In a sea of strangers, bonded by history, language, religion, and culture, I sat under the dome, watching the incense smoke rise and dance in the light. I stood when others stood. I sat when others sat. Again and again. Like countless people before me and after me, I moved with the rhythms of ancient ritual.
Being invited inside someone else’s traditions is a treat. In school and at friends’ houses, we celebrated Passover, Hallow’s Eve, various New Years, Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday, births, and other gatherings. This particular memory was of a high school friend’s wedding in her Greek Orthodox Church. I regularly passed by this church which was close to where I once lived. I had gone to many food festivals and enjoyed many baklava, dolmades, spanikopita, and moussaka. Religion may divide some people; food and music always unite us.
In my travels, I always put on my itinerary places of worship, where untold and countless prayers and overflowing devotion have amassed over time. This energy of faith is palpable and the architecture, moving. This desire to touched by God, or something greater than ourselves, binds us, no matter what religious or spiritual background we hail from. Even for someone like myself, who grew up in a hotchpotch and belong to no church, temple, mosque or synagogue, visiting the House of God and Goddesses stirs deep awe.
Morning service at St Nicholas, the oldest church in Old Town Stockholm. Beautiful stained glass across Europe. Veiled in mosques. Midnight Sun Concert at the Tromsø Arctic Cathedral Church. Throwing divination sticks in Chinese temples. Standing in thick clouds of incense. Smashing coconuts. Climbing the Big Buddha on Lantau Island while it was under construction. 108 times around the statue of Lord Ganesha at Sri Layan Sithi Vinayagar Temple. Being the stillness watching how the light falls on golden carvings and statues. Joining throngs of people for New Year’s eve in Japan, and Hatsumode festivities the day after, delighting in the joviality and an abundance of food. Walking over fire.