Book Excerpt: The Expected One

Maureen knew from her research that the remaining Stations of the Cross were contained within that revered building. Spanning several blocks, the basilica covered the site of the crucifixion and had done so since the Empress Helena vowed to protect this sacred ground in the fourth century. Helena, who was also the mother of the Holy Roman Emperor Constantine, was later canonized for her efforts.

Maureen approached the enormous entrance doors slowly and with some hesitation. She realized as she stood on the threshold that she had not been inside a real church in many years, nor did she relish the thought of changing that status now. She reminded herself firmly that the research that had brought her to Israel was scholarly rather than spiritual. As long as she remained focused, with that perspective, she could do it. She could walk through those doors. Despite her reluctance, there was something unmistakably awe-inspiring and magnetic about this colossal shrine. As she stepped through the mammoth doorway, she heard the British priest's words ring out:

"Within these walls, you will see where Our Lord made the ultimate sacrifice. Where He was stripped of His robes, where He was nailed to the cross. You will enter the holy tomb where His body was laid. My brothers and sisters in Christ, once you enter this place, your lives will never be the same."

The heavy and unmistakable smell of frankincense swirled past Maureen as she entered. Pilgrims from all walks of Christendom surrounded this place and filled the mammoth spaces inside the basilica. She passed a group of Coptic priests huddled in hushed, reverent discussion and watched a Greek Orthodox cleric light a candle in one of the small chapels. A male choir sang in an Eastern dialect, an exotic sound to Western ears, the hymn rising up from some secret space within the church.

Maureen was taking in the overwhelming sights and sounds of this place, and was feeling aimless from the sensory overload. She did not see the wiry little man who eased up beside her until he tapped her on the shoulder, causing her to jump.

"Sorry, Miss. Sorry, Miss Mo-ree." He spoke English, but unlike the enigmatic shopkeeper Mahmoud, his accent was very heavy. His skills with Maureen's language were rudimentary at best, and as a result she didn't understand at first that he was calling her by her first name. He repeated himself.

"Mo-ree. Your name. It is Mo-ree, yes?"

Maureen was puzzled, trying to determine if this strange little man was actually calling her by name and, if so, how he knew it. She had been in Jerusalem for fewer than twenty-four hours, and no one save the front desk clerk at the King David Hotel knew her name. But this man was impatient, asking again.

"Mo-ree. You are Mo-ree. Writer. You write, yes? Mo-ree?"

Nodding slowly, Maureen answered. "Yes. My name is Maureen. But how -- how did you know?"

The little man ignored the question, grabbing her hand and pulling her across the church floor. "No time, no time. Come. We wait a long time for you. Come, come."

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