During my travels in Europe, I was treated to an array of incredible architecture. Some of the oldest basilicas, cathedrals, and synagogues were feasts for my eyes. Like this building in Salamanca, Spain:
Or these pictures of churches in Toledo, Spain:
I admit that I have always been quite fascinated with doors because they are the entry point for all of us. Even on the smallest of scales, when we enter someone’s house, we often knock on a door and then pass through a doorway.
What we see next is the inside. And we are now in a new place.
How do we react to that place?
What do we feel?
Do we feel welcomed?
Are we scared?
Do we feel out of place?
Is it cold? Hot? Dark? Light?
Doors are an entry point.
While in Europe, I thought a lot about how big, imposing doors can seem to say: Don’t come in here! Or: Enter if you dare…
Like this cave in Salamanca…
Or…they can say:
Come inside, because what you will see and experience will be amazing!
This is how I felt when I first saw Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain from a distance.
At the entrance I sensed that I was welcomed; curiosity overwhelmed me.
You quickly learn when you see so many doors and pass through so many architecturally wondrous sacred spaces that these buildings were designed differently on purpose. Basically, when you are in a basilica that was constructed in the Middle Ages you realize you are looking at history. People thought differently and their lives reflected that. The architecture reflects the feeling of the era and also how the people thought about God and themselves. Likewise, when you enter through a door to experience a Renaissance era cathedral, you see the vast differences in the structure that reflect the worldview of the people of that time and place.
We tend to assume that all churches, cathedrals, basilicas, etc. were built to be houses of prayer. We expect that upon entering the door to a church that we will feel comfort, welcome, peace, and perhaps even gain some clarity.
But if you’re like me and you’ve been to countless “places of prayer” around the world [both old and new] you have realized that many of these places are not peaceful or welcoming.
This is St. Peter’s Church in front of the Vatican.
After standing in line for a long, long time, you walk through the large doorway and then feel that you are in a museum or a king’s great hall.
It’s dark and full of towering sculptures of popes and other religious leaders staring down at you. It’s full of tombs and homages to the saints. There is actually very little space in which to pray. And those prayer spaces are only accessible to a few.
But for some reason, as I entered Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, I felt different. The inside of the Basilica looked nothing like its Gothic counterparts. He chose to design a worship space that resembled a forest. Instead of towering pillars, trees. Instead of imposing sculptures of saints and popes, symbols of nature; instead of gloomy darkness, natural light.
I think that the doors to cathedrals are a good metaphor for our prayer life. Many of us struggle with prayer because we often fear knocking on that door. Perhaps life has beaten us down so much that the door is too big and scary. Maybe people have hurt us enough that we don’t feel adequate and therefore could not possibly enter through that door. Or possibly we have entered through these doors, but once inside we have not felt welcomed.
That is why I particularly like this passage in Luke in which Jesus gives great insight into prayer. Of course, many people know this passage for what we call The Lord’s Prayer.
But the actual words that the majority of Christian churches say are a combination of two passages of scripture, Matthew 6:9-13 [part of what we call Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount/Plain] and this reading from Luke 11:2-4. Take a look at the two scriptures side by side.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come.
Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11Give us this day our daily bread.*
Give us each day our daily bread.
12And forgive us our debts,
And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
13And do not bring us to the time of trial, *but rescue us from the evil one.*
And do not bring us to the time of trial.
14For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; 15but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
Luke’s version is sandwiched between two parables—teaching moments. The bottom line is that Jesus never prayed this prayer, nor was it actually a prayer per se. It is a teaching tool to learn about prayer.
Jesus is pushing his disciples [and us] to think more like children do—wondering and asking questions. Children are curious and keep knocking on doors, honestly asking, “Why? How?” “What next?”
I think we get an answer, but not in the Lord’s Prayer.
There was a man who went to his friend’s home at midnight. The man needed three loaves of bread for another friend who staying with him. Three loaves of bread in that place and time meant one meal for a person. But the friend didn’t want to help the man, because his door was already locked. Everybody was already snoring. “Don’t bother me,” he said. Yet, in the end, the friend did give the knocking man three loaves of bread, not because he was so concerned, but because of the man didn’t stop knocking and asking.
Hmmm…are we supposed to nag God, until God answers?
If we ask God for something, God doesn’t answer only because we keep knocking. This story was a typical tale from a teacher to show movement from the lesser to the greater. The lesser is the friend, who was reluctant to help his pal. He responded at the very end; it’s the least someone can do. Now move to the greater–if even this reluctant man responds to the friend’s request, how much more will God respond!
The second parable is about a parent and child. If a child asks you for a fish, would you give her a snake? If a child asks you for an egg, would you hand him a scorpion? Of course not! That’s the lesser part of the story. Now, the greater. If we as human beings, who are so capable of hurting each other with words and violence would give the fish and egg instead of the serpent and scorpion, shouldn’t we expect that our loving God will give us everything we need and more!?!
The stories teach us about prayer.
We don’t really know what we’re doing.
Yet Jesus made it very clear to his dearest friends that this shouldn’t stop us from praying. We should never be afraid to knock on that door.
Prayer’s door is not huge, not imposing, not locked.
It’s not supposed to strike fear in our hearts or make us feel inadequate or awful.
Prayer’s door invites us in, no matter who we are or where we are on life’s journey. And inside prayer’s space, we find healing, forgiveness, acceptance, peace.
And prayer doesn’t just benefit us. Prayer also helps us treat others well.
People who honestly knock on prayer’s door and enter in, are inspired to love; they show compassion; they build bridges; they heal wounds.
Praying people believe in forgiveness. They think mercy is real and that everyone deserves it.
Prayer moves us to not let prejudice rule our thoughts; prayer helps us see the world as one big family.
Prayer opens doors even when the whole world seems to be closed shut.
Friends, every door in life is not so inviting.
I can remember many doors on which I did NOT wish to knock. Doors so uninviting, dangerous, scary, cold and dark. Each time in my life when I have started something new, the door has always been in front of me, and I have had to walk through.
The path was uncertain, scary; what would come next?
But God invites us to knock on new doors.
God welcomes us inside the prayer space.
We are not judged; we are loved.
So knock on that prayer door.
Ask. Seek. Find. Amen.