I know violence. I know menace. I know hatred. I was attacked once by a mob of AK47-wielding men. I was twenty-one at the time and on my way back to work from a quick lunch break. This was back in apartheid-era South Africa. I won’t get into the details because I hold no grudges against those men who were as much victims as I was of that skewed system based on racial supremacy but what I will say is that I should have died that day. Three people were killed that day, a few feet away from where I was assaulted. I escaped. Call it what you will, I call it a miracle.
A year later I was walking home from a doctor’s appointment when I noticed I was being followed by four men in a white car. Most of the walk home was along a main road so there was some traffic but not a lot at that particular time of day. Those men in that car did not try to hide the fact they were following me. I remember fear rising up inside me like a cold wave as they whistled and called me ‘sweetie’ and banged the sides of the car like the hooligans they were. I knew that once I turned into a quieter street they would get their chance to – who knows what? So I walked into a cathedral. It was called The Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour. I went inside and knelt down. Except for the tall statues of Mary and St Joseph and the flickering candles I was the only person there, so I prayed. I let the minutes pass in that marbled sanctuary and then walked outside again to check if they were in the area or parked in the road and to my horror found them in the church parking lot casually waiting for me.
I ran back inside and prayed some more and soon noticed a woman lighting candles near the altar. I walked up to her and asked if she could give me a lift home (I lived four blocks away). She was very reluctant at first but on learning why she agreed and I was delivered safely to my house. (You can imagine how that incident traumatized me – I didn’t walk anywhere after that for many many years).
The reason I am sharing this today is I was deeply saddened to hear of the murder of five people in a Jerusalem synagogue today. I don’t believe you need to worship in a ‘special’ place, my temple has for some time now been the forest but still, I respect the fact that people of all creeds have built structures in which to serve our Creator and these structures and places of worship should be honored and respected by all.
Is this an antiquated idea? Have our morals loosened so much since the Middle Ages that sanctity and sanctuary are no more?
I am not saying here that murdering children or bombing civilians is acceptable or even understandable because they are murdered in the streets; what I am saying is that a word has yet to be invented to describe a person who attacks or murders another bowed in worship in a place of sanctuary.