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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Death must die

Today we began our day walking the Via Dolorosa in the Old City of Jerusalem.  We took a pilgrim's question with us, which was to consider what it is that needs to die for us.  As I walked the stations I was praying intently upon this question and I thought of a lot of things that could die.  Most of them were fairly common to the human condition:  selfishness, greed, complaining, injustice, materialism, and even mundane things like complaining or overeating.  However, as we arrived at the final 3 stations, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the reflection on what needed to die shifted for me.

First, let's be clear, I was not even sure we were at the Church.  We entered thru 3 old churches that felt a bit like seedy bars, and then emerged into an open courtyard.  It has been relatively hot here and I am a sweat-er, so I was drenched and told one of my traveling companions that I was going to wait outside.  As I sat quietly outside and prayed and waited, the question and the answer to my prayer "what needs to die" shifted.  I got a very clear declaration that death needs to die.  I know that may sound overly dramatic and way too Christian for some.  However, it was my word, my reflection and my prayer.  I think it rings true in my own life, because in the last year, there has been a lot of death in my life both personally and vocationally.

Also, as I traverse this Holy Land (not really sure what makes it holy, and that will be a topic for another blog entry for sure), I am keenly aware of the constant threat of death that lies just underneath the surface.  One can palpably feel the tension that penetrates the landscape as a result of generations of conflict,  a political and personal and religious milieu of tensions that have resided in this place for generations and centuries.  There is a history of religious, political and cultural claim to land and sacred places.  Oppression has ebbed and flowed and shifted from one people to another, for ages and ages.  It even exists within "similar" religious groups, as our friend Debbie related the story of the conflicts over the primacy of various Christian religions over the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  It is dramatically evidenced by a ladder that stands up on a terrace above the doors to the church.  It stays there to this day because no one can determine whether the ladder belongs to the the Orthodox Orders or the Roman Catholic (just go to Wikipedia Immovable Ladder and read).  All of this is death that needs to die.

While I am here seeing sites, talking to people from all over the world, and having my world and theological views turned upside down,  I am also seeing the reports of Hurricane Sandy on CNN and feeling very removed from the deeply destructive and deadly reality that has impacted many parts of the East Coast.  A cyclone hits India.  A large earthquake hits Canada.  Acts of God, they're called, but they wreak havoc and I want to cry out stop the death.

I am also hearing what sounds like gun shots in the distance from my hotel in the Old City.  The news reports of conflict or brewing unrest come from Syria, Damascus, Turkey and elsewhere.  Violence and conflict.  Death and threat of death. Jesus came so that we might have life, and have it more abundantly.  That is just more evidence to me that death needs to die and we need to be free of that which cuts off life from ourselves, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters and yes, even our enemies.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

I am so confused

Yesterday was a whirlwind day.  We checked out of our lovely Roman Catholic guest house, and got on the road to a few more sites and then to our lodging for the next several nights.  In the span of about of roughly twelve hours, we road a boat, climbed a hill, saw another ruin, ate a fabulous lunch, crossed cultures numerous times, drove miles, got lost at least 3 or 4 times, and finally fell into our beds at around 11:30 pm.

I fear that the only way I can express this cognitive, spiritual and emotional dissonance, is to expose you to a poem in its raw and unedited form:

Many and Varied
Joy and Sorrow on rocky landscape
Don't know where to begin or where to stop

Full and Overflowing
An assault to my senses
So many questions and so few answers

Tastes and Seasonings
A colorful palate of cuisine
A terrible place to diet or deny one's hunger

Devout and Evident
Nearly humorous caricatures of traditions
Altogether serious and sometimes frightening

Who and What
Cannot begin to sort it out
Complicated beyond all comprehension

Rocks and buildings
Journey to the places of significance
Honor the faith of those who have walked ahead

Nearly every word and phrase here has at least a double meaning for me, if not more.  If any of you can figure this out, please enlighten me!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jeremiah 6:16

"Thus says the Lord:  Stand at the crossroad, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls."

I am told we will do a lot of walking in our 14 days of pilgrimage.  I am already enjoying the pacing and the stories of each place we visit.  Today, as we went up to the Cliffs of Arbell (not a Biblical site, but a wonderful spot to be oriented to the geography of the Sea of Galilee and the communities all around), we read this passage and spent some time reflecting by ourselves and walking around the top of the cliff.  Just parsing this short verse could take up volumes of journaling and hours of prayer and reflection. 

For starters, whenever I am at a crossroad, I am generally so preoccupied with where I should turn, that I seldom spend time looking, let alone asking questions.  And for heaven's sake, why would I ask for an ancient path?  Shouldn't I be concerned with the new, the innovative, the unique and original, the solution that will unlock the doors to success, growth, prosperity and institutional survival?  Pshaw, what do ancient paths have to tell me? 

We had lunch in the town of Tiberias and it is a fascinating mix of ancient and very modern.  It is also a city of mixed culture, race and religion.  I found it a stimulating place to be.  Now, back to the passage.

For sure, the paths here are ancient.  I find so far that the link to the ancient is more significant to me than whether or not it was ACTUALLY the place that Jesus did this or that, but that millions have trod for centuries over this ground, have stuck prayers in between rocks and have dipped their toes in the Sea.   Yesterday we dipped our feet in the Mediterranean Sea and on Saturday morning we will take a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.

Then, in asking and looking, it says the good way will be found.  I also find myself wondering if the good way is a way that is good or if any way can be good.  Is it what we make of whatever way/path that we are on?   Too much deep thinking for someone who is still somewhat jet lagged.  I am not really given to such introspection on a daily basis.  There must be a pacing, an intentionality and a consciousness that is far more attuned than I am ordinarily on any given day.  It takes so much more time and energy to slow down than it does to go the pace of all the world around me.

We were in three different churches this afternoon...St. Peter's Primacy, Tabgha (The Church of the Loaves and Fishes) and a Greek Orthodox Church that we just happened into at the end of our day.  Each one of them brought delight, insight and beauty into our day.  Each one of them, in their own unique way, were restful places, despite the throngs of tourists surrounding us!!!!!

Finally, the passage ends with "you will find rest for your souls." I know that I entered this time of pilgrimage and this journey to holy places in a pretty dry and parched and weary state.  Weary from selling a house, weary from buying a house and moving, weary from grief of death in the church I serve and the death of my own mother, weary from the mundane and the extraordinary.  I trust and I pray that no matter where I am on this journey of two weeks, or this journey of a lifetime that God has gone ahead of me, God meets and receives me and God follows after me, even if at the end of the day, I respond with the final phrase of the passage that we chose NOT to read in our reflection....

16 This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
    ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,    and you will find rest for your souls.    But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

We Are Going....

To truly be on a pilgrimage, one must be ready for the unexpected.  I and my traveling companions learned that in spades yesterday!  And the fun continues today.  We learned that everything on pilgrimage does not happen in the time frame in which one expects that it might.  Consider that we were to fly at 9:40 a.m. yesterday from SFO, and to arrive today at 1:15 pm Tel Aviv time.  Well, as I write this entry, I'm still in the good ol' US of A.  Sitting in New York's JFK Doubletree Inn (thanks to American Airlines).  To that end, we also learned that we may not end up where we thought we were going to be either.  Our original route was taking us to LAX and then a direct flight to Tel Aviv.  Instead, we are now in NY and will fly to Tel Aviv this evening at 7 p.m.  However, these are all things that happen to all people who travel with any frequency at all. 

What distinguishes a pilgrim is what that disruption and surprise creates within one's soul and what one notices while all of these snafus are occurring.  Yesterday, we learned over and over the graciousness of those who were trying to get us on our way.  One of our traveling companions was without cell phone in the airport, while waiting for the two of us to arrive.  She was able to borrow cell phones from perfect strangers who smiled at her and generously allowed her to use thier phones so that she could contact us and our travel agent in Decatur, GA.  Stacey was wonderful and gracious and sympathetic to our dilemmas.  She guided us to the next steps. 

Then we met Jackson, the AA ticket agent who spent time helping us along.  I also noticed people ahead of us who were certainly not carrying a pilgrim attitude.  It seems to me that when one takes all this in stride, the responses are much more accomodating.  Jackson helped us and we offered prayer for her and her colleagues. 

Then, when boarding this second arranged flight, I was alone in the final boarding group and met a young girl and her mom.  The little girl kept repeating, "destination, destination, destination."  Obviously parroting what one of the agents had announced to us over the intercom system.  I giggled to myself as I wondered if she was taunting me, or was it a mantra? as destination seemed to be such an elusive "place" in which to arrive.  Or is destination more of an attitude?  There seeemed to be no movement.  We weren't GOING anyplace or getting anywhere near our destination.  But what is that for me and for us?  It is said in pilgrimage that the journey IS the destination.  What happened and where we were yesterday was what was necessary, whether planned or even pre-ordained or not, it happened and we did not have a lot of control.  All we could do was respond.  Couldn't get there faster by being angry, upset, yelling at people or stomping our feet up and down.  Perhaps I need to carry this attitude with me EVERY day, not just when going on a trip halfway across the world! 

This reminds me of an old lesser known Simon and Garfunkel song, "Woyaya."  It just dawned on me that this must be some African tune.  If anyone knows the origin, please share:

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We'll know we're there.
We will get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

It will be hard we know
And the road will be muddy and rough,
But we'll get there, heaven knows how we will get there,
We know we will.

We are going, heaven knows where we are going,
We'll know we're there.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

A journey

Tomorrow at this time, I should be on a flight from LAX to Tel Aviv via El Al Airlines.  There are so many parts of this that are new.  I've never been to Tel Aviv, Israel, Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee, etc etc.  I've actually never been out of the country except for across the southern border to Mexico, and the last time I did that, one did not even need to carry a passport to go there!  I've never flown in an aircraft for 14+ hours.  I've never traveled this far or this long with someone other than a family member.  I've never done something this monumental and felt so unprepared.

I preached this morning on the concept of pilgrimage and journey, with Jacob's journey to Haran and his dream revelation.  We sang songs about journey and God's accompaniment.  We reflected on our own lives and journeys.  But  most importantly, we acknowledged how God is present, protecting us and guiding us home, whether that be in far away lands or places we've traveled so many times that they no longer feel like place to us at all, but instead are the locales that have become so familiar that they are woven into the very fiber of our beings.

I have so little idea of what to expect in my time on holy pilgrimage to holy sites, but I do expect that I will be encountering God in and around every nook and cranny and cafe and church and face, whether a traditional monk or priest or neighbor or friend or IDF agent, but mostly, I hope to rediscover God at the very core of my own thoughts and prayers and dreams.  Then, like Jacob, I'll be able to declare, "Surely God is in this place, and I did not know it!"