When my husband, “Pastor Matt” as he is known to our congregation, said he wanted us to do a study tour in Israel as part of his summer sabbatical, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what we would see and hear.
After all, for most of my life I had heard the stories of exodus, exile, and return. I knew the geography by way of maps and models. I had memorized the lists of the whole- and half-hearted kings and could write out a chronology of the patriarchs with a fair amount of accuracy.
As the date of our departure drew closer, I skimmed the papers compiled for us by our divinity school professor guide, paged through Fodor’s and Rick Steves’ travel books, paged through my husband’s Hebrew textbook from seminary days, and read a bit about the history of Palestine and the Zionist movement. I was ready to spend a month in the Holy Land.
My brain was ready. Or at least I had given it a “Heads up!” The rest of me wasn’t. First of all, there was the light.
Blazing blue skies every day. Gleaming white limestone walls. Red-brown rock and stubble stretching out for miles all around in the desert with no shade or shadow for relief. And no haze of humidity mutes the golden dome over the temple site or the gleaming wares of the Arab market. The light flooded into every crack and crevice, bringing every olive tree, every stone, into the sharpest of focus, illuminating every last detail of “The Land” from dawn at four a.m. to sundown at ten p.m. Though my eyes closed at night, they continued to glut themselves on the day’s visual feast well after I had fallen asleep.
Then there was the water.
There was holy water in places of worship, and whole room-sized cisterns dug with hundreds of hands that held water for entire seasons. And there were tunnels that stretched back thousands of years before Christ, scraped out of rock with rock, to bring water into cities, even secretly during times of siege.
And there was lovely, melodious, cold and clear flowing water — LIVING water — running down Mount Hermon into the valley to form the Jordan River.
And we were always aware of and attentive to water, locating the water source wherever we went, ascertaining that it was safe to drink and making sure we drank enough of it to keep from falling ill.
And the stone, the scale of which for building the sentinel towers, the palaces of Herod, the layers upon layers of wall surrounding the Temple Mount, and the gates into the old city Jerusalem reduced us to the size of ants. Stones the size of a gardening shed, weighing as much as three tons and fitting together without need of mortar.
Stones that make up the streets of the old city laid out like bakery loaves, worn smooth and soft by thousands upon thousands of feet over hundreds of years, now bearing the weight of our own excited and weary feet. Any other construction material has long
since deteriorated, but the stone endures and waits, across the Holy Land, to be excavated, waits to bear witness of cultures long gone.
And the people. The dearest people. Our fellow students, journals and cameras in tow, eager, excited, nervous to finally see with their own eyes these places, all hauling their own stories along to which this experience would contribute a chapter for some, recast the entire work for others. And the people who had lived there for ages, and those who relocated to be there.
So many faiths and beliefs, customs and cultures, passions and practices present in one place.The Jewish women and their carefully chosen and artfully tied head scarves and modest coverings, the Muslim women in the hijab, protecting them from roving eyes. The orthodox Jewish men, imposing in their wide-brimmed black hats, and the surprising sight of those from eastern European countries who wore fur hats in 95 degree weather! The sweet faces of those who had been found by the Lord, and in their joy, immigrated to Israel to be close where he appeared, incarnated.
And there was the Spirit.
I didn’t realize how much being physically present in these places — seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, smelling this land — would deepen and broaden my faith. The cuItures in which we dwell, both secular and sacred, are still so gnostic–prizing a knowledge that is supposedly imbued apart from that which is acquired through the ordinary, physical world. I live so much in my head, underestimating how inextricably the body and spirit are bound. I am still learning from Charlotte Mason that persons require physical experiences in the three-dimensional world in order to truly know.
© Lisa Cadora 2013