The house of prayer – 1 July 2019
In a church in Mexico many have gathered in prayer. Most are women. It is an informal gathering, not a service, as no priest can been seen. The women’s heads are covered, and most kneel with their backs to the viewer, directing their attention, and ours, to the east end on the building. There on the altar is a crucifix and several candelabra, and painted on the rear wall an image of Our Lady holding the infant Christ. To the right, close to the pulpit, a woman carries a large basket of flowers, an offering that she will place on the side altars on the left with others.
For a picture containing so many figures, there is a stillness and sense of devotion. The visual space between the altar and the first row of kneeling women stands as a sign of the gap between God and these people, being bridged in prayer.
The picture is by Maurice Stern (1934/5), a Latvian born American artist, depicting a small church in Taxco in the late afternoon. The simple church has been decorated to aid devotion, appreciated by this artist who records the holy space and those praying within it.
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young,
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
You may sing of the beauty of mountain and dale,
Of the silvery stream-let and flowers of the vale,
But the place most delightful this earth can afford
Is the place of devotion, the house of the Lord.
O Lord our God, whose might upholdeth all creation: Stablish the work of our helpless hands; And make this lowly church a place for the showing of Thy glory; and for all peoples a house of prayer pleasing in Thy sight. We pray Thee: Hear us and have mercy.