In March, a group from our church took a trip to the Holy Land. One of the historic sites we visited was the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church was built in 326 AD by the Roman Emperor Constantine and later rebuilt in 530 AD by Justinian. Religious pilgrims travel from great distances to view the silver star in the underground Grotto, which marks the traditional site of Jesus’ birth.
There was a crowd the day of our visit and we waited patiently for our turn to descend the stairs into the Grotto – a former cave now carefully entombed in stone and concrete. As we stood in line, we were overwhelmed by the religious relics dominating the architecture and history of the site. The Crusader period painted columns and 4th century mosaics were over shadowed by hanging lights, lanterns, candelabras and various ornamentation inside the Nave. The altar at the front of the church was filled with a smoky haze from the many burning candles lit as prayer offerings. Somewhere under all the sensory overload was a church.
So there we stood, observing all the activity around us and all the ornaments hanging from every conceivable nook and cranny. As I gazed down the steps leading into the Grotto, I noticed an electrical wire snaking down the wall to a lone light bulb hanging in the doorway. That’s where I took this picture of our dear friend Michael. He was looking for God.
I didn’t know this at the time. Later that evening, Michael shared his experience with us. You see, Michael was raised in religion and this trip was a gift from his beloved wife. He was excited to see the traditional birthplace of Jesus and maybe, possibly, feel the presence of God in that place. Surely His presence would be palpable in this holy site.
Michael shared with us his steps into the Grotto, looking first at the silver star on his right and then making his way around to the left to observe the traditional site of the manger. All the while, an Orthodox priest sat nearby observing our every move. We were quickly ushered through and up another set of steps leading out into the sister church of St. Catherine.
As Michael recounted his steps, he remarked, “I knelt down, gazed at the star and looked around. Could God be here? Then I walked over to the manger site and looked around. Was God here? As I walked around the small Grotto, I looked for God – but He wasn’t there.” Read More