Saturday, July 9, 2011

Like a Fish Swimming Upstream

It's been a real revelation to be in Israel for a few weeks.  We've been here for 3 Fridays and Saturdays.  That means we've been witness to faith groups' observances of their weekly holy days for three cycles.

On the first Friday we were here we were walking down to the Old City of Jerusalem as thousands of Muslims were exiting the Old City for their buses to take them back to Palestinian areas of the West Bank for their sabbath.  It was a jumble of people choking streets with the background of hawkers of vegetables, fruits, and bread entreating the passers by to stock up for their evening meal at home as they continued to celebrate their holy day.  Yesterday, another Friday, we were leaving the Old City just a little earlier as thousands of Muslims funneled in through the Damascus Gate to go to mosque in time for the post-lunch service.  This includes men in Arab dress (Yasser Arafat style), Western-dressed people, women in full chadors, scarved women with dark overcoats hiding their home clothing, children in "Sunday best" ("Friday best") being towed along.  Pre-pubescent little girls in this tradition are often dressed to the nines in pink ruffles and patent leather mary janes.

People streaming into the Damascus Gate for Friday
service at one of the mosques.

To be a person walking the other way during these mass movements of people is to be like a fish swimming upstream.

And we've been here of course for three Jewish sabbaths.  We've heard the Hasid rejoicing songs greeting the approach of the Sabbath on Fridays just before sundown.  We've heard the siren-like blaring each Friday at sundown that brings the city to a stop.  We've seen the astonishing reduction of traffic--as mostly everyone comes off the streets--beginning Friday evenings and going through daylight on Saturdays.

It is most amazing to be here as most regular tourist services close down and things are hushed on Saturdays.  We took a taxi today, the Jewish sabbath, (driven by a Palestinian) to our hotel on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.  There were so few cars on the road; it was so noticeably different than usual.  Our hotel follows sabbath custom and we are observing a good quiet day.  Actually we took a much-needed nap and we're being quiet now.  We are actually looking forward to sundown tonight, when the mall near here re-opens and maybe we can go for an ice cream.  Or something stronger.

Sunday mornings in the Old City were also full of hustle and bustle as groups of Christian fellow travelers descend upon the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Orthodox and Catholic worship.
Celebrating Eucharist in class in a tiny chapel
above Calvary within Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We received special permission from the
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate for celebrating in this space.
One wonderful piece of serendipity that lightened things as we prayed
above Golgotha was our discovery that we disrupted a cat from her home;
she was in and out during the service.

In our case we went twice to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer for a taste of American style worship in a small, friendly setting in the Old City, around the corner from Holy Sepulchre.  One hears the deafening clang of many church bells at once, calling people to worship, and one is caught in the flow of pilgrims toward the churches.

The roundel of the Paschal Lamb of Victory
over the door into Redeemer Church.  I love how that
front leg wraps around the victory standard...

Closing time at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Now, given that all these great religions are engaged, supposedly, in following the Divine who loves us with amazing and nonstop love, why are things between God's people so difficult?  Well, I know, that is a naive question.  But isn't this the essential question in this land? (Or any land for that matter.)  What will it take for us to understand that loving each other, trusting each other, working past our own individual and national or tribal prejudices, is the only thing that will bring peace?  God help us, and God help the people of Israel, all of them.

Our reptilian friend at the garden of the Guest House
at St. George's prepares for the sabbath, too

No comments:

Post a Comment