Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Jerusalem, The Holy City

     So there I was in Jerusalem! I suppose most people would love to go there at some point in their lives, and I too was happy to be there, and to have such an experience before I had even turned 40 (I was still in my mid thirties, which now seems like a baby!), but I was starting to get really pooped out! I was on the adventure of my life and here I was, completely exhausted! But, as my beloved J would often say, "You can rest when you're dead." Or maybe that was "rest when you get back home" and "sleep all you want when you're dead." Whatever. So, once we were dropped off at ASOR, we went in, said our hellos to the staff, and found our room. I might have sat down for one minute (probably on the toilet, which is sometimes a good place to just sit and rest, and because I could seeing how these were western toilets!). But alas, there was only so much time, and lots to see, so off we went!
     ASOR is situated in the Muslim section of Jerusalem, which having just arrived from Jordan, made me feel right at home as we ventured out into the streets. Not too much new too quickly. But for those of you waiting for me to begin a diatribe about how holy and godly the whole place was, here's the thing -- I know that many tourists (millions maybe?) go to Jerusalem every year because it's supposed to be one of THE most holy cities in the world. For Christians, for Muslims, and for Jews. And I'm certain that it once was and still is, I guess, but in all honesty (and it scares me to be this honest, and has even caused me a bit of writer's block), I never felt its "holiness." Not once. I felt, instead, its lack (or loss) of holiness. Maybe this was because I was tired. Maybe I was in some sort of culture shock and my system was on sensory overload. Maybe it was because I was a new convert and didn't have the right attitude. I don't know. I WAS fascinated, though, if that counts.  We walked all around the area we were staying in that first evening before heading back to our room. We even "toured" the ASOR complex, which was exciting as well, as some very famous 20th century archaeologists have stayed there. Let me just drop some names right here, as I was feeling closer to them than to God (at least for the time being): William Foxworth Albright, Nelson Glueck, Cab Calloway, Hershel Shanks, Bill Dever, Al Hoerth, Larry Stager, John Pinkerton, Eric and Carol Myers. I'm leaving out lots of people, both dead and living, I know, but, like I said, I'm no archaeologist, so I'm impressed with myself that I know the names of even these (plus, I'm using the term "famous" loosely, as you may or may not be guessing). But most of these esteemed men and women have passed through these same doors and have eaten and slept in this same place. And here I was! I even had the most delightful chat with Bill Dever's ex-wife one morning out in the courtyard. She had much to say about her ex, and though I see she's currently typing up his manuscripts and papers for him again, at that time she had very little nice to say about him! (You know, all the other women and all. Typical egomaniacal male prowess.) And besides, Bill Dever's an ex-Church of Christ guy (his dad was a preacher) who became so disillusioned with Christianity that he almost single-handedly dispelled the notion of "Biblical Archaeology," though he had to retract a little of what he said since both interest in archaeology and funding by church people began drying up.  Jerk! Okay, enough of that! All of that was my own interpretation anyway (I'm thinking I need to say that for legal protection. I don't know.) What I'm really doing here is putting off the inevitable explanation as to why I didn't like Jerusalem all that much once I got there. And yes, I was a little mad that I couldn't feel all that impressed by it!

     Here's what I saw: I saw lots and lots of people, everywhere. Up and down the streets, Arabs, Israelis, European Jews, New York City Jews, tourists, "pilgrims." And I saw an ancient city built on top of an even more ancient city, now quartered off by different religious sects. In the Christian Quarter I heard voices whispering that under this glass lay a piece of the cross that Jesus was crucified on, while a piece of the stone that sealed his tomb lay under another; In the Jewish Quarter I saw men and women, who were separated by gender, placing their prayers on folded paper into the cracks and crevices of a wall, tears streaming down their faces as they cried for a Deliverer, mourning the destruction of the Temple Mount, or who knows what, some with phylacteries wrapped around their arms and foreheads, reminding them to stay close to the law; I stepped over vendors' wares as they were lined up and down the Damascus Gate, selling everything from food to underwear to hats to jewelry to cheap souvenirs; J and I bartered with a shopkeeper for an olive wood nativity set and a silver Jerusalem cross as we walked along the Via Dolorosa where we were followed by young Arab boys who wanted to "give" us tours. (One kid over at the Mount of Olives even wanted me to pay him for an olive leaf he had handed me, but I flung it back at him, telling him he could just keep it!)

    Back inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre my nose and lungs were filled with the smells of body odor, mixed with the smoke of lighted candles and incense that hung thick in the air, as people stood in long lines, shoving and yelling, or else whispering and praying their rosaries quietly, crying as they knelt beside erected shrines made of gilded saints. In the Muslim Quarter, the Dome of the Rock was closed off due to recent Israeli and Arab conflicts, so that no one was allowed to visit, as there had been "trouble" of some sort earlier. We could see the renovated cupola of the Mosque of Omar, gleaming gold with the pride of King Hussein, Protector of the Holy Shrines, the place where Mohammad ascended into heaven, and the hill where Abraham took Isaac to be sacrificed. While outside the Damascus Gate I saw soldiers lined up, cocking their guns in preparation for a trip to Gaza. Everywhere outside the walls of the Old City I saw guns. I have experienced so much more holiness in so many other places I have been, and while I wanted to experience it here, and so many people seemed to be able to, I just couldn't! All I could think of were the words of Jesus (Mathew 23:37 and Luke 19:41-44) who wept as he looked out over the city, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How I have longed to gather you up like chicks to a hen, but you were not willing. If you in your turn had only understood on this day the message of peace! But, alas, it is hidden from your eyes!" And that was what I felt. Separation, sorrow, and discord.