By Betty Bland
Originally printed in the JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2007 issue of Quest magazine.
Citation: "Open Wide the Gates." Quest 95.1 (JANUARY-FEBRUARY 2007):4-5.
In the volatile region of the Middle East, what strange circumstance could result in a person of the Muslim faith being the gatekeeper for the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, one of the holiest shrines in all of Christendom? Once again, we find that truth is stranger than fiction. Several years ago, the Associated Press told the story of Wajeeh Nuseibeh whose family has monitored those massive doors for more than a thousand years due to sectarian squabbling among the Christians.
A source of stability through centuries of discord has been an agreement made in 638 CE, between the conquering Muslim Caliph, Omar Ibn al-Khattab, and the Greek patriarch. In accordance with this agreement, a series of several families have assumed that gate keeping responsibility. The shrine, re-built by European crusaders in 1099, at the site purported to be the burial tomb of Jesus, has been the destination for holy pilgrimages of many different sects of Christianity since its earliest foundation. Yet, for the very reason that it is so revered, it continues to be a source of contention. Because many sects have had to share this most holy of sites, no one can agree as to who should maintain control. As recently as July 28, 2005, Coptic and Ethiopian monks engaged in rock-throwing and fighting over a perceived challenge of control over a courtyard in the shrine. Tensions run high among all the groups who want to worship there.
Only the long established ritual of gate keeping by our Muslim brothers maintains the peace. Every morning a Joudeh, another Muslim family who guards the ten inch iron key, hands the key to a Nuseibeh. Following his family tradition as he has done for the last twenty-five years, fifty year-old Wajeeh Nuseibah, then climbs a wooden ladder passed down by a priest from within the shrine, and opens the spring-loaded iron lock. Wajeeh has 400 year-old documents declaring his family's control of the gates, while the Joudeh family's management of the key dates back to the Ottoman rule, which began in 1517.
During the recent turmoil, the families have had to send surrogates to open the gates at four in the morning in order to avoid the dangers of the nighttime streets, but they still maintain enough control to keep peace among the various factions. Wajeeh says that these Muslim families act as a people of peace for the church.
Gates provide an access point. They are the way in and out. In the case of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher the gates control who goes in and out—and when. But just as importantly, gates also mark entry points. Gates provide the way to enter into another territory. The very presence of a gate indicates that there is more beyond. In our own lives we can see the importance of discovering the gate within that leads to deeper understanding.
Just as Wajeeh makes it possible for the Christians to enter the shrine in peace, each one of us can be a gatekeeper for Theosophy—not to keep people out (although by our poor example this may sometimes be the unintended result), but to indicate that there is an open door available to any earnest seeker. To the extent of our knowledge we can point out the way—the way to explore and grow in understanding, with abundant resources, which is unfettered by the narrowness of sectarian views. We can herald that entrance and hope that those who pass through on our watch will pay us the ultimate compliment for any teacher—that of surpassing us in knowledge and application of principles.
As Theosophists we may be cautious about giving out our views to others in any way that might be seen as proselytizing. In fact, we usually bend over backwards to be sure that we honor all approaches to religion and the riddles of life. This is as it should be if we are talking about imposing our views on others, but we have to face up to the awesome responsibility of sharing whatever level of understanding we have attained in order to benefit our fellows in this life journey. There are many people for whom our gate is virtually invisible unless we make it known.
Madame Blavatsky talks about this responsibility in The Key to Theosophy:
ENQUIRER: Is it the duty of every member to teach others and preach Theosophy?
THEOSOPHIST: It is indeed. No fellow has a right to remain idle, on the excuse that he knows too little to teach. For he may always be sure that he will find others who know still less than himself. And also it is not until a man begins to try to teach others, that he discovers his own ignorance and tries to remove it.
We might wonder, "How can I be a gatekeeper to point the way for others? What do I know that can point the way to the gate?" In notes from Light on the Path, the answer is given: "Hardness of heart belongs to the selfish man, the egotist, to whom the gate is for ever closed."
The gift of Theosophy is a worldview that forever shatters selfishness and hardness of heart. As given by Madam Blavatsky in The Secret Doctrine, the first fundamental principle takes us directly to the key for that gate. It states that there is one omnipotent boundless ALL, called God by some—and it leads us to an understanding that there is only one unitive principle within which all else, including ourselves, exists. If we take to heart this one factor, we will naturally open the gate within ourselves, and become a beacon to others.
We may not necessarily know the particular answers to another's questions, but with humility and open heart, we will be able to point the way. We can say, "There is a gate. Look inside and see if you find the way to the sense of completeness you seek." We can open wide the gate that will draw them toward their own inner truth.