Sunday, July 17, 2016

Knock Knock

The gospel reading for Proper 12C/Ordinary 7C gives us Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer. The reading takes us past Luke's brief version of the prayer to a discussion of prayer - well, really, more a discussion about asking for things. The conversation addresses things asked for vs. things received as well as about ask-ers and ask-ees. So much of the text is familiar, including the directions to "ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you."

Each imperative has to do with the "asking" nature of prayer. In prayer we ask God for things that we want (things for ourselves, things for others, things for the world). It is the last of the three - knock - that offers us an additional way to talk about the God who would not give us - children of God - a snake when we ask for a fish.

The medieval idea of "sanctuary" was not just an abstract idea. It was a concrete reality. Someone who had committed a crime could come to the cathedral, knock on the door and the door would be opened with no questions asked. Once open, the sanctuary-seeker would be pulled inside the building.

The knocker in the picture above, currently on the door at Durham Cathedral (England), is a reproduction. The 12th-century original is currently on display in the cathedral's museum/treasury. It was more than decorative. Originally on the cathedral's north door, the knocker was available 24/7 for anyone in need of sanctuary within the cloister. People who had committed crimes or misdemeanors, on purpose or accident, could run to the cathedral and knock on the door. Two monks were stationed in small rooms above the door every day and every night in order to hear any knocks and respond quickly. Once accepted into the monastery, the sanctuary-seeker was entitled to 37 days. In that time the accused criminal might be working to explain or settle the offense. They might also be working on a way to get out of England.
In the Levitical code of Hebrew scripture, six cities of refuge are set up (Deuteronomy 4:41ff. and Joshua 20). People who had committed manslaughter (unintentional) could go to those cities to escapethe laws of blood justice and retribution in the rest of the land. Knock and the door will be opened.

That's what would happen at Durham Cathedral. After the knock, the Galilee bell was rung to indicate that someone had been offered sanctuary. Once taken in, the seeker was provided with food, shelter and clothing (a black robe with a yellow St. Cuthbert's cross embroidered on the left shoulder) though was separated from the rest of the church.

Prayer and sanctuary are not exactly the same things, but the idea that upon knocking, the door will be opened is comfort (in its Latin root sense of "with strength") in both sanctuary and prayer.                                                                                

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