoons. Located in Mali, this mosque was once described as a cross between a hedgehog and a church organ, the mosque’s towers being one of the most recognizable landmarks on the African continent. The prayer wall faces Mecca and the Prayer Hall has nine irregular windows to allow light inside the area.
The Golden Plough Tavern located in York, PA, USA is about as far away from the Great Mosque as possible. Constructed during colonial times in the 1700’s by a German family, the tavern served as host to the Second Continental Congress since it was located across the street from the courthouse where meetings were held. In a room behind the tavern’s main room and bar was a bed, a single cot and nothing else. Above the foot of the bed was a small window called a spirit hole. The small room was used to place bodies and the window was to allow the soul to leave.
Many aboriginal cultures had similar reasons for windows, whether it was to let in the light, air, or to allow the soul of the departed a chance to escape. As times progressed and homes become something more than tree frames covered with bark and mats made from foliage, the average home still have few windows. The ones they did have were feats of engineering and valuable for the uses mentioned above. They also, however, provided a break in security. The Episcopal Church of St Peter in Salisbury, Maryland, USA has windows along each side of its main worship area. The window begin at twelve feet from the floor and extend another four feet. They were designed for safety. Any arrows or cannon balls being fired would either hit the brick walls or arch and then fall with scoring direct hits.
The Christian faith is entering into the last week of Lent. Yesterday was Palm Sunday and in seven days the Christian world will celebrate Easter followed by Pentecost. It was on Pentecost that a great spirit entered a room where believers talked. It is said that this spirit entered through a small hole and descended like fire, empowering the believers. The term “spirit hole” has been used in part because of this story.
Much like the stain-glass windows, each oculi or round window connects us to our past and our future. The question we need to ask is “Where are our own spirit holes?” Are they windows that let truth in or do we keep ourselves shuttered and only view the world without letting any of ourselves out? Once discovered, do we continue to maintain our windows or do we take them for granted?
Finding the sacred in the everyday does not only refer to what is going on around us in the world. It also refers to what is happening internally to us and how we respond. The spirit holes of medieval times opened the church to allow light and air inside. We do not know everything and we need to keep an open mind in order to grow spiritually and to keep our faith vibrant.
The term hole refers to an opening. For some it might be emptiness but I am simply referring to a hole as an opening. For many a hole is a tear, something which is the result of a torn or fragmented event. To be sure, some holes are the result of such but again, such can be the beginning of a new phase, an opening to new possibilities.
The Wampanoag American Indians were part of the Algonquin Indian Nation. They built Quonset-type structures using tree bark for frames and woven foliage mats to cover the frame. At the top was a hole to allow air and light in and smoke out. The hole had a covering which was moved, dependent upon on the seasons. This kept snow and rain out.
Our spirit holes need wisdom as their covering. We cannot simply follow the latest trends; we must move according to our needs, no peer pressure. We need to view the outside world much like we view the stain-glass designs but then remember to allow light in and our spirit’s light to go outside. Faith that one keeps hidden is not faith of service.
Ocular windows became the design most often used in large mosques and cathedrals, I believe, because their circular shape mimics life. We live on a round planet, completing cycles of living each and every day. Openings of faith are all around us if we would but open our spirit windows and look. The sacred is our hearts needs an outlet. Our actions need to reflect the sacred in our beliefs so that they become windows for our faith, letting the rays of goodness shine on all. To quote Bishop Desmond Tutu: “Hope is being able to see that there is light in spite of all the darkness.”