Friday, December 5, 2008

Tamara's Sacred Benches (and the Urbanism of Paul)

My traveling companion Tamara Park just got her travelogue of our Rome to Jerusalem pilgrimage (via the Balkans and the Middle East) published! (Available already on Amazon.) On that journey she recorded interviews and dialogues recording the stories fellow travelers and locals in expounding their views of God and religion. The homage to the bench on the cover is not coincidental...Tamara considered the benches of the places we visited as places of sacred encounter. We visited these places as a pilgrim visits sacred relics.

Here is an excerpt recording our dialogue of Paul's visit in Athens (while we visited the Stoa near the Parthenon):

....Eric reminds us that Athens was world renown for the exuberance of its religious festivals. “Chances were very good that Paul had numerous occasions to view the Panathenaic Procession of priests and priestesses and devotees and revelers. He likely watched them parade votive offerings and garlanded beasts through the Agora towards the Acropolis. The procession was the apex of Greek religious expression…and the pride of Athens. Athens was the “Jerusalem” of the Greeks.
“In fact,” says Eric, “when Paul looked up at the base of the Acropolis, with its huge pylons and the ceremonial entrance of the Propylea (with the smallish Temple of Nike on its dramatic pedestal) he would have been hard pressed not to remember his beloved Jerusalem, where he was trained as a Rabbi in its most prestigious academy. I think the resemblance of the Acropolis to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem is what was getting his Jewish goad.”
“I thought you said that the Athenian elite did not put much stock in religious festivities”, I respond, “so why would it appear Athenians were such enthusiastic worshippers?”.
“Well,” Eric replies, “while the philosophers held religion at arm’s length, they, of course, did not turn down the side benefits of religion, especially prodigious opportunities for festivity. Religions, even if you don’t put much stock in them, offer a wealth of side benefits. The Epicureans, for example, basically saw religion as a way of creating harmony within the culture. While ritual could be empty, it was not devoid of purpose. What mattered was that you took things in stride in your thoughts…and that you did not grant things greater importance than they’re due. Friendship and community, now, that was important!…
“And,” Eric smiles and points to the building just ahead of us, “that long building with the arcade in front of it, called a stoa, represented the happy fellowship of mankind. No doubt in my mind that Paul loved that place.”
“It was in the stoas,” Eric explains, “where strangers were expected to interact with strangers. Where common folk were expected to greet blue bloods and vice versa. Besides shopping, here it was where you headed to hear the latest gossip. It was where you debated matters of politics and war…where in fact, you cast your ballot in elections and referendums, and where you paid your taxes and whatnot. Here is the center of civic life in Greek culture…In fact, it is no accident that democracy was birthed and flowered in this space. We call this in the architectural world ‘liminal space’, where folks interact with others at the same level. It is not hierarchical space but a space of interchange.”...


Daniel Nairn said...

I see it's IVP. That may make a good Christmas present for my wife. She really enjoys the spiritual autobiography genre (I do to, but I've got a wait list that I probably won't get to any time soon).

Benches are great. It's too bad that many cities are doing away with them, in fear that they may attract homeless people to sleep on them. Our town has separate chairs, which are sufficient but just not the same as a bench.

Eric Orozco said...

Yeah...I had to remove objects folks could sit on for a streetscape plan once. That was an example of sacrilege in my book.

I hope your wife enjoys the book!