Saturday, December 26, 2015

Sunday 12/27/15: in the Desert

We started out the morning offering our prayers for our brother Chris Tumilty who is down with a cold/flu, and for Dan Ade and his family at the loss of their mother.

We started out hearing a prayer/poem:
A Prayer for Standing at the Shores of lake Galilee and/or the Dead Sea by Ms. Susan Mixter Blanchard

When first birthed
from its mother rock
Each stone was sharp, jagged, unbending.
Now, eons of storms and pounding surf
Have rounded the edges, 
Smoothed the surfaces.
Each stone different.
Some black, others white --
Speckled ones abound.
Many flat, more round -- 
Mica glitters from granite globes.
None shaped like its neighbor.
All together make the rocky beach -- 
A rough-hewn edge to the seat
Sparkled by the sun.
May one stone chosen from many 
Be a reminder that we are each like this --
Born of the same Source.
Each is unique,
Each is being worn smooth
By the storms of life.
Together, with our various shapes,
Sizes, colors -- and our varied gifts --
We return beauty to God's world.

We drove in the bus to the desert in silence. It is a cold morning here in the Holy Land. As we traveled along the highway I saw a man at the head of a herd of goats, leading them along a narrow path on the hillside. He, too, was traveling in silence. This was the first of many goat and sheep herders we saw out this morning. I couldn't help but reflect back to the shepherd's who came to see the Christ Child born just a few days ago. 

We stopped in the Judean desert to pray and walk in silence. Todd read the 23rd Psalm to us as we reached the top of a hill. 

Walking around the hilltop, looking out along the desert landscape -- you could feel the beauty, the aloneness.

As we gathered around the ampitheater there were Bedouin peddlers selling their wares, including one little boy -- about 3 or 4, selling bracelets. He attached himself to Steve as you can see from this picture. I bought 3 bracelets from him. Later he tried to take me by the tip of my cane back up the hill to buy more things. He will be some entrepreneur! 

We celebrated the Eucharist there -- dedicating the Mass to the mother of Dan Ade and the Ade family -- she passed away yesterday. Todd preached, Kelli Grace celebrated. The Bedouins sat with their wares ready to sell when we were done with the Eucharist. They respected our time together. There were goats grazing a bit below (on what I couldn't tell). One of the Bedouins controlled them via his whistle to them. It was interesting to watch this. Is this the way it's always been done? Where do they live exactly? Are they migrant?

Some of the pilgrims rode a dromedary -- Here is Leyah about to get off.

It was a beautiful morning, but I keep being haunted by yesterday's feelings of turning over of will. Maybe that's why the desert was so important for me this morning -- it is so vast, and so warm -- you can't fight it, you just have to give yourself over to it. You can't bend it to your will, you must bend your will to it. 

We then went below sea level to Qumran. This is a place I've always wanted to see. Over 1200 graves were found there, mostly men but some women and children as well. As this was expected to have been an ascetic community it was a bit surprising to find some women and children there. We saw a movie of the area which reminded me of Soaring Over California in Disney's California Adventure.

To see the caves where the scrolls were found was awe-inspiring. We were also able to see some of the ritual baths and areas where the Essenes lived. I thought of Dr. Brenneman and Dr. Shirbroun and my First and Second Testament studies. I gave thanks for both of them and for their insights. I felt as though what I learned in seminary came alive in front of my eyes today. 

I thought about the harshness of life in the desert here. I thought about the Bedoiuin children I had just seen -- they were dusty and dirty from the land, but they were happy. Harshness of life did not snuff out their sense of love of life and play -- they were playing with each other, teasing each other and running around. They were also helping their fathers sell their wares. 

We then headed over to the Dead Sea -- the lowest point in all the earth -- 1,400 feet below sea level. Wow! 

Some of the pilgrims "swam" -- really floated -- in the Dead Sea. 

We headed to Jericho after the swim at the Dead Sea and had lunch at Iyad and Simone's home there. It was a lovely spot, the weather was warm, and the food was delicious. We had time to decompress a bit after the morning and share together. Kelli Grace and I gave each of the pilgrims a placque with their name on it from Jerusalem. Iyad gave each of us a group photo as well as a placque from Jerusalem. Mark gave us each a Jerusalem bookmark. The Qumris gifted me with a beautiful Palestinian shawl from my favorite fair trade store.

We then went shopping from Hebron glass. It seemed surreal to shop after the morning and especially after yesterday. Maybe that was the good break we needed. But as with all breaks, it's back to the pilgrimage -- and walking in the way of cross -- tomorrow.

Todd, Steve and I took a long walk through the Old City (powered by pomegranate juice at my favorite new stand). It was a wonderful time just walking through the streets. We didn't really speak to each other -- it wasn't the point. Walking through the small streets and alleyways in the Old City was somehow bringing us back, preparing us for tomorrow. We noticed several of the stations we will walk to tomorrow. I took a picture of one -- the Fifth Station. It had a stone next to it that I didn't recognize, which is the second picture I posted above -- I can't wait to find out the significance as people stopped to rub it.

When we got back we had the opportunity to meet with Ophir Yarden, who teaches Jewish and Israel Studies t Brigham Young University's Jerusalem Center and lectures regularly at several Christian Seminaries as well as at the International School for Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Israel's Holocaust Memorial Center (which we visited the other day). Ophir eared his MA in Middle East Studies at the University of Chicago and has pursued advanced Jewish studies at the Shalom Hartman Institute and the Schechter Institue of Judaic Studies, both in Jerusalem. Ophir serves as Director of the Jerusalem Center for INterreligious Study Tours of the Jerusalem Center for Jewish-Christian Relations.

We had a good conversation with him. The pilgrims asked him question after his talk with us -- it was very worthwhile, and complimented our earlier talk by speaker on Islam in the region.

We will be up and out starting to walk the Stations of the Cross at 5:45 am tomorrow. I'll post sometime tomorrow -- I will be taking pictures, but not blogging as I go along as I have been -- it is more a time of reflection for me. What is God calling me to? Your will, Lord, not mine, be done.

More pictures from the Judean desert:

More pictures from Qumran:

More pictures from the Dead Sea:

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