(first written January 2010)

It seems that wherever I look, I am confronted with winter scenes, winter tales and, well, an unrelenting stream of snow, ice and cold – not in the absolute sense that those living in North America or other northern climes will recognise, but cold, snowy, icy and well, wintery.

It is under these inescapable conditions, that my mind turns back to last August, a time without the unrelentingly frigid encumbrances of winter.

Ah, I remember it well, especially as it was a nice hot day – in strong contrast to the January norm in the UK. Mind you, I may not have said a ‘nice hot day’ then, but I will now.

The invitation we received explicitly said three o’clock in the afternoon, and we, being a son and daughter of a western country with our inherent western culture, arrived a bit on the early side only to find the parking lot completely and absolutely empty. To emphasis the point, there was not a soul to be seen anywhere.

Normally I pick up clues on what I should or should not do by my cultural context – what is everyone else doing or not doing. In this case I was at a loss – it appeared, save us, that there was no one there. Maybe the clue was ‘not to be there’ but we ‘there’ were.

A quick, furtive check of the invitation indicated that, yes, today was the declared date and yes, nigh to now, was the declared time….but, alas, it seemed like we were in a land devoid of people.

I stayed in the car at the road and my intrepid wife went through the imposing steel gates to seek guidance from any she could find in the church.

She did find someone and was advised, clearly and in no uncertain terms to stay out of the empty parking lot.

Strange, but okay. Do not park in the, er, parking lot… Hmm…

However, as I was parking up on the narrow, dirt lane, and since the parking lot was devoid of anything and additionally we did discover that there were just a mere handful of people actually in the church, I decided to take the car to a tyre repair place, somewhere, as we had developed a puncture at some point on our way.

In fact, it was as we left Antakya (Antioch) that I had noticed the puncture and as I didn’t think I had time to have it repaired – the date and time did not allow, or so I reasoned, for a time out to get the puncture repaired – my culture and nature demands I be on-time at worst and a wee bit early ideally.

Hence, I briefly stopped at a tyre repair place and had air added. However, now it seemed, I had time. So off I flew in search of a local tyre repair shop.

Finding a shop I dropped the car to be repaired in my absence and headed quickly back to the church on foot, under the burning Mediterranean sun, walking briskly, as I hate to be late.

I needn’t have hurried.

When I arrived back at the church, nowt had changed. The empty parking lot was, well empty. The parking space lay there still baking in the sweltering afternoon heat; a sultry breeze which would occasionally build into a blustery oven-like blast continued to course over us as we waited.

In the distance we could hear the sound of drum and zurna (according to the translation dictionary a zurna is a reed instrument somewhat resembling an oboe; the Turkish definition of a zurna is a high pitched wind instrument often accompanied by a large or small drum). The music was accompanied by shouts and ejaculations indicating a group of people celebrating. It was at a distance and as the wind waxed and waned, sometimes it sounded near and sometimes far.

Interesting…

And we waited. The wind blew. Our eyes squinted into the brilliant sunlight and we tarried; a handful of people.

Time, slowly, relentlessly ticking by… where was that invitation again….

Of course the passing of time is regulated by your expectations…three minutes is nothing when waiting for a special event a few months hence and by the same token, it can seem like an eternity when waiting for a lift to arrive. The same three minutes, but our appreciation is determined by our circumstances.

Today we were more in the ‘waiting for the lift’ frame of mind….time seemed to crawl by.

After about a half an hour I was convinced that the music was drawing near only to be convinced five minutes later that it was drifting off. Fifteen minuets later it became increasingly clear that the music and the mobile celebration was indeed slowly drawing nigh.

Finally, the noisy throng came around the corner, a hundred meters from the church but this was not some random, strolling company, this was the full wedding party, dancing their way to the church. In the exuberant crowd are the wedding guests, the bride’s family, the groom’s family, the brides maids, the groomsmen, the groom, the bride, everyone – it is the whole wedding party, dancing, celebrating their way to the church.

Dancing is not a quick, direct or efficient means of travel. It seems for every three steps forward there would be at least two backwards and this particular Turkish folk dance consisted of a line which would go backward with as much liberty and vigour as it went forward.

In the fullness of time, going backwards and forwards and sideways as well, they entered the church parking lot, one zurna player and two vigorous drummers. The young men were dancing in a line and the ladies dancing in a cluster in the middle, children running to and fro, young and old alike in celebration – the wedding party had arrived.

The air was reverberating with the sound of the drums and the music of the zurna in a continuous stream, rose and fell as the people danced and children ran and every so often the air was filled with the sound of a “zılgıt” – this is a tradition, generally at weddings and other joyous celebrations, where the matriarchs, the bride’s and groom’s mothers or ladies close to the family make a joyful sound a bit like a yodel, in cheerful celebration.

It was for this purpose the parking lot was sacrosanct, no more a parking place but now a generous celebration area. The dancing continued, the music soared, the drummers kept up the incessant and intricate drumming using two drum sticks – a big one on the front for the boom boom heavy and dominant sound and another, smaller drumstick on the back of the drum with a lighter, higher-pitched complimentary sound – one drum, two drumsticks and different strokes.

The zurna player made a continuous melodious sound, when breathing out, the music soared, as you would expect, but, at the same time as when he was breathing in, the music continued in an uninterrupted stream as he continued expelling air through his mouth whilst replenishing his air through his nose. Don’t ask me how, but the music is uninterrupted, continuous and non-stop.

Finally the dancing stopped and the people streamed into the church, filling it to capacity.

Ah, now is the start time for the church part of the day.

So, by my western clock, the wedding ceremony was about to begin a good hour late – but by the eastern clock and culture we were already over an hour into the wedding.

All was ready, and now minus the loud, deafening drums and shrill zurna, we began to sing songs of praise and worship to God, filling the space with joyous music, with hearts and voices united in jubilant acclamation of the goodness and greatness of God.

As we sang in Turkish and in Arabic (this is a bi-lingual town and a bi-lingual fellowship) the tone is well and truly set. The bride and her father are ready and waiting in the foyer – waiting as we praise God, waiting as the congregation joyfully lift hearts and voices in worship and adoration of God.

The time had come. The singing came to a joyous conclusion and the bride and her father began their passage down the central aisle. Halfway down the groom came and met them mid-church, surrounded by all and sundry. He kissed the hand of the bride’s father in a sign of respect and took the arm of his bride to bring her the rest of the way to the front of the room.

The bride in her splendid white wedding gown, the groom suited and booted stood at the front of the church. They stood whilst we joined our voices again in praise and worship of God.

After singing, they continued to stand for several exhortations and sharing. Afterwards they were led up onto the platform where the elder officiating stood at a 45˚ angle facing both the assembled saints and the bride and groom who were also standing at a 45˚ angle so the elder and the bride and groom could look each other in the eye – but everything said and done was also in full view of the congregation.

No one was left looking at anyone’s back.

As vows were exchanged we rejoiced, not only in this wedding and not only in the fact that this is a marriage of two Turkish believers but more so from the fact that he comes from a Orthodox Christian background and she from an Alevi Muslim background – different backgrounds but united in Christ, many barriers had been broken down and this through the Grace of God and the power of the Good News.

When all had been said and done, the newly weds again trod up the central carpet, now as man and wife, radiant in joy.

Once outside in the so-called parking lot the drums and zurna again exploded into life and the sounds of celebration once more filled the air, near and far. All would know that a exuberant celebration was taking place.

The young and energetic took up dancing anew – the older or worn out commenced walking and as we strolled through the streets we jointly declared the good news of the marriage – the full wedding party, the bride and groom, the parents, the children, the guests, everyone walking through the streets in joyful celebration and declaration.

Drums booming, zurna shrilling and the zılgıt punctuating the air, we slowly made our way to the home of the new couple. There, outside the door the music continued, the dancing continued, the crowd of on-lookers loitered and the children ran and played.

Finally, a ceremony at the door that I did not begin to understand, incorporating as it did several people with their hands on the cross bar of the door and a rather large knife that appeared to be stuck in the door frame – the music stopped, some words were spoken which I could not hear standing as I was on the periphery of the crowd, the knife was removed and the bride and groom entered the building.

That was all until the wedding feast in the evening. But I will leave that tale for another time, possibly…

A joyful taster, a faint shadow, a hint of the wedding of the Lamb and the Bride – where the greatest of barriers have been removed by the finished work of Christ our Saviour and Bridegroom – and this is the good news we seek to share in Turkey – we are all invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.

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