This post is/was inspired by a visit to the Pantheon in Rome last Sunday, and the feelings that arose from observing the behaviour of people for whom this was merely a curiosity, a place to pose their small children for photos, an item checked off on a tourist itinerary.
Sunday 20th May - Pentecost Sunday - an ecumenical celebration that saw two congregations come together to delight in the diversity of languages and cultures gathered together to worship God. Our 'babble' of around fifteen languages being spoken simultaneously was, in fact, very beautiful rhythmic, and yes, worshipful.
Sunday 27th May - Trinity Sunday - the long awaited baptism of five friends, again multi-lingual, multi-ethnic, and again happy, celebratory and worshipful.
Sunday 3rd June - Ordinary Time - and a visit to the Pantheon, a spectacular basillica in Rome, originally a temple to 'all the gods' and for centuries a Christian church. And here, on a Sunday afternoon, people queued to go in, passing signs that asked them to cover up bare flesh, to switch off phones, not to use camera flash and to be silent... Precisely none of which were observed. After about five minutes, the general hubub was interrupted by a very loud, recorded 'SHHHHHH.... SILENCE'. And, indeed there was silence, for about ten seconds, before tour guides resumed their explanations, tourists exclaimed delight at the design or the art, and many posed for selfies pointing to the occulus (huge circular hole in the dome, and only source of natural light) or arranged their small children artistically on the marble floor. Another five minutes, and another recording, quieter, sequentially in many languages politely requested silence... and, it seemed, no one took any notice.
Two distinct feelings arose within me. One of annoyance, that people defied, or at least ignored, the expectations of attire, photography and quiet. The other of realisation that most people there had no idea what this place was or how to read it. When I joined others to sit on the wooden benches to reflect and to pray, we were a definite minority... Those who wished to be still, to admire the architecture or the art, to absorb the history, to pray to God or gods, to reflect, did so very deliberately amidst the babble. All of which gave me much ongoing pause for thought.
Sunday 10th June - tomorrow. Back to the hotel room. Back to preaching in an ordinary service. Happy for the return to what is familiar, looking forward to seeing people and worshiping alongside them. And changed, if ever so slightly, by the experiences of this month of Sundays.
(Picture: Pantheon occulus; no flash (of course, I'm obedient!))