by Christine Sine
Abuna Yemata Guh is a monolithic church located in the Hawzen woreda of the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. It is situated at a height of 2,580 metres (8,460ft) and has to be climbed on foot and in bare feet to reach. It is notable for its dome and beautiful wall paintings dating back to the 5th century.
I am fascinated by this church and the perilous journey parishioners must take in order to worship in it. Despite the scary climb, the church is active with churchgoers climbing up the cliffs several times a week including mothers with their children on their back, pregnant women, babies and old people to attend services. Evidently young mothers bring their infants to be baptized here because they see it as being closer to heaven, more powerful and therefore closer to God than the churches on the plain below.
One thing that caught my attention as I watched the first video is that there are well worn impressions in the sandstone where thousands of people have trod over the last almost two thousand years. Fortunately the Abuna Yemata Guh church also has a local guide and vanguards at every step of the climb, making sure visitors know which foothold to take and which rock to climb. They also help out with the ropes.
Learning about this church seemed very appropriate for me in the middle of my Advent journey. As I watched this second video of women bringing their infants to be baptized when they were just 40 days old, what struck me was the dedication of these mothers to their children and the desire to see them receive the most powerful and Godly blessing possible for their lives.
I think of the perilous journeys that Mary and Joseph took first when she was pregnant accompanying Joseph to Bethlehem. Then after Jesus’ birth the even more perilous journey into Egypt, I talked about this in a post I wrote last year entitled Why Don’t We Follow Joseph Mary and Jesus Into Egypt. Mary and Joseph were even more dedicated to the wellbeing of their child who they believed would one day become the Messiah so long before promised to the Jewish people. Their journeys were more dangerous and more disruptive of their lives than they ever imagined. I wonder if, when Mary and Joseph set out for Bethlehem from Nazareth they realized that they might not return to Nazareth for years. Did they, like so many refugees today have their lives unexpectedly and completely upended by the birth of Jesus?
As I watch the videos above and ponder my own journey of faith – now entering its 57th year, I realize that I was not prepared for the ways that this journey would totally upend and transform my life. There were many points at which I considered turning aside, but the call of God on my life was so strong and so insistent, that I could not do that. I suspect Mary and Joseph moved with the same sense of calling and the worshippers at Abuna Yemata Guh seem to as well. I wonder how often those climbing to the church to worship, felt like turning back. Did they find courage in the footsteps of those who had gone before? Did they find strength in the story of Mary and Joseph and especially from their long and perilous flight into Egypt which is so much at the heart of the Coptic church? There is so much that we can learn from ancient places and ancient traditions like this that hopefully draw us closer to the presence of God. However as I commented in my post last year: Why don’t we take more notice of this story and this important episode in Jesus life? Why don’t we take more notice of the Coptic church and their powerful traditions or of other churches established early in the history of Christianity?
I hope that you will take time this week to watch and reflect on the two videos above. Ask yourself: What risks am I willing to take to walk into the new life Christ offers? How dedicated am I to the journey towards Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus in my life and the even more perilous journey it starts me on? What kinds of distractions tempted me to turn aside from the path? Allow God to speak to you through these videos and consider your own faith journey in the light of them.
Just in time for the season of giving, we are offering beautiful giftable cookbook bundles! Pair our community cookbook with Graham Kerr’s classic The Gathering Place for the gourmand in your life. Or pair the cookbook with a copy of Christine Sine’s latest book Digging Deeper and a set of beautiful prayer cards. All the details are in the shop!