- August 11, 2011
- 0 Comments
I just returned from the Holy Land. This post comes from last week, a reflection I sent in for our church newsletter. Love to have your comments…
The Jews were “greeting the Sabbath Bride” at the Western Wall – which means something of a religious party at the world’s most sacred Jewish site. Young men and old come to the wall to pray on Friday nights at sundown. Many are dressed in orthodox garb. The hats are a sight to behold, all shapes and sizes. All are wearing their fringes (which hang below their shirts), and many have “ear locks” (hair just in front of their ears that grows long, sometimes hanging down below their shoulders, twisted fashionably-religiously). Their praying takes many forms. Some stand quietly. Some approach the wall and place a hand on it. Some bend to kiss these ancient stones. Many practice prayer through ‘”davin” (bending at the waist, mildly or wildly). Some read from Hebrew prayer books. Many gather in circles and sing happy songs, laughing and dancing excitedly. (The women are there, too… only, on their side of the fence. I’m assuming their party looks about the same as the men’s side.) It really is an amazing, beautiful, moving sight. Though this kind of Jewish worship is foreign to me, I was moved by the piety, the excitement, the reverence with which they approach this 2000-year-old retaining wall, which once supported the Temple. Last Friday night we stayed for more than an hour. We offered our own prayers and enjoyed the spectacle (I mean no disrespect by the word spectacle, but for our un-initiated eyes, it was something to see!) Several men walked by our small group, excitedly reaching out to embrace three American strangers, and offering “Shabbat, Shalom” (Sabbath peace). We returned the greeting with enthusiasm, and were impressed with their hospitality – being there for the “spectacle” and all – the enthusiasm for this weekly observance just seemed enough to overcome any offense they might have otherwise experienced.
When our small group of pastors re-convened outside the enclosed area of the plaza, we stood, viewing the whole panorama. It was a beautiful Jerusalem night. The moon was rising behind us over the stone structures in the old city. The lights on the Western Wall and the sights and sounds of that Sabbath prayer filled our senses – when high above that wall a new sound emerged. The Al Aksa mosque, the third holiest mosque for the world’s Muslims, sits within a few hundred feet of the top of the Western wall – and from the mosque the call to prayer was wailing through the city. Here we stood, American, Christian pastors, experiencing the worship of God, now in two foreign languages, and the mix of that beautiful, nasal Arabic cry along with the hushed and shouted Hebrew prayers is a sound I will not soon forget. I can only imagine it pleases God’s ears as well.
As we made our way back through the city, to the Notre Dame Center, our home for the week, as we attempted to enter one of the narrow intersections our progress was completely halted by the mass of Muslim pilgrims heeding the call of prayer, and making their way to the Temple mount, which contains the Al Aksa mosque and the Dome of the Rock (the spectacular gold-domed shrine which is the visual centerpiece of the old city of Jerusalem). It was like a stampede – the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan – so there was no way to cross that mass of bodies. We waited. The Jews behind us. The Muslims in front of us. Leading us all to pray…
Speaking of this experience later that evening, one of my colleagues mused in amazement that there is no more violence here, given the close proximity of these conflicting children of Abraham and their religious holy sites. Our Wake Forest Divinity School leader, however, reminded us that since the Muslim conquest of Jerusalem, 1400 years ago, the Jews and the Muslims have gotten along amazingly well. Sharing this city. Sharing these holy streets. Virtually sharing the sacred ground on which their faiths call them to pray. There’s a sermon in that. You’ll probably hear it soon!
I’ve done my own share of praying this week, remembering you… remembering Jesus… reflecting on my life as his follower and your pastor, and as a parent of two and a husband of one and a joy-filled (if sometimes still confused!) wanna-be-disciple. But I’ll have to tell you that it’s not the Christian pilgrims to this city that have inspired me the most this week – though we’ve also encountered thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world. Ironically (and when we open our eyes to God’s amazing presence around us, “irony” may become a more and more frequent encounter for us!), I’ll leave the Holy Land in 10 hours with the inspiration of Muslim and Jewish followers, leaving their busy lives, herding through crowded city streets, singing and dancing and praying quietly, in that discipline that is as old as human self-consciousness. Among the many things I have learned on this trip… I think I’ll come home a better pray-er.
And maybe that’s what this pilgrimage was supposed to do for me – even if I learned it in a very surprising way!