We spent the day showing a friend around Old Town Istanbul. It was snowing. The last time we were here we were in t-shirts and sandals. This time we were bundled up, covered from head to toe. Due to our appropriate coverings we were finally allowed inside the Blue Mosque.

We threw off our shoes, bagged them, and set them on a rack, alongside 50 other pairs. The sight of so many shoes reverted my thoughts to childhood playdates at the MacDonald’s playarea…

Once the flasback subsided, I was able to focus on the Ottoman splendor I was now engulfed in.

I tilt my head back.

Chills. Pure chills.

Our friend who was with us has been studying Arabic, and I learned that in written form, Arabic doesn’t have to be in a straight line– it can be all mushed together and catty-wompas! So that’s what the gold strokes everywhere are… Definitely made me appreciate the “simplicity” of Turkish…

My focus shifts from the adornments to the people.

While many worshiping in the mosque at that moment could be praying from their hearts, it hit me that many might not even understand the words being recited, nor whom they’re reciting to…

Tasbih (prayer beads) in hand and forehead on the ground, they’re relying on the religion: being in the right place at the right time and doing the right thing.

Cowlicks form from their prayer posture- a desired sign of holiness that some try to obtain by bashing their foreheads against walls instead of by praying more.

Appearance is everything.

I gaze back to the infrastructure.

Everything about the bold colors, the stained-glass designs, the giant columns, and the golden swoops of foreign cursive spoke power and beauty, but also screamed out hopelessness.

Empty. Fake. Impersonal.

Paul’s message from the book of Acts (17) ran through my mind:

“I observe that you are very religious in all respects.  For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man. Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people  everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

I stood there, observing as they prayed, all the while silently pleading my own prayer:

God, may you be made known.


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