Places to see

"Places to see" Continued...

Issue: "Maximum insecurity," Feb. 23, 2013

2. Attend a 6 a.m. sutra chanting in a dark temple filled with hypnotic intensity and the smell of incense, part of the life of 1,000 monks on Mount Koya in Japan. See Buddhist attempts to become more spiritual through kugyo (“hard practice”) such as chanting in freezing water and bowing for hours on tatami mats. On a more superstitious level, pick up pine needles and stick them in your wallet, hoping that wealth will come, or pick up a big rock that might lead to the granting of wishes by some cosmic force.

3. See in Turkey—or in other Muslim countries and communities—lines of Muslim men prostrating themselves in unison and reciting lines in Arabic that most do not understand. Walk in the underground cities of central Turkey’s Cappadocia region where Christians hid to preserve their lives and worship opportunities when Muslim invaders gave them a choice of Allah or death. Roam Hagia Sophia, the ancient, domed Christian cathedral bathed in blood and turned into a mosque when Istanbul fell to the Turks in 1453. 

4. Mourn at famous sites of Nazi mass murder like Babi Yar in Kiev or Panerai near Vilnius, or little-known ones like Varvarovka near Olevsk, Ukraine. The sense of ghosts peering out of every window or from behind every tree may be even more intense at the concentration camps of central Europe: I have not been to these, but I’ve read about infamous and readily accessible ones like Auschwitz-Birkenau (near Kraków, Poland), Dachau (near Munich), Mauthausen (between Vienna and Salzburg), Terezín (near Prague), and Buchenwald (near Weimar, Germany).

5. Visit Communist prisons and killing fields in Europe and Asia: I’ve written about some of them, but I also saw sadness in what should have been a place of joy, the 60,000-seat Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. That stadium is home for the famed Industriales, the top team in Cuba’s National League, but when I attended only several thousand fans were present. Tickets for Cubans cost the equivalent of only 1 cent, but Havana’s collapsed transportation system made it hard to get to the game, and the trash-strewn park, with stinking urinals, was hard for fans to accept.

Category 3: The creativity of God, and of man made in His image

1. Walk into the cloud formed by Victoria Falls at the Zambia-Zimbabwe border. Missionary-explorer David Livingstone, the first European to see the world’s largest sheet of falling water, gave the name of his queen to the falls in 1855, but the indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya—literally “the cloud that thunders”—is more descriptive of spray from the falls that rises to 1,300 feet and more. Livingstone rightly wrote of the falls, “No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.”

2. Admire the Taj Mahal, the 17th-century white marble mausoleum in northern India that is the high point of Muslim architecture. Shah Jahan spoke truly when describing the construction he had funded: “In this world this edifice has been made; To display thereby the creator’s glory.” But Jahan sought in Islam what can only be found in Christ: “Should guilty seek asylum here, / Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin. / Should a sinner make his way to this mansion, / All his past sins are to be washed away.”

3. Enjoy the Parthenon, the 2,450-year-old temple in Athens still viewed as a crowning example of proportion in architecture. Mathematicians and architects have analyzed its “golden ratio” and delicate curves, and historians enthuse about Greece’s Golden Age, but it’s good to keep history in mind: Only a year after the beautiful building’s completion in 438 b.c. the Peloponnesian War began, and two years later a plague killed Pericles and other Athenian leaders. By the end of the century the Parthenon’s order remained but Athens had fallen into the disorder from which it never recovered.

4. Feel like Indiana Jones while exploring Angkor Wat and several dozen other millennium-old temples in the jungle of northwest Cambodia. Trees poke through temple floors in some places and vines drape statues. The temples were not places of assembly but seven-leveled replicas of Mount Meru, the Himalayan home of the Hindu gods, which functions like Mount Olympus in ancient Greek mythology. What that means practically is verticality: visitors should expect to do a lot of climbing up very steep and narrow steps.

5. Pray at the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem—a supporting wall for Herod’s temple, and the only part of the temple not destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. Ever since then the wall has been a homing signal for Jews throughout the world, and one so strong that Jewish scholars from the fourth century (Rav Acha) to the 18th century (Jonathan Eybeschutz) insisted that “the Divine Presence” fills the wall. Today it is magnificent in its looming plainness, and readily accessible through a plaza that can hold thousands of people, some of whom insert messages in cracks in the wall.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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