Friday, 30 January 2015

A day of a hundred (or so) voices

I have no idea of how many voices I have actually heard today – but it will be somewhere near a good few hundred or so. From breakfast, with a Good Morning called across the room in welcome (with a delightful French accent from the Brothers and Sisters of the two Communities based at St Peter in Gallicantu), to the young boys of the souk competing to see who could yell the loudest in an attempt to drum up custom (in fact, no-one was listening to the boys – except themselves as they smiled and egged each other to yell all the more) and on to Vespers with the Community - said in the Church here.

In between, of course, there were the voices raised in song in the Crypt of the Dormition Abbey, the American who was loudly holding court in the café of Christ Church (proclaiming that Jesus was not a Jew as he was seen as ‘radical’ by the Jews of the time), the quiet murmur of the prayers of the pilgrims as they knelt at the site of the crucifixion (Golgotha), as well as the various people (all men) who wished to ‘assist’ me to find where I was going (at a cost, of course). One of them was Joseph, who loved England but who was born in Jerusalem. He was the most polite of all – even shaking my hand and blessing me as he went on his way. Others asked where I was from, having first caught my attention by calling out ‘Lady!’ I certainly don’t view myself as a lady but, because I automatically think it is someone wishing to tell me I have dropped something or possibly asking for help, usually I turn around. This, alas, gives it away! I shan't be doing this after today. I have also learned today to never sit or stand looking at a guidebook in an open space, always walk everywhere with a look of determination, ever look up at the architecture or down an alleyway with any show of inquisitiveness. It makes for speedy and dull viewing until you realise that this is just how it is here. Everyone is seeking to make a living here, with some barely managing to eke one out at all.

A shopkeeper from whom I purchased fruit and vegetables was only too happy to help me and did not ‘take me for a ride’ in the price he charged – unlike the man in the shop that sold herbs to unsuspecting passers-by who, like me, were called in by the evocative smells… more fool us! Like the owners of the souvenir shops that drip with ‘holy’ items that reflect every possible shade of Christian tradition, I imagine this man must see me as an arrogant westerner who can’t be bothered to learn the language in order to ask for what I required in his native language, Whilst I am vaguely irked for his disdain for me (and I know I deserve it), I also admire him, along with all the traders of the city (as well as the ‘beggars’) for the sheer tenacity which drives them on to learn how to speak Polish, English, German, Spanish – and more – all so that they can better sell their wares or seek a quick shekel.

And then there were the two unexpected Services to close the day. Two and a half weeks into this period of Extended Study Leave (Sabbatical) I realise how out of the loop I am with the pattern of the church year as I noted a poster advertising Services for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Today's Service was held at St Mark's Convent (Upper Room) Syrian Orthodox Patriarchate – an impossibly difficult place to find! I went along wondering if there would be anyone else there at all - given what a maelstrom of faith this City of Jerusalem is. I couldn’t find it, and had to ask. A kind shopkeeper took pity on me as I poked my neck around a corner – Guidebook in hand open at the map page. I had to turn back the way I had come… but I was not the only one finding it so hard to find. I arrived just moments after the service had started but they was no room in the church itself. I, along with about twenty others, had to stand (or sit if you could find a chair) outside the body of the church in the entrance hall. The Service took place in Arabic, English, French, Armenian and Syriac. What an amazing experience. The singing was so passionate, even though ‘completely foreign’ to me!

Vespers here at St Peter’s came next – all in French. Sung gently by the seven people gathered, with me following the text and seeking to make out what was being sung and read dredging up my schoolbook French. Some I could remember, some I worked out from context and some was just beyond me, but it was fine. I was there. I was present. I was with others who were happy for me to be there with them.

So many voices raised in speech and song throughout the day in a city where so many seek to hear one particular voice speak or sing – the voice of God. Listening is sometimes hard here. Listening is always vital here. Listen.

No comments:

Post a Comment