On Good Friday last year, I found myself, quite by accident, at a place of Christian pilgrimage in Turkey. We were on a shared 30th anniversary trip with dear friends when our tour guide decided to make a second stop after our tour of Ephesus. From the rolling hills covered in new grass and spring blooms adjacent to the sea, our van wound up a hill, arriving at a hilltop surrounded by leafy trees and tall, whispering pines. The breeze immediately cooled us after our warm walk through the long marble promenades of Ephesus. Our guide, Yesra, had brought us to the House of Mary (“Meryemana”), where Mary was believed to have lived during the period that Paul was busy spreading the gospel to the people of Ephesus, which was the strategic heart of the Roman empire in Asia Minor. It felt… peaceful.
The house is a place of pilgrimage for Christians, but is also respected by Muslims who recognize Mary as the mother of a prophet. After people visit the small house built of rectangular stones, which became a chapel after her death, many light candles. There’s also a Muslim wishing wall where people tie notes with their prayers.
We filed in to the quiet chapel where nuns in habits kept vigil by the small altar. For most visitors, it was a short visit: a solemn one-way walk through the small interior followed quickly by an exit into the small courtyard. I stopped in the chapel and knelt at one of the small wooden prayer benches. And I cried. I prayed for my Dad, who was in failing health. Although I am not Catholic, I prayed for Mary to intercede on his behalf and relieve him from the suffering of congestive heart failure and the grief that only the oldest know after their spouses, parents, and friends have gone before them. As I left, one of the nuns silently approached me and handed me a candle.
Outside, I saw the glass-enclosed stands of candles implanted in sand. I prayed again, as did my friend, Lisa.
Many candles and many prayers later, my Dad was released. I will never forget the look of greeting on his face those last few hours. Dad, this is a good Friday, a better Friday, knowing that you are at peace, even if I miss you every day.