Saturday, November 5, 2011

the golan and the galilean

There are those who sing the song of their own lives,
and in themselves they find everything.
There are others who sing the song of their own people,
who attach themselves with a gentle love to the whole community.
There are others who reach toward more distant realms,
to sing the song of all human beings.
Then there are those who link with all existence,
with all God's creatures, with all words
and sing their song with all of them.

And then there are those who rise with all these songs in one ensemble,
and they all join voices:
the song of the self,
the song of the people,
the song of humanity,
the song of the world...
(Rav Kook, from Orot HaKodesh)

4 nov, 2011

There is/was nothing much to report about Wednesday, thankfully. We travelled from Bethlehem to Nazareth, with a quick stop at Manger Square and the church of the Nativity, plus a little side visit to a mosque across the street from it, and then made our way up to the Galilee.

The landscape changed as we drove north, hilly and low chaparrel, lots of vines and orchards. We were running parallel to the security wall in many places, and Morgie was explaining to us some of the dynamic about the Arabs in Israel, the difference, if there was any, between those on one side of the wall and those on the other. For many it is a subtle distinction: many on either side consider themselves to be Arab Palestinians, though some of them are also citizens of Israel; while others are in land they consider their own that is occupied. (Actually, there are also some on Israel's side of the wall who probably consider themselves in occupied territory as well.) The ideal of a bi-national, bi-racial state is nowhere near a reality since Arabs in Isreal are treated like second class citizens (I overheard one young Arab-Israeli woman say, "Worse than second class! Third class! Fifth class!" Apparently Moshen Dayan said of the Arab population, "We will treat them like dogs so that they leave." So Arab Israelis cannot serve in the military, do not get the same social services (though the details of that escaped me) and, the biggest thing of all is that it is officially a Jewish state with a Star of David on the flag. Morgie suggested how different things would have been if from the beginning Israel had welcomed the Arabs in their midst as fellow citizens instead of a resident combattants, and if the Star of David stood for the Jewish ideals of social justice rather a symbol of a nation only for Jews. But, then again, that is the same kind of battle between left and right everywhere, isn't it? And the Israelis in 1948 were justifiably scared. They were under attack on all sides by united Arab nations.

Our first stop in the Galilee, in an Arab village right outside of Nazareth, was actually at an Arab school. It is only two years in existence, and the principal, Dier Habiballah (the name means "beloved of God") very proudly gave us a power point presentation and a video (made by his son), and tour of the school grounds and a delicious lunch. He then took us up to meet the imam at the White Mosque there in the village, who gave us a short talk, very eager for us to hear about what I would call the moderate face of Islam, which he kept referring to as "real Islam." He was a kind, well-educated man, and very gracious in his welcome. The Mr Habiballah took us on the tour of his little village, which included a quick stop at the local olive oil plant and a stop at his own home. From the verandah of the fourth floor of his home (what he referred to as the penthouse), we had a stunning view of Mount Tabor at sunset. This is the "high place" mentioned in the gospels where tradition has it that the Jesus' transfiguration took place. Ziggy and I really wanted to climb it mainly for that reason, and at least two others wanted to climb it for the cardio exercise. It rises 1900 feet up suddenly in the midst of a valley. So we started hatching a plot to escape from the rest of the group and do so the next day.

We started out the next morning visiting the Basilica of the Annunication in Nazareth. For a tourist-pilgrim spot I liked it more than I thought I would. It's a relatively good-looking modern building, albeit poured concrete, with these wonderful images of Mary from all over the world on display in the outside plaza as well as on the interior walls of the basilica itself. I had a good time walking around with Rabbi Paula, talking about the various images of and titles for Mary, especially when we got to the one that showed Mary as "the ark of the covenant." Imagine speaking with a rabbi about that, and explaining what that meant, how Jesus was Word made flesh, how Mary's virginal womb was there to receive God's Word so deeply that it took root in her. Paula reminded me again that the word for womb is the root of the word for mercy--rahamin, which of course is the same Semitic root for the Arabic words ir-Rahman irRahim. And so that gives a whole new meaning to calling Mary the "mother of mercy." I talked too about how the problem is when we stop at Jesus, and Meister Eckhart's beautiful image of "the eternal birth of God in the soul." Doesn't Jesus say, when someone praises his mother, Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it? (It was quite poignant the next morning that when Lori was leading meditation she taught us a dhkr in English: "Out of the womb / of my human heart / the divine is born / into the world.")

There is also some archeological digging going on around of the old churches that had been built on the same site, and a little spot they call "Mary's kitchen." There is also the well there in Nazareth where the angel Gabriel spoke with Mary (no well is actually mentioned in scripture, of course).

Then we went up to the old synagogue. I loved that spot a lot. There is absolutely no evidence that this is the place where Jesus gave his inaugural address as recorded in the Gospel of Luke chapter 4, quoting the propeht Isaiah--The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; he has sent me with good news for the poor... to announce a year of favor...--but this particular synagogue surely dates back to that time, so it could have been and certainly was a good ecxample of what that synagogue would have looked like. Just like at the other tomb in Jerusalem in the church of the Holy Sepulchre that was not Jesus' tomb, I felt more moved by this, to see something actually untouched and historical rather than some place all decorated up to make it appear holy. It is a very simple stone structure. We sat around on benches and Lori led us in song, which sounded magnificent in the resonant space. I really could imagine Jesus sitting on the step, after rolling up the scroll and returning it to its place, at the front delivering the perfect sermon, short and to the point: Today the scriptures are fulfilled in your hearing. What did that mean to him?!

Then we got back on the bus and headed north and east toward the Sea of Galilee. Morgie had told us several times that we were going to stop there for a short time and then head up into the Golan Heights for the afternoon. I was already feeling like I didn't want to go to the Golan Heights. I had seen them from the other side in Syria last year while having breakfast with Shiekh Kuftaro. I remember him pointing to it and saying, "That is ours." By then, whether I would have admitted it or not, I was a little fed up with Israeli politics and I wanted to focus on the spiritual part of the pilgrimage, especially now that we were here in the Galilee. I had my map out and was circling the names of all the towns that I recognized from the gospels: Kfar Kana, Cana (where the first miracle was performed in the Gospel of John, turning water into wine), Naftali, Korazim (Chorazin), Kadarim (the land of the Gadarene demoniac), Bet Zayda (Bethsaida), Migdal (Magdala), Kfar Nahum (Capernaum). This area Morgie kept calling "the holy triangle," where Jesus did the bulk of his ministry. I noted how far we felt from Jerusalem at this point, psychologically and geographically­­--what a long walk it would have been for Jesus to go there when he did. The route he would have taken according to the gospels would have had him going east and then down the Jordan River valley and then west through Jericho, all land that is now the occupied territory. The landscape leading up to the seashore was beautiful, verdant, rolling hills.

We got our first glimpse of the sea just north of Tiberias and then ended up at the church of the Primacy of Peter, the spot where legend has it Jesus called to his disciples from the shore and cooked them breakfast after the resurrection, as recorded in the Gospel of John. As we got off the bus and Morgie was instructing us in logistics and giving some background of place, she pointed off to the east and mentioned the Golan Heights again. They were just there on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. I didn't realize that they were so close. I was happily surprised again by how simple the church was in this spot, with a large rock jutting out of the floor marked with a sign that read, in Italian, Mensa del Signore, "the Table of the Lord." It seems a little arrogantly Roman to remember the primacy of Peter at that particular church, but still, since it's under the custody of the Italian Franciscans as so many Christian sites in the Holy Land, not too surpirsing. There was just a little section of beach where everyone gathers, and Morgie had Ziggy read from the story of that famous breakfast from Gospel of John. It was as if it was choreographed: just as Ziggy read the part about Jesus telling the disciples to cast off to the other side of the boat, a fishing boat came into view on the horizon. That was pretty cool. Then we were set free for about 45 minutes to wander around.

I was surprised to find that nobody was venturing further north on the shore away from that little section of beach, but I did, and I found a couple of wonderful spots to sit or squat and gaze out over the water. There I felt very close to Jesus, and I could easily imagine what he might have felt like squatting there himself, gazing out at the far heights, at the tranquil sea, at the birds dipping in and out of sight. Every now and then I glanced up and looked across the water and thought to myself, "Is that really the Golan Heights?" I couldn't somehow take it in, that that area that was so highly contested could be right there, abutting my sea of tranquility. So I put it out of my mind, and I had what I think were the happiest 45 minutes yet in Israel, hopping from stone to stone to cross rivulets and squatting at various places and reading scripture. It was there that I realized this simple thing: Jesus is not in buildings for me, and not even in iconography that make him Pancrator. But Jesus is very real to me squatting on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, just as he was for me wandering the suqs and climbing the hills of Jerusalem more than in the church of the Holy Sepulchre. Jesus was the new Temple and passed that on to us. God isn't in buildings, or at least not just in buildings: God is in us and in all of creation, and in our whole world sacred and secular through us, the priests of creation.

I eventually wandered back to the spot on the shore where the other folks were. Toward the south there was a fenced off section that was overrun with wild flowers and a whole flock of sparrows doing a swooping ballet. You could almost guess where Jesus would get the images he used in both Matthew and Luke to convince his hearers not to worry about tomorrow, what to eat and what to where. I kept thinking one could easily believe in the benevolence of the universe in that little spot in the world.

We piled back on the bus. Ziggy and I with a few others had by that time fully hatched our plot to take a taxi back down from Tiberias to Mount Tabor to climb, but both our two Jewish mothers, Morgie and Paula, at this point got on the microphone and, as tour guide and organizer, discouraged us greatly from pursuing it, so we were going to head into Tiberias with the others to spend the afternoon at a spa with hot tubs. We passed by the town of Magdala--no wonder Jesus knew Mary the Magdalene so well. He was always hanging out right in her neighborhood! Morgie told us that we would not be going up to the Golan Heights after all because the weather was so bad, raining off and on, and overcast so we wouldn't see anything anyway. So instead she pointed it out to us yet again and launched into an explanation of its strategic importance, and how the Syrians were launching rockets down on the valley below so that Israel felt impelled to take it, and the whole explanation again of defensible borders. At this point I was flipping through my bible looking for more and more mentions of geographical places in the area, trying so hard to hold on to the feeling of closeness to Jesus that I had felt at the sea shore, as if I were understanding something about Jesus and the gospels for the first time, or at least in a deeper way. I so badly wanted Morgie to stop talking about the Golan Heights, but she carried on all the way into Tiberias where she set us free to find lunch. I walked off by myself for a good long think, because I knew that this was actually a real problem for me. As I told Morgie later, it was as if two people I knew separately--Golan and Galilee--suddenly walked into the room together, and I said in surprise, "I didn't know you guys knew each other." But it was even more primal than that: I simply couldn't hold those two things together, the Golan Heights and the Sea of Galilee.

It's two days later as I write this, and I'm still sad about it. I can still imagine what it felt like to squat on the seashore and look out over the tranquil water and sense the benevolence of the universe. But the underlying theme of this whole trip has been one of going from the sacred to the secular­­--from the Temple Mound to the Holocaust Museum, from the Western Wall to picking olives behind the security wall, from Sabbath services to a protest march, from the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to occupied Hebron and everything crashing at Abraham's Tomb, from the refugee camp to Rachel's Tomb. I was used to it and even kind of marveled at the brilliance of the planning of the trip. But I just wanted one place to be just holy, to be set apart and protected, to be separate and holy, to be kadesh. And a part of me is still saying it, "How dare the Golan Heights abut the Sea of Galilee? How dare Mideast politics taint my experience of Jesus?" I guess I too am still caught up in the "spurious illusion of a separate holy existence." But if there is any point to Jesus' life it's that nothing is separate, and we have to hold the beautiful and the ugly together and not lose hope. Almost every time the gospels tell us Jesus went off to a deserted place to pray by himself, someone comes and interrupts him and calls him to come and give himself in service; and he never complains nor hesitates. We have to be able to hold the two together and not let either one go, and not lose hope.

Everything is holy now.