Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Day to Reflect

Time out from "herding."

One of the challenges of a group tour, even when the group is small, is that one is "herded" from one place to another. I decided that this was my day to step off the path, and give myself permission to meander. We are in such a lovely place - the Old City of istanbul is so charming with its narrow cobblestone streets, ancient buildings, quaint shops and tearooms, mosques, and the diversity of humanity that walks by my window Our hotel is small - only 29 rooms, and so comforting - duvet comforters, Turkish tea (my favorite), and gracious staff - the name of the hotel  - in case you come to Istanbul Is The Almina Hotel.

I found I needed to be quiet for a while- i love my traveling companions,and we have become a family as we have journeyed far and wide together. I will miss them. I find I have been teary-eyed a lot these past few days, just thinking of how we have bonded. Our group ranges in age from 19 to well - my age (ahem), and we have five students, several educators,one Jewish, one a Sister of St. Joseph, an Imam, a Carmelite priest who is also a microbiologist and geneticist, one Quaker, two Unitarians, and me. Counting our three leaders, there are fifteen in all - a good size for a trip such as ours.

I was thinking about water again this morning, and how significant it has been on this trip. First is the simple necessity of staying hydrated in the desert areas we have visited. As I thought about water, I realized that I had crossed many American rivers, the Atlantic Ocean,  several smaller bodies of water and European rivers, before ever arriving at my destination.  As I shared in my post last night, we floated on the Sea of Galilee, and the Bosporus in boats, and floated our bodies in the Dead Sea. We put our toes in the Mediterranean at Caesarea, and filled bottles on the banks of the Jordan.

We were sprinkled with Holy Water at a Trappist Mass spoken in French in the hills of Israel, and watched as Dr. Shafiq showed us the Islamic ritual of ablution at the Blue Mosque.

Each of us expressed gratitude for good showers in some hotels, and grumbled in others. The cleansing, purifying life-giving and refreshing gift of water has been both necessary and a blessing for us as we have wandered the lands of the prophets. When I think of the great challenges water must have been for the people of these lands throughout the ages, it is no wonder that for some it is like gold.

We noticed that much of the Palestinian agricultural land is parched and dry. It relies mostly on very sparse rainfall, with no infrastructure for irrigation. The Israeli fields have irrigation systems more often than not, and the quality of the crops is dramatically different.

Most of the stone in Israel is limestone, and the color is a yellow-beige. Every building in Jerusalem, old and new, with the exception of a few ancient structures, is made of this stone, and the dry, dusty ground is pulverized from this rock. When the bible speaks of shaking the dust from your feet, it is no exaggeration, as one looks at their shoes or sandals at the end of the day, we see how true the images are. Running water over our feet at the end of the day was another small blessing.

Some thoughts as I prepare to go home--

I want to share some thoughts about my impressions of the situation in Israel. First off, it is complicated. There are no easy answers, and there is no singular answer.

Some of our young students commented that they thought we would have many more religious encounters than we had, and they wondered why everything seemed so political.
The quote from Gandhi ran though my mind often as we reflected on history itself, and the journey of the three Abrahamic faiths through this land of such rich heritage. Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.

During the Roman Empire, both Jews and Christians had to carefully move around the land in order to co-exist with Roman rule and the consequences of stepping out of line. 
Each ruling empire, the Crusades, the Ottoman Turks, all had religion interwoven into politics. Today is no different. 

in addition, each group, whether it be Jewish, Muslim, Christian, has their own narrative about the Holy Land and what it means to them. The Jews believe it is their land, that God promised it to them, and they have won it fair and square. The Palestinians believe it has always been their land, and that they should not have their homes destroyed, walls built on it, nor should they be denied access to move freely across the land. The Christians are simply trying to say, "We're still here" although the numbers seem to be dwindling. Many of the Arab Christians have left for other countries where they feel more comfortable as both Arabs as well as Christian.

Some progressive Jews have compassion for the Palestinians, and many of them are working together for some kind of peaceful solutions. The grass roots organizations are working to find pathways to better understanding. The many Orthodox Jews (and this is the majority of religious Jews) do not wish to budge on the issue. There are also many secular Jews who live in Israel and love being where they feel they are at home with their heritage, even thought they do not practice their faith. In fact, several of the Jewish educators and rabbis we spoke with told us that the biggest problem in Israel is not that Jews and Palestinians do not speak to each other, but that Jews and Jews do not speak to each other!

Remembrance of the Holocaust is also a powerful motivator for the people of Israel. The memory of the eradication of 6 million of their own relatives, families, neighbors, and friends, cannot be easily forgotten. It plays a major role in what may appear at first glance to be a kind of paranoia about the neighboring countries surrounding Israel. The narrative here is "people tried to eradicate us before, what would stop them from trying to do it again?"

It would be naive to think that something as traumatic as the Shoah could be healed and released in only one or two generations. It is in the bones and DNA of the Jewish people and will remain there for many long years. For many, it colors their daily lives, and even in their own homeland, they still feel the tension that come from not feeling able to fully trust what life brings them. To me, this affirms the concept, "it is done unto you as you believe."

On the other hand, the Palestinians we met who are working for peace seem optimistic about the future. They are working on the ground to build relationships with the more open-minded Israeli people, and the younger generations are finding ways to connect. if you Google Israeli peace organizations, you will see how many groups there are that in some way are working to bring unity to a divided land.

Patience, persistence, and prayer will be required in very large doses as the Middle East moves forward toward a new paradigm. How I wish it would come easily but history continues to show there is a high cost for bringing about change, even when it can be positive. I think the youth "get" what it mens to be free - how they get there may be a long and difficult road, but at least there is a potential for it now.

For me, I am more committed than ever to serving as a bridge of peace between people of all faiths.

Yesterday I was outside the Suleiman Mosque looking for a special style of Muslim prayer beads that I had found here on my last visit. A man asked me, "Are you Muslim?' I answered "No, but I am a teacher, and I want people to know more about Islam in my country so they will stop being afraid." I told him that I was here to learn more about all three Abrahamic traditions, and that I know we are all the children of one God. He said, "I will help you do anything you need." Unfortunately, he couldn't find the beads I was looking for, but he walked all over the area around the mosque, pointing to me, and asking the vendors if they knew where I could find such beads. it was clear I had made a friend.

If I can be remembered for anything in my lifetime, it is that I have wanted to express love in as many ways as I can in my lifetime. I have not always succeeded; in fact, sometimes I have failed completely. Yet, I know that at the core of every faith tradition, love is found there. It often gets covered over by dogma, doctrine, history, narratives, and the like, yet when we touch the spot where love dwells, hearts are broken open, the tears flow, and miracles happen. I want to know that whatever I have done has contributed to that.

I am going home tomorrow, and I know that this trip will linger on within my heart and soul for the rest of my life. I am so grateful that I came.

That's all for now - and it's enough.

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