Sunday, February 9, 2014

Write what's on your heart

Before leaving for Israel, a good friend of mine wanted the following souvenir,
"Don't bring me anything back, just write and tell me what's on your heart when you visit the sites where Jesus walked".
Well, if that's not a daunting task, I don't know what is… but it certainly had me thinking.

Below is an excerpt from the letter I wrote to him. The picture is from the Church of the Nativity. An Orthodox priest guards the main alter above the manger site.

Superficially, I am enjoying Israel and the experience. I will say that it helped tremendously to have lived in the Middle East before coming here. So much seems the same to me and thankfully it's in a comforting way. I wasn't aware of how much until I sat on a tour bus on Friday next to a Doctor from Belgium (educated but very naive in the world-sense) and to see things through his eyes was interesting. I kept telling him to relax that the Muslims weren't going to hurt him when he'd appear nervous.

Touring Bethlehem is at first a challenging experience because it's like entering another country. One enters from Jerusalem through a border control -like gate. Passports required (but not checked). Jewish people aren't allowed. The tour guide snuck through but he said "I will not open my mouth as they will know who I am and possibly shoot me" (how's that for a heart warming statement?!)

The sites are so accessible (yes there are crowds) so it's a bit overwhelming. To actually "touch" the birth place of Jesus and the spots where he dropped the cross (station 4?) and were the nails were pounded into his hands and to see the site of the tomb… all within about 30 minutes….and on top of it, we were in the Church (built on the sites) where there was a Catholic service with the organ playing and singing priests and incense to boot! alongside the Armenia monks chanting (oh yeah and more incense) and then the guide says "Would you like to go into the tomb of Joseph of Armethia, the man who probably put Jesus in his own tomb?" I lost it at that point and had to sit down (in the cave) and sort of regroup.

SO did I have a religious experience? Not really. There is actually something called Jerusalem Syndrome where, after visiting these sites, people think they are Jesus or a prophet. I didn't know this but I've found several sources that confirm it. Anna said she saw a guy at a coffee shop once here who claimed to be Jesus.

I guess what was in my heart was that a) how profoundly blessed I am to have the opportunity to view these sites. b) how amazed I am at my daughter that she can survive here for 6 months. It's very different (imagine three cultures clashing at once…yes I know, sort of like your school ;-) and it's very expensive. (what's money right?)

When I return, I will do more reading on the political and religious background of the area because I know there's a whole lot of information that I am totally missing. And yes I know one book isn't going to explain it all.

I've been wearing my Canadian pin as to not be too obviously American. I saw a demonstration (small) today that had young people carrying a banner and trying to block off a highway. The person next to me on the bus translated the banner to say "We won't take what Kerry is trying to tell us". "Oh" I said and started talking about Hockey and Moosehead beer ;-)

It's going to take me a while to process the whole experience. But at the moment I can say it was a very good one.

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