From Death to Life in Prague
St. Cyril and Methodius Czech Orthodox Church
A wedding is going on in the background.
Spent this morning in prayer before the Eucharist in my home, then felt called by the Spirits to venture out into the glorious spring morning. Didn't quite know where I was going, took a tram up to our wonderful Saturday Farmer's Market, everyone out and about, street performers and musicians entertaining us all, fresh foods for sale and immediate enjoyment and consumption. A great way to spend a Saturday morning/afternoon, with some freshly made pasta and a glass of wine, sitting on a fragile metal chair at a rickety table looking out over the Vltava River and the Castle.
I didn't feel like the Farmer's Market was 'it' for me this morning, so I kept walking down a side street and quite by surprise came to the beautiful Czech Orthodox Church of St. Cyril and Methodius. Hard to believe that in the twelve years or so I've been living and coming here, I never visited this landmark - site of the hiding place of the Czech patriots and martyrs who engineered the assassination of the infamous Nazi commander of Prague forces, Reinhard Heydrich in 1942. They were betrayed by one of their own number. Knowing they had been betrayed, surrounded by Nazi stormtroopers, most of them took their own lives, shooting themselves in the temple. A few others were assassinated in the crypt of the church. Outside on the wall, you can still see the bullet holes. There are candles and flowers in the niche, and streams of visitors all day. This is a sacred place holy to all Czechs of whatever religious persuasion. And here I was standing here on this morning.
The Church was so beautiful and profound. Spent some minutes in prayer, then lit two candles, before icons of the Crucified and Mother and Child, asking for light about my present situation, above all the interior calls that seem to be leading me to Barcelona and to a return to my boyhood home of Marin County. Asking for light as to how these interior calls are to be harmonized.
Then I went outside and downstairs into the Crypt. What an experience. You have to enter through a very difficult door, which has been intentionally designed to frighten visitors, in order to give you some sense of the isolation and claustrophobia these men experienced living down here for months. But as I stood inside the crypt and looked back at the door, I felt it was a metaphor for my whole life of the past thirty years or more. Trapped in a dark but holy place, looking for a way out - facing a door that is closed, but with glimmers of mystical light around it's edges. And is this not a metaphor for the life of the Catholic Church ever since the death of Pope John Paul I? Many of us feel trapped in a dark and dank underground dungeon with little light and 'no way out' for the moment, yet with glimmers of light around the edges. A metaphor for the spiritual journey itself for many of us.
I felt the whole experience was a profound confirmation of my vocation to Prague and the Czech lands, and that it wasn't simply going to end just like that. Some how it will be harmonized with everything else.
Spent twenty minutes down here in prayer. Most of the young men who died down here were only in their twenties. Betrayed by an informer among them. How very Christlike.
Here is the description at the entrance to the door:
The underlying design of the crypt's entrance is an emphasis on the experience of passage. This symbolizes a boundary, and for anyone crossing a border this is quite a definitive experience, a point of no return. The decision of all the people who helped in the assassination was irreversible. It was a conscious decision - crossing the dividing line from safety to deadly dangers.
The door to the crypt is a steel prism consisting of pyramids separated by a mobile diagonal - a jammed wing that divides the whole space into sections of 'darkness and light,' 'death and life.' To enter, one need only gently push the wing, the streamlined shape of which was inspired by the Spitfire fighter aircraft. The wing and the walls of the passage have a black steel surface similar to that of the paratroopers' weapons.
When entering, one should remember the way back to freedom.
The men in the crypt stayed in almost total darkness. The only difference between the world here and the one outside was the light penetrating a crack (in the upper wall). When trying to get out, a person is drawn by light, which illuminates an illusory path of escape. However, the world outside is a trap. The direction offered by that ray of light should be rejected; the wing should be swung away from the wall, and one should leave the space in the opposite direction to the wing's curve.
I came out into glorious sunshine, took a right turn and walked down the cobblestone street, not really knowing where it ended up. After five minutes, there on the corner was one of my favorite Thai restaurants, the Lemon Leaf. As soon as I saw it, I knew this was 'it'. Went inside and had their 3 course 'degustation' lunch menu, plus a 'basil mojito.' Fabulous. But just as I was sitting down, before my posterior reached the chair, I had a sudden flash of myself sitting on the open air terrace of one of the restaurants in Tiburon, enjoying a glass of white wine and gazing across the bay to SF. So there it all was, everything in one morning - Thailand, Prague, Barcelona, Marin, destinations on my own spiritual journey. What does it all mean? Don't ask, said my spiritual director in Taiwan many years ago, Father Yves Raguin.
a selection of appetizers
Mango sticky rice and fresh fruit salad.
That's a basil mojito I'm drinking in the background!
Lastly, here is a picture of three of my most naughty boy students, all 6th graders, 11 year olds teetering on the edge of puberty. I had been showing them photos of properties I was interested in 'buying' in Marin County (with absolutely no money to do so), as conversation topics. I showed them photos of a condo in Tiburon and a beach cottage in San Quentin right next to the notorious State Penitentiary, the only place in California where executions are still carried out. A very dark place, but a wonderful little village next to it, and property values in the village are at least a third cheaper than anywhere else in Marin. A peaceful quiet village, until the prison holds one of its controversial executions, when the media rent out the villagers' parking spaces to park their vans and protesters line the street outside the front gate. I asked the boys which one of these two beach side properties I should buy. They absolutely loved being asked. And all three of them said without hesitation - the house in San Quentin. I said, "but it's next to a very famous prison." Tomas, the best English speaker, said, "But it's very nice. Can you see the prison from the house?" And I said, "No, you can't because of the trees." And he said, "Well, then, that's ok." And they all nodded their heads up and down solemnly with a mischievous glint in their eyes, as if to say, "There, that's settled then."