Today in church our ministers discussed their recent trip to Jerusalem. As we are a fairly progressive church, they aimed to include all aspects of the city: The muezzins with their early-morning cries, the segregated structure of the city itself, the way belief and power shaped and continues to shape its people. All in all, it was an interesting sermon and discussion. However the key image that stood out in my mind was that of the Western Wall, and the way many of different faiths treated it in such differing manners. There were accounts of dancing, singing, crying, silent or loud praying, the outstretched hand gently and reflectively stuffing a prayer paper into a crevice. It made be thing of faith generally and the way it impacts our daily lives.
Modern science might lead to you understand that faith is not a powerful force in the universe – instead, it is merely an imagining of our own minds. Even if it does not truly reflect the existence of some higher power however, it remains powerful, at least in regards to each of us individually. Faith can lift and exalt the highest wishes and best dreams we have, for both ourselves and our world. In addition, a lack of it can lead us to the deepest despair, squashing what light we have in the time given to us.
In China, wherever there is a ledge or overhang, it is supported by hundreds or thousands of thin red sticks. These are placed into the crack or cracks as small silent prayers, or tokens of faith, a kind of moral propping-up of the rock. It is unclear as to whether or not those who place these sticks actually believe they preserve the structure of the ledge, but I have yet to see one that has fallen. Perhaps they know something we don’t.
This same sort of perhaps fanciful occult knowledge is seen in the Pueblo Bonito of Chaco canyon. This particular ‘Great House’ was sited directly beneath an overhanging ledge that threatened the building. Perhaps of reasons of the natural dominance of the overhang, or perhaps because the faith of the builders in their own engineering prowess, the site was still used, though the overhang was structurally reinforced at the time of the Pueblo’s building (and possibly subsequently). Of course, when later stonemasons attempted to correct the weathering and erosion damage to the overhang in 1937, the work was fruitless – collapse ensued just a few years later due to heavy rains in the area. Which leads me to wonder if earlier engineers knew something basic about the stone and perhaps natural area flooding that later generations had lost. Perhaps they had a greater faith in the viability of their efforts.
The questions remains to me to what extent belief can impact the natural world. We fight for it, we die and kill for it, and yet many say the beliefs we hold so dear to our hearts are not real in the truest sense of the word. What then is its meaning, its existence, or its true worth?