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.