unexpected silence

This week, on a random Tuesday afternoon, I was in Amsterdam. After I had visited a museum and a bookstore (I’ll be posting about both things later on), I walked through Amsterdam’s generic shopping street, the Kalverstraat. And I noticed something I never had before: there’s a church smack dab in the middle of it. It’s called the Papegaai Kerk (the Parrot Church), and it’s beautiful. I only noticed it because there was a sign outside stating “Fifteen Minutes for God”. They do old-fashioned Latin masses on Sundays and everyday masses the rest of the week. And there are hundreds of small candles burning inside to add the feeling of being on holy ground you immediately get when you walk into such a hushed, contemplative space, especially when you just spent the last half hour shopping. Consumerism and religion: it’s a heady mix.

I didn’t stay for fifteen minutes, just long enough to add my candle to the light and say a quick prayer of thankfulness that I could experience this silence in the middle of the city. This picture really doesn’t do it justice: it was dark inside, the stained glass windows were lit, and people were praying in the pews. I’ve already mentioned the devotional candles; they were gorgeous and twinkly and a very physical reminder of community and my need to seek God in sacred spaces.

I could never be Catholic. I’m too rebellious for that, and frankly, transubstantiation is too much for me. (Objective presence in the Eucharist is more than I can deal with, sometimes.) But I do love how Catholic churches tend to be more than spaces to meet, and I make it a habit to light candles and ask for blessings for myself and those around me and say thanksgiving prayers in the churches I come across.

I may not need realis presentia, but I do need that very visible reminder of God that a lighted candle in a church gives me. And I had never expected to get it in the same street that holds three H&Ms.

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