Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account . . . (Luke 1:3)
“No explanations in the Basilica.”
These words were posted near the entrance to the Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem. Our group was walking the city and had been taken to what is believed to be the “pool of Bethesda,” the site of a healing miracle recorded in John 5. Not far from the pool sits St. Anne’s church.
The sign was aimed at tour groups like ours and the guides that lead them. Guides are constantly speaking to their groups, giving background and explanation relative to the various sites, often answering questions. Because of the remarkable acoustics in Saint Anne’s, guides are prohibited from speaking or explaining. The competing chatter would create a cacophony of sound unbefitting a place of worship. Singing, however, is permitted.
The sign was striking to me in the way it was worded. It seems that far too many people enter every place of worship as if these words have been posted at the door. And for this reason, some people have decided not to enter a place of worship at all.
Explanation is the language of reason and intellect. Explanations are arrived at by people who think critically and ask questions. Explanations require analysis and reflection. By contrast, the basilica is the place where the soul expresses love for God. The language most fitting for the basilica is singing and prayer. The basilica appears to be a place of quiet rather than questioning, a place where God is exalted and not explained.
For practical reasons the sign in front of St. Anne’s church made good sense. The intent was to safeguard the experience of all the visitors who entered the building by limiting the disruptive sound of competing voices.
However, as a general rule, “no explanations in the basilica” is the exact opposite of the message the church wants to send to the world. We do not wish to separate the life of the mind from the zeal of the heart. We do not regard the language of praise as incompatible with the language of explanation. We do not silence questions in an anxious attempt to preserve reverence.
The third book of the New Testament is attributed to Luke. Colossians 4:14 tells us that Luke was a doctor – perhaps the only biblical figure whom we may rightly regard as a ‘scientist.’ As Luke opens his account of the life of Jesus he discloses to his readers the methodological basis of his work. He investigated and researched all that had been told about Jesus. He asked good questions. He employed the energies of his mind in giving an “orderly” account of what he learned. But make no mistake about it – Luke is a believer.
Which comes most naturally to you – explanations or song? In your own life of faith strive to keep the life of the mind connected to the devotion of the heart. Let one feed and fuel the other. Let study lead to prayer. Let prayer bring honest questions before God.
Never be afraid of seeking explanations in the basilica.
In our questions, O God, make us willing to wait on you. In our singing, make us ready to seek more of you. Give us hearts restless for truth, yet always filled with worship and thanksgiving. Guide us in both our singing and thinking, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.