Saturday, September 20, 2014

“God's dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu

In yesterday’s blog, I referred to a trip to Greece where I sat next to Sharon Stone on the flight to Athens.  That trip was one of those things that define me and cannot be adequately expressed in a single blog, but I will try to eventually cover the whole trip by doing blogs from time to time dealing with different aspects of it.  A little teaser is that terrorists tried to blow up the church where we were worshipping with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul and he refers to that in a letter he later wrote me but that will be for another time.  One of the things that we did on that trip was to travel to the Meteora area of Greece where there are seven monasteries still standing and in use after five centuries.  We spent the night in two of them.  You can see from the picture at the right that they are all built on the tops of pinnacles several hundred feet high as a defense against persecution.  Part of one of the James Bond movies (“For Your Eyes Only”) was filmed at one of them, Holy Trinity.  I had a letter from the Ecumenical Patriarch (the kind of Pope of the 300 million Orthodox Catholics) that allowed me to take pictures of the art inside the monasteries that had never been allowed before, so I was the only one with a camera (a gift from the little church in Gravette, Arkansas, I was serving at the time).  When we got back, I did a slide show and presentation in Gravette and over the next few years, did them in many cities including Phoenix, Arizona—but that’s another story.  The monastery in the picture at the right is St. Stephen’s and it is only in the past thirty years that tourists have been allowed to go inside, and they had to build stairs to allow that—many, many stairs.  I couldn’t make that trip today, and I struggled a bit even then, but I made it.  I haven’t figured out how to include multiple pictures here, but on Facebook you can another of the seven, the monastery at Rousanou.  This is worth spending the time to Google and read about these monasteries and to look at the pictures on Google Images as well.  Back to my story, unlike traditional monasteries which are for men only, these are mixed—some are men only and some are women only.  In the rest of the world, women only places are called convents, but here the one word describes them both.  Because I was allowed to take pictures and to go where other tourists were forbidden, I frequently found myself wandering around in areas when no one expected to find a man with a camera, particularly in the monasteries for nuns.  In St. Stephen (built in 1545), I got lost.  I was sitting in one of the small chapels wondering what to do when a small, aged nun came in to pray.  As I watched her, I couldn’t help but notice that it seemed like she had a kind of light that encompassed her and followed her wherever she went.  When she saw me, the first thing she asked was if she could pray for me.  How could I refuse?  It seemed as if the Holy Spirit was radiating from within her and its love just shone out of her eyes.  I felt I was in the presence of God.  I asked if I could take her picture, and she asked why.  I told her I had never met anyone who so glowed with love for others and with the Holy Spirit within her.  She thought for a moment and then asked, “If it is as you say, why would you want my image on a piece of paper which could be lost or destroyed?  Wouldn’t it be better if you carried me in your heart where I would be with you forever?”  She was right.  I have no picture of her to show you or anyone else, but she has lived within my heart since that moment.  I pray that you carry people like that within your heart.  It changes fuzzy images into clear ones, and brings light into the darkness that sometimes tries to overwhelm our hearts.  I don’t know her name, I have no picture, but she changed me in that moment.  God works in mysterious ways and in mysterious places.

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