Last week I visited Greece, an ancient place where the bones of my ancestors lay still waiting for Jesus to return and fly them home.I am not different from my ancestors, except that I experience the efficiencies of computers, cell phones and airplanes, indoor plumbing and electricity; all those things that did me no good at all last week at the beautiful but primitive family beach cove on my grandmother’s island.
The roads I travelled, that ran up and around dry and dusty mountains, were made for the feet of donkeys and men not automobiles. So as often as possible I walked them rather than experience the fearful threat of tumbling down a precipice in a metal can on rubber wheels.
There was a time when I thought that my mission was to build small cells on a five-acre parcel of land that I called God’s Green Acre. In those cells I wanted aspiring immortals to come freely to be alone with the Lord, the Wonderful Counselor, the mighty God to listen to Him for guidance away from the distractions of their own homes and the dubious guidance of human counselors. I was forced to abandon that mission and left God’s Green Acre kicking and screaming. Meanwhile the value of going to a small holy space away from the noise of this world has become increasing clear. To listen for the Lord’s wisdom and guidance, particularly in times of pain and conflict, but even in good times requires separation from one’s dusty world.
Last week I saw my mission realized by others in a beautiful way. Aspiring immortals have salted Greece not merely with churches, cathedrals, and iconic posts along roadsides but also with hundreds of chapels where anyone can spend time with invisible angels and saints, portrayed by icons to pray and to receive counsel from the Holy Spirit. These are the special places where we sheep learn to hear the voice of the Shepherd.
My favorite chapel was erected on top of a hill overlooking the crystal blue Aegean Sea and a mountainside blanketed with gnarly olive trees. It was dedicated to the Prophet Elijah. The story goes that a woman spent almost all of her money to purchase the property on this hilltop. With her own strength she carried rocks about two miles up from the sea to honor Elijah in solidarity with Christ. Many years ago a great fire engulfed that hillside. The fire was so devastating that planes were sent from Athens to put it out. Some people worried that the chapel would be destroyed, but alas that did not happen for the small chapel built by faith was protected from the destructive flames and stands today as a welcoming beacon of holiness.
I never met anyone in the chapel of Elijah or in any other chapel I visited but evidence of the presence of brothers and sisters was clear as the olive oil lamps were almost always lit and there were abundant supplies for worshippers, to tend the oil light, to light candles, and to light incense that their prayers may float up to God’s nostrils on wafts of sweet smelling smoke.
Thank you Greece for reminding me to come away from the world; to listen for the echoes of the invisible holy immortals, and the clear voice of God that instructs us in the way we should go.
Olla Kala (o.k.). (It’s all good.)