Gateways to the Divine. Transformative Pathways of Prayer from the Holy City of Jerusalem.
Andrew D. Mayes
Eugene, Oregon: Cascade, 2020
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Mini Review by: Rt Rev Canon Anthony Ball
Those of you familiar with Andrew Mayes’ recent works will not be surprised at his opening invitation to ‘Step across the threshold and enter another spiritual world!’ (p.xi). Here the liminal spaces of Beyond the Edge (SPCK: 2013) and challenging landscapes of Holy Land? (SPCK: 2011) are focused down into the eight gates into the Old City of Jerusalem, each giving their name to a chapter in the book. The book’s subtitle points to this being a spiritual exploration, the seeking of an encounter with the divine.
What is in store becomes apparent as we begin with the first gate, the Golden Gate. Those familiar with Jerusalem, or even just the classic photograph of it from the Mount of Olives, will know that this gate is sealed. Tradition holds that it is to be unblocked by the returning Messiah. The author wants us to anticipate that event and, metaphorically, remove any blockage we might feel to encountering religious traditions other than our own as a pre-requisite for the journey of exploration on which he takes us through various spiritualities of the Abrahamic faiths before depositing us, enriched and perhaps a little bewildered, at the wide west-facing Jaffa Gate on the road that leads back out to the wider world.
Amidst the superlatives of his back-cover endorsement, Archbishop Michael Lewis describes this as ‘an excellent and unusual book’. Indeed. In its pages, Dr Mayes weaves together three elements. First, some physical descriptions of the city which the author knows so well from his time as Course Director at St George’s College and also his time at the Armenian Orthodox Seminary in Jerusalem. Prepare for memories to be evoked! Second, extracts from some thirty interviews with a range of Jerusalemites, ‘from the impoverished peasant in the gutter to the patriarch on his throne’. Thirdly, short extracts from the classic spiritual writers of the traditions covered, enabling a first-hand engagement with their depths. Chapters conclude with questions for reflection and a spiritual exercise – making the book as suited to group as it is individual study.
Having got us through the sealed Golden Gate, with a little help from Theresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, we move to the Southern (Dung) Gate which leads to the Jewish Quarter and gives access to the Western Wall, introducing the Kabbalah (mystical) tradition within Jewish spirituality, with the guidance of two 16th century figures, Rabbi Mosh Cordovero and Isaac Luria.
Then, all too soon, we are at the Zion Gate faced with a choice of going right for the Armenian quarter and St James’ Cathedral or heading left to join the Syriac/n Orthodox at St Mark’s Church. Both Syrian and Armenian Orthodox are, like the Copts, part of the Oriental Orthodox family of churches. We re-join the other Christian families at the New Gate, opened only in 1889 to allow pilgrims easy access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here the author connects us with Franciscan and (Greek/Eastern) Orthodox spiritualities. The choice of the Franciscans, rather than the Latin Patriarch, to represent the Roman Catholics may be influenced by his own membership of the Third Order but could, equally, be justified through their custodianship of the Holy Places. Poignantly for Jerusalem’s current circumstances, and further explored in the chapter that takes us along the Via Dolorosa from the Lions’ Gate, we are reminded that ‘Francis too woke up to the idea that God is speaking to us in suffering’ (p.50). As we walk and pray along the Via Dolorosa, we hear the powerful testimonies of a number of Jerusalemites.
Before the Lions’ Gate, though, we pass through Herod’s Gate, leading directly into the Muslim quarter and a glimpse of the spirituality expressed in the Sufi tradition. Three writers from the eight, twelfth and thirteenth (Rumi) centuries are quoted extensively. There is a lovely interview with Hala, the widow of the renowned interfaith pioneer Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bukhari, that takes place in her home – from the terrace of which the Dome of the Rock glistens.
The genesis of the book is, in part, an interfaith discussion group that the author led when living in Jerusalem. There is a taste of their fruit in the chapter ascribed to the Damascus Gate, which is ‘shared by Jewish, Muslim and Christian pilgrims’ and ‘invites us to name and celebrate common themes across the traditions we have encountered’ (p.110). The chapter is a reassuring reminder that those committed to mutual flourishing are present in each community.
And so to the Jaffa Gate where, as I noted earlier, we are left on the path back out to the wider world. We have listened, savoured, stood in solidarity and now have the challenge of taking what we have encountered and learned, and sharing it with others.
Featured in Bible Lands, Summer 2021