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Friday, October 14, 2016

Sleep does not come easy

Someone said yesterday that either Plato or Socrates said in a paraphrase that that said the more you know, the more you recognize how little you know.  As it turns out, it was Aristotle who said, "the more you know, the more you know you don't know."  Well, I guess that would be a case in point and it is certainly true of this experience here in the land known as Holy.

It is my third time visiting and each experience has been vastly different.  Some of you know my journey, but to recap, in 2012, a year after recovering from cancer surgery and staph infection, I came here with three pastor buddies (Wendy Komori-Stager, Jeannie Kim and Debbie Whaley) to travel and learn the lay of the land.  It was part pilgrimage, part luxury, part education and part immersion.  Then, just last year, in 2015, I traveled with a tour group led by one of my friends (Debbie Whaley), with the intent of bringing a few friends and my husband, as well as learning more tricks of the trade of leading groups.  In the midst of that experience, I discovered that I did not have a lot of interest in leading groups that wanted to solely "walk where Jesus walked."  I also was not enamored with leading a group of 30!  

So, when my good friend, Will McGarvey, asked if I would lead a Keep Hope Alive olive picking trip, I was game.   I have never done that part and it was an opportunity to expand the "resume," learn more about the experiences on the ground, and return to further hone and discover more of what I do not know.  That has been the case in spades.  For the first part, we have stayed in Nazareth and I have never spent more than a day in the city.  We have been to a Druze village, a Palestinian village in the north that was destroyed after 1948 and yesterday, to the school and church at Ibillin, founded by Abuna/Archbishop/Elias Chacour.   Today we will get back in our bus and drive to the Dead Sea and Jericho on our way to Beit Sahour.  We will start our picking tomorrow, Sunday morning.  I'm absolutely certain that I will once again discover by learning to harvest olives how much I do not know.  Those of you who know me well know that I do not score so high on the mechanical and physical labor aptitude scale.  

I am coming up with fewer and fewer answers, less and less certainty, and more and more empathy for a land and a people that exemplifies so much of the human condition.    I am left thinking that we (the royal or universal we) are confounded by the conflict and the intransigence (that is the best word I think), but really what is surprising?  Our own political debates should show us that we most often are unmovable and assured of our own opinions, our own rights, and have an incredible ability to justify our own actions.  We judge others as being less evolved, less intelligent and ask ourselves how anyone could think like "them."  Our country is YOUNG.  I no longer think the excuse is that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is centuries old, but that human dominance and a desire for power are deep-seated in the human wiring.  Like a cycle of abusive parenting, I wonder and pray how the cycle might be broken, and at times in the journey thus far, my emotions have ranged from sad, agitated, impatient, energized, hopeful and utterly discouraged.  

I am not always a big scripture quoter, and I do not wish to become preach-y on you, but I am reminded of Paul's letter to the Ephesians 2:11-22 which includes these words:
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.....So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

I pray for me to be more like Christ in breaking down dividing walls...here and at home.  
Grace and peace to you all,
Gail

P.S.  Something has gone awry with my photo files and I am unable to load any of them to the blog.  Sorry for giving you a "book" with no pictures.  


Wednesday, October 12, 2016

when your head begins to hurt and your heart follows


One state, two state?
Our state, your state?
Born of hate,
taught to hate,
Is it too late?

Holy Land, Cursed Land,
Lend a hand, slap a hand,
Where is the place for
every man and wo(man)?

Peace, peace,
There is no peace
when will all
the fighting cease?

Seek a glimpse,
a crack, a hole,
or the tiniest pinprick of light
where hope might
seep through.

You hear the call
to come and see,
come and see,
come and see,
listen, learn,
witness, walk,
pray, talk....
but then what?

My 3 questions

Allow me to share the answer to my three questions -
1.  Who did I meet?
I am meeting and getting to know our guide and our driver.  They are so kind and a wealth of knowledge.   Those conversations are becoming deeper with every encounter.  We have discussed politics, religion, history, archeology, family, life in our respective countries and more.  Then there are these tiny little encounters that don't count as full on meetings to me, but instead, are people I'd like to know or have time to know or simply noticed.  This list includes the owners of the spice shop, the children at the school in Cana, the nun at the Latin church in Cana, the grumpy worker at the church of the Annunciation who was annoyed with us going "in the out" direction, the owner of Abu-Ashraf where we had lunch and finally, our own group.  While I knew some of the folks from serving in their respective churches, I am learning so much more and am developing a growing affection for each.  
2.  What did I learn?
Oh my I learned much because I have forgotten but the thing that sticks out for me is a refresher on the architecture of the churches.  I know the names and locations of the narthex, the nave, the apse, etc.  But I did not realize that they actually represented (somewhat literally and figuratively) the journey of the faith.  Those gathering in the courtyard were just hanging around to see what was going on and perhaps the were pagan and unsure whether they wanted to participate at all, but they were allowed to gather there, to be with the people, and in some cases to trade wares and shop.  Then if they were at a  point where they were seriously considering joining or being baptized as a follower of Jesus, then they would go to the narthex (fancy word for lobby or entryway of the church).  Then finally, they would make a full decision to enter and become a believer, and at that point, they would enter the nave by the aisle way.  I know this may seem obvious, but honestly, I had not stopped to think of the architecture as a sort of virtual way to describe the journey or pilgrimage to becoming a Christian.
3.  How was I touched or transformed in my soul?
At the Latin Church of the Annunciation, I was reminded again of how much I am drawn to Mary, the Mother of Jesus.  We had a fun and funny conversation about the artwork that was donated by the United States and how much some of us (me being one) dislike the depiction and how others admired the modern artwork.  Upon further reflection, I realize that I like modern and contemporary aesthetics, but there are a few things about which I am very much a traditionalist.  In icons and some art that depicts Scripture in visual form, I prefer an ancient or traditional approach.  I  am somewhat surprised by this.  Yesterday I was not interested in photographs, but today my eye and heart were drawn once again to Mary and the many different ways that cultures around the world have portrayed her.

Of course, the other obligatory spiritual practice is to go to the shisha bar to smoke a bit of hookah.  You know, when in Nazareth, do as the Nazarenes do, or something like that!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Pilgrimage whether you want it or not!

We have arrived!  I and a small group of pilgrims, tourists, witnesses, partners, learners spent the day traveling from San Francisco to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Tel Aviv, or in the case of one, from North Carolina to Tel Aviv.  They don't teach math in seminary, so I'm not exactly sure how long we were traveling, but we were in the air for roughly 15 hours.  In these mere hours, we crossed time zones, cultures, and great divides.  I wanted to sleep until 7:30 or 8 am this morning, but my body thought it would be wise to wake at 6:30 am.

What I am aware of right now is that even though this particular experience and tour is not publicized as a pilgrimage, the principles of pilgrimage are always at work in us if we allow them to be.  I become immediately attuned to different languages and customs.  My assumed norms that get me through a day, a routine, are out the window.  The climate is different.  The smells are foreign.  The rooster crowing in the middle of the city at the crack of dawn (!) (I understand that is not weird if you live in Lafayette, CA, but this is NOT something I hear every day in Concord).  I am in a foreign land.  This is not my home, but when I allow myself to sink in deeply and to wonder (and wander), my soul discovers more fully what it seeks to know.  It just seems that there are lots of assumptions I must leave behind.  Preconceived notions that I must release.  I have to create an openness to receive the gifts of the day and the moment.

I look forward to sharing this journey with all of you and to share with you some insights from along the way, both from me and from our group.  In a few days our group will grow as we join several international delegations as well as our own small U.S. group.  More to discover, to be sure.   With the help of my sweet, thoughtful husband, I have some questions to guide me:
1.  Who did you meet today?
2.  What did you learn today?
3.  How was your soul/faith/spirit touched or transformed today?

These are tough questions on a day of air travel.  I did meet many for brief moments, but they were all very busy, or difficult to understand (the Turkish accent is a hard one for me), or uninterested in engaging in conversation.  I had a seat mate on the short flight and she was from Texas and could not have been older than my eldest daughter (25).  She had me beat as this was her 4th trip to Israel.  She was going to visit friends.  She is a dive instructor and her last time traveling was to lead a Jewish fitness camp in Israel.  Who knew!?  I also encountered all the myriad of dress including berkas, Haredi hats and so many languages.  We met our driver for the duration of our time and Muhammad was gracious, warm and already eager to answer the 100s of questions that Westerners tend to ask.
I was touched by the land as we entered and I could feel the shift in myself and the excitement mounting to begin this journey and to share it with others.  Also, touched by the fact that we made it here with few complications or delays.

Be well, my friends.  And until we meet again, consider the path you make by walking.

Gail

P.S. (a footnote)   - Some of you may ask what exactly is a pilgrimage? Here is one definition:

A pilgrimage is a ritual journey with a hallowed purpose. Every step along the way has meaning. The pilgrim knows that life giving challenges will emerge. A pilgrimage is not a vacation; it is a transformational journey during which significant change takes place. New insights are given. Deeper understanding is attained. New and old places in the heart are visited. Blessings are received and healing takes place. On return from the pilgrimage, life is seen with different eyes. Nothing will ever be quite the same again.
Macrina Wiederkehr,
Behold Your Life, p. 11








Thursday, October 6, 2016

On the road again

I have seen for the first time in 100 years of conflict, the two peoples - the Israeli people and the Palestinian people - are ahead of their leaderships. -
Amos Oz

I found this poem by David Whyte tonight and put it up next to one of my favorite Israeli authors, Amos Oz.  The poem literally screams into my life, my work and my upcoming journey to Israel and Palestine.  "..you come to a place whose only task is to trouble you with tiny but frightening requests..."  I am already wondering what frightening requests I may find along the road to meetings, olive trees and holy sites.  These are the "questions that have no right to go away."  



SOMETIMES

Sometimes
if you move carefully
through the forest,

breathing
like the ones
in the old stories,

who could cross
a shimmering bed of leaves
without a sound,

you come to a place
whose only task

is to trouble you
with tiny
but frightening requests,

conceived out of nowhere
but in this place
beginning to lead everywhere.

Requests to stop what
you are doing right now,
and

to stop what you
are becoming
while you do it,

questions
that can make
or unmake
a life,

questions
that have patiently
waited for you,

questions
that have no right
to go away.