"The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing —
to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from —
my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing,
all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back."


~C.S. Lewis




Saturday, July 7, 2012

On dry heat and other such imaginary tales

"Oh, you won't feel it," they say. "It can be almost pleasant," they say. "It's a dry heat," they say.

Sure it is.

Imagine someone snatching a sizzling branding iron from the furnace and waving it gleefully in your face. As you leap back with a shriek of terror, the person shouts, "Don't worry! You won't feel it! It's a flameless heat!"

Yeah. Right.

I'm standing up the beach from the Dead Sea, eyes and mouth still vaguely stinging from getting liquid salt on my face ten minutes ago. The minerals have made my skin greasy-gritty, like sand in olive oil, and I'm waiting for the rest of my team to come up from the water.  I feel no more refreshed than I did before I entered the water: hot air, hot sand, hot sea, and I just drank the last of my water. My t-shirt, damp a minute ago, dries almost instantly in the "dry heat.".

Yeah, it's dry. It's also 112 degrees in the shade.

Of course, dry heat does have it's advantages: you cool off quickly in the shade, and you rarely feel gross. Why? Because your sweat evaporates instantly. No sweat, no gross.



I floated so easily it was actually really hard to swim. You couldn't get anywhere, as the water would keep you so high in it it was hard to kick or swim. But I felt very smugly satisfied that I could finally do the front crawl without putting my face in the water (as doing so would make you blind with the salt), just as I always tried to convince my swimming teacher to let me do when I was seven years old.

On the beach where I was drying off thinking about "dry heat."


But it's not all hot. The weather is incredibly varied here, from the 112-degree afternoons in the Dead Sea to the 65-degree nights in Jerusalem. The land is just as varied, with only miles -- or even feet -- separating unbelievable changes in topography. What types of land would take you hours or even days of driving to see in the United States you can see in just minutes here.

What land have I been seeing? Why am I here? I'm part of a two-week course entitled "Jesus and His Times" at Jerusalem University College. We're traveling all over Jerusalem, Galilee, Bethlehem, and Israel in general seeing many of the sights of the Bible. After my two weeks here, I will spend a week in Nazareth at Nazareth Village. And after that, I'm off to Europe. :)


We have the best room on campus -- on the roof! This is my view. It's unbelievable, especially at night, and the wall is perfect for sitting on and having long conversations, reading, and eating ice cream (though not all at once).  


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Bible is a picture book

It’s not that you step off the bus into Jerusalem and suddenly the entire Bible is made clear to you in a staggering flash of inspirational genius that knocks you to the dusty stone street (though you may fear that fall is going to happen, given the drivers around here...)


It's not like that at all. You don’t need to come here to learn about God, to understand Jewish culture and foundations of Scripture, or to somehow force yourself into the glorious presence of Christ. Christians are no more and no less Christ-like here than they are in the United States; God did not make traveling to Israel a prerequisite to radiating His image.

I knew that before I came here, so as I watched money trickle (pour…) out of my bank account into this trip, I wondered—why am I going? What is this to me? My purpose wasn't to find anything that would “justify” the time or money; not everything in life needs to be so stiflingly “productive,” like if somehow I don’t feel more “spiritual” at the end of this trip, I have failed.

That’s ridiculous.

So I let hands stay open, pushed away the fear of failure and of not "getting enough" out of this trip, and believed it was worth it to come, knew I need to see the place my Lord lived, and let Him do the rest. He does not tell us how to walk along the path, how fast to walk along the path, or how we should feel at the end of the path; He simply says, walk down it.

So I walked. And waited.

And what I am realizing is this. These next two and a half weeks here in Israel may not be the most transformative two and a half weeks of my life. They almost certainly won’t be. But what they may be is one of the best two and a half week investments in my life.

Meaning, after being here for merely four days, I can already open to nearly any book of the Bible and have pictures, feelings, sounds, smells, and tastes immediately play action movies and paint masterful pictures in my mind. This is the hill country—I see Jordan in the distance. Those are the steps where Jesus taught—they’re quite long, and the view from them is phenomonal. This is where He was crucified—I didn’t know it was only a 20-second walk to where He was buried. This is the type of road the Good Samaritan was on in the story—I never imagined it was so desolate.

What the Bible is becoming for me is something no movie, picture, text, or lecture could ever give: It is becoming a picture book.

Here are the steps where Jesus gave His sermon in Matthew 23. The rough bottom stones are original (the smooth top ones reconstructions). That is the wall around the Temple Mount in the background.

And here is the amazing view from the steps.

And I was there. :)





Tuesday, July 3, 2012

On singleness and souls: My first day in Jerusalem

I walked with my friend down a crowded Jerusalem street, vendors with glorious scarves, headbands, jewelry, sandals, bags, carvings -- overhead, underfoot, on all sides. >We laugh (clutch our purses like obedient tourists), I point out to her a purple scarf with dangling golden medallions, we take in the streets and shops and land. The shopkeepers sit outside their booths, want you to come in, want to bargain. One calls out to my friend. 

"Are you single today!?"

We both gasp and give an appropriately shocked look at the ground in front of us (did we just hear right?) -- refraining from staring at each other with mouths agape until out of earshot, where we burst out laughing. Single today? Why, certainly, glad you caught me now, as I wasn't single yesterday and may not be at 5 p.m. tomorrow. But today, yes, of course! We laugh until silenced again in the beauty of the city.

It's different here. But of course it is.

I'm in Jerusalem, I'm in the city of God.


Here I'm walking through a crowded Jerusalem street. Notice the two things you always see: beautiful scarves, and signs in three languages.
I didn't know what to expect arriving here, but what I am receiving is enough. There is endless stone, rubbed silky raw by millions of feet over hundreds of years; it's like walking on hot ice. Olive trees grow like weeds, and there are no flies; I thought there would be.

Always three languages --usually Hebrew on top, Arabic next, English on the bottom. Orthodox Jews dressed in black move by Muslims on their way to prayer while stepping to the side for a Christian coming out of church. People warn of tension here, of violence. What I am amazed by, humbled by, is not that there is sometimes violence, but there is not so much more. So many people so passionate about their faith, their very souls tied into the depth of this land, each person disagreeing with the next about so much critical to who they are, knowing that disagreement simply by the way the other is dressed, with centuries of violence behind them -- and yet, side by side, day after day, year after year, friends, coworkers, selling each other bread, bargaining over a skirt, and smiling at the laughter of the other's child.

The human soul is a remarkable thing.