Monday, October 31, 2011

and jesus wept

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to contorl but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.(Abraham Joshua Heshel)

monday, 31 october

We left Jerusalem yesterday, though we will be back through there again today when we head to Bethlehem. I must say we are all a little relieved to be out of the city. Let me tell you a little about the last two days before I get too far behind.

Saturday of course was Sabbath (Shabat) for the Jews and it was for all of us too. It was a great experience to be in Jerusalem, or any predominantly Jewish environment, for Shabat so as to witness and particiapte in all the activities (or lack of which thereof) and rituals that go along with it, from the great meals to everything closing throughout the city to the special Shabat control on the elevators so you don't have to push the button, aside from the beautiful Sabbath services we were able to attend. We had no activities scheduled for that day except for a group check-in that evening.

Seven of us headed out together across the city at about 8:30 AM to see a few other major Christian historical sites. We walked across the valley through the artist colony and up again through the Jaffa Gate, then down David Street, left at the Christian Quarter Street, right on the Via Dolorosa and left on Al-Wad into the Muslim Quarter up to the Damascus Gate, where we stopped for Arabic coffee at the shop I had stumbled on the other day. Then we retraced our steps and turned left on the Via Dolorosa, various pilgrims groups with their priest chaperones already making their devotions at the Stations of the Cross, 'til it turned into Lion's Gate Road, and then out the Lion's Gate and across the street to the Kidron Valley and Mount of Olives, dodging traffic. Our first stop was the Tomb of Mary, with its famous 47 steps bult by the Crusaders. It's purported to be one of the most mystical Christian places in Jerusalem. It's very dark and in cruciform, filled with lamps and various types of religious paintings all over the walls, all very Byzantine. Then we walked up to the Church of All Nations, also called the Church of the Agony, built next to an olive grove that tradition claims is the very grove of trees where Jesus prayed before his death, The olive trees there are said to be that old, so there is just the chance that he did at least see or touch these very trees. That church is much more modern and Western, the ceiling covered with mosaiced seals of various countries. There was a huge crowd coming in and out, and a service of some kind going on inside when we got jostled in, and wound up standing right under the seal of the USA. Then we headed farther up to the Church of Mary Magdalene. The three women in our group, especially Lori, wanted to see that one. There were fewer and fewer people as we climbed up, and not many at all entering the gates of this place. It could be because it was heavily guarded, but not by IDF soldiers but by black clad Russian nuns with a box of scarves and various shawls to cover or put around women and men who they deemed inappropriately dressed. Even women in long pants got wrapped. The ascent up to the church itself was beautiful, and in spite of the din of the city behind us it seemed to get quieter and quieter, with carefully manicured gardens on either side of the walkway. The church is a 19th century construction, with nine golden onion domes on top typical of Russian Orthodox churches, and rather small on the inside at least in the antechamber on our side of the inconostasis. It was very hushed and very clean inside, with beautiful lightsome icons all around. There was also a roped-off line just in front of the inconostasis that we were not invited to enter, where folks were making the multiple signs of the cross in front of various images. I assumed that the sisters somehow knew who was Russian Orthodox and who was not. But we didn't feel miffed by that.

After a visit in the church we sat out on the portico for a good long while enjoying the cool breeze coming up the Kidron Valley, before heading a litte farther up the hill. Looking back I realize it got quieter and quieter the higher we climbed, and there were fewer and fewer people, and the churches were more and more simple as well. Our last stop was Dominus Flevit­­--"the Lord wept," sometimes called the Teardrop Church. This is the spot where tradition has it Jesus looked over Jerusalem and wept as recorded in Luke 19. It was pretty poignant to read the words there after all that I've read these past months, and all we have experienced this week: O Jerusalem, if only you knew the ways the lead to peace! It was built in the 1950's by an Italian architect named Barluzzi. It was the smalles chapel we had seen too, only big enough for about 50 people full, with a window at behind the altar that looks out on Jerusalem. As a matter of fact there was a crucfix on the altar in front of the window that was superimposed right on the Dome of the Rock. I don't think that was an accident. I think I can safely say, aside from the Wall, that was my favorite place in Jerusalem, so silent, so simple. I sat outside for a while and then when I stepped inside I was greeted by the sweetest sound: Lori and Jamie were singing a song I had never heard before--"When Jesus Wept"--in canon. It actually sounded like a recording and more than two voices. Everyone in there was sort of transfixed by the moment.

If we had climbed further up the moutain we would have hit the hill of the Ascension, but it was now noon in the blazing Mediterranean sun, and everything was closing for lunch, so we headed back down to the suq for lunch, and then went our separate ways for the rest of afternoon.

Sunday, our last morniing in Jerusalem, we all went together to St George's Anglican Cathedral about a half a mile from the Damscus Gate. I tho0ught it was interesting that with four or five different Christian denominations represented we went to celebrate at the place of a tradition to which none of us belonged. I guess that leveled the playing field. It was very much an Anglican Mass as one would be accustomed to in England, except that it was half in Arabic. The English speaking folks sat in back, the Arabic in front, and the presider went back and forth. Both languages were actually going on simutaneously for the common prayers, the Glory to God and the Our Father, all interspersed with rousing Anglican hymns. The handout with the order of service stated very clearly that this church aims to serve both communties and to be a moderating force in Jerusalem. Actually they tell us that the Christian community is diminishing rapidly in the Holy Land in general as it is all over the Mideast. In places where there is an Arab predominance Christians are a tiny minority but in solidarity often with Muslims because they are both Arabic speakers and nationality. I kind of like all of that.

And then for our last stop in Jerusalem, we saw the far end of the other side of the Jewish social religious soul when we met finally with Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights on Sunday on our way out of town. This is the same rabbi we were supposed to have met with in the Occupied Territories last week but had somehow gotten himself arrested. Rabbis for Human Rights describes itself as "the rabbinical voice of conscience in Israel... established with the purpose of giving voice to the Zionist ideal and the Jewish religious tradition of human rights." It was interesting to hear someone say that the Zionist ideal is really human rights. RHR was founded in 1988 by rabbis who were all Israeli citizens, to champion the cause of the poor, support the rights of Israel's minorities and to stop abuse of foreign workers, as well as trying to keep up Israel's public health care system, fight for economic equity, promote the equal status of women and help Ethiopian Jews. Quite a mandate. But I think they are best known for championing the rights of the Palestinians. As he began, Rabbi Arik said that they were doing nothing but calling Israel to its own best self because the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel had said that the purpose of this new state was
To foster the developement of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants, based on freedom, justice and peace and envisaged by the prophets of Israel; to ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race, and gender; to guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, edutaion and culture; to guard the holy places of all religions...

Wow. The part that really got me was the idea of basing it all on the "freedom, justice and peace and envisaged by the prophets of Israel," because it was impossible not to think of that all this past week. Rabbi Arik is a high strung tall man, kind of unkempt and unfocused, or so it seemed to me at first. But as he got warmed up he got more and more focused, pacing the floor in front of us and gesticulating wildly. He spoke to us for about a half an hour. The moment when he really got impassioned is when he was recounting to us how fellow Israelis ask him why he works so hard for the Palestinians, and isn't he worried about security? His answer could be equally applied to American's own situation. Arik said, getting louder and louder "Who's doing more for security?! The securtity forces that are out there abusing young Palestinians and turning them into terrorists, or us, who are making them friends? Who's doing more for the long term security of our country?! I'm doing this for my children!!" Then he told us this story. He was involved in a situation trying to advocate for a young Palestinian teenager who had gotten picked up by the military police in the West Bank. When Arik got there the young man was tied to the military vehicle and the soldiers were taunting him and hitting him. Arik said the kid was trying unsuccessfully not to cry or appear scared. When Arik stepped in to try to stop the soldiers they arrested him too and cuffed him to the other side of the vehicle. Later on when the situation quelled, in the affadavit that the young man gave he talked about all the abuse that he had suffered and then added, "Then a tall Jewish man in a kippa came to help me and told me not to be afraid." "That's why I do this," Arik said, "so that this man will remember when he grows up that a tall Jewish man in a kippa came to help him."

Dave said as we were walking out that it was like having a conversation with the prophet Amos. And several folks said later that they finally got a sense of hope about the situation in Israel. One of the guys who is with us, who is a secular Jew, said in the sharing last night, "I guess I've always wondered why you have to tie in the religious part when you are fighting for social justice. Now I know."

There's hope. Someone in our group, a Jewish woman, said last night that she simply didn't understand Jesus, and why Christians prayed to him and didn't go directly to God. We'll have to have that conversation at some point (we none of us answered right then...). But I love thinking of Jesus as a prophet. A prophet and more, yes, but a prophet, too. That's why he wept over Jerusalem, a prophet's tears.