One big dollar store?


It feels like one big dollar store.

Actually one big Wal-Mart on Black Friday without the big box or shopping isles to contain the contents.  Its streets are full, buzzing with vendor after vendor selling their wares.  Fruit, meat, shoes, vegetables, DVDs, chicken feet, chicken hearts, icons, you name it… it is there for sale. Manila’s streets are filled with chaos.

Whether is it the 1000s of jeepney’s lined up behind one another in what is called the great parking lot, the 3–wheeled bikers weaving in and out or the 100s of walkers pursuing their destination on their terms, Manila is a city that leaves you overstimulated.  With its rivers polluted, its streets jammed with traffic and its sidewalks overwhelmed with vendors this city, of over a 11 million people, asserts its poverty and lack upon you.

Maryanne and I found ourselves overwhelmed in such a place.  As we walked street after street there was no relief from the chaos.  It was both fascinating and overwhelming.  But then…

It all made sense for a moment. We came around a corner and amidst the poverty and chaos there stood a large catholic church.  It was walled off from the chaos, yet stood in the middle of the chaos.

It was closed but open.  It was welcoming but only if you left your chaos behind.

We wandered with the dozens of other Filipino’s into that corridor of space.   A steady stream of people were coming and going for hours.

We watched, we partook.  There were 3 distinct spaces marked off for reflection and blessing. The first was the sanctuary of beauty.  It was welcoming, silent and self – directed.  Hundreds of parishioners took time in silence alone.  There was no talking head, no one leading, just space created to meet God.  A sanctuary of space carved out for one to meet God alone.

It made sense in Manila.  It makes sense everywhere.

The second space was separate from the first space and was filled with icons.

One icon included the life-size crucifix of the Christ.  There was little space to get close to this icon as the masses awaited moments to touch the icon and then themselves. They appeared mostly sincere, obviously fervent and rather focused.

As a non – catholic I was fascinated by the passion.  To some I am sure it was superstition but to others it certainly seemed like a real encounter.

As I got close to the life –sized Christ I discerned little, spiritually speaking.  It didn’t feel awkward or oppressive.   However, what I did notice was how the legs of the Christ were rubbed to the bone (if plastic can be rubbed to the bone) from the consistent touch of those reaching for blessing from God.

I was taken aback by it all, actually.

The third space was outside the sanctuary in a separate but welcoming space.  It contained rows of candles being lit in reflection by the many parishioners. You can see the spiritual connect happen for people as they engage their tactile connection with their heart longings.

Let me quote the St. Anthony Messenger, ”In the lighting of candles we remember and truly live the words of Our Lord: “I am the Light of the World.” In the lighting of candles we not only pray, but our prayers become smaller symbols of the One Light of Christ. In burning candles, our prayers rise up to Heaven day and night;”

I left that experience aware that the Catholic church has touched something the emerging church seeks. While I may not agree with all the theology I appreciate the experience of a tactile, interactive and sensory space driven connect with God.

While we look to create space for God in our cultures, amidst our busyness and chaos, maybe some of these historical means have place today.

These 3 spaces spoke to all the senses really.

This process left something tangible behind as spiritual space was brought to the forefront. By removing the direction of human leadership and letting the space and beauty lead one’s connect maybe God had a better chance at forming the individual conversations with Him.

History often has more to offer us about the future than we realize.

Todd Rutkowski

~ by blueporch on November 27, 2011.

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