We had breakfast this morning atop the Mount of Olives, overlooking the city. Spectacular view. My better half asked, "now that we're about to leave Jerusalem, do you feel this was an important place to have visited? Has it made any significance to your faith?" The man knows how to ask a loaded question over a cup of tea and toast.
The answer turned out to be more complex than I would have anticipated.
I grew up in a faith environment where items, locations- and traditions associated with both -were essential to belief. Having a cross around your neck was only has powerful as who had blessed it or where it had come from. I remember a nun at my elementary school proudly passing a rosary around ("carefully, children, just look, don't touch!) that had been given to her by the super nun of her order, who had gotten it while visiting Jerusalem and had it blessed by a priest who had taken it to the church of the Nativity. It was so precious to her. All I remember was that the beads were plastic.
The fact that I have been fortunate enough to visit holy sites this week is inarguable. But the sites themselves say more about humanity to me than anything else. The sacred is all around; the specific place where Jesus ascended or Abraham almost knocked off his son has become irrelevant to me. I don't need the geographic accuracy to undergird my belief. This grotto looks remarkably like that grotto, and it's but 50 feet away.That these things happened is the story of my people, of my God and of our history together. That my brothers and sisters throughout history have found it necessary to build shrines, altars and edifices to commemorate the story says more about our longing for the sacred, our desire to be connected to the ongoing story and yes, our possessiveness of both the story and of God. This has been our glowing achievement and our bitter selfishness.
We cannot package God. The Israelites learned this in the wilderness, and yet here we are in 2010 doing our very best to do so. Jerusalem is a holy place, not because God is here (because God is in all places) but because it calls me to remember that I have chosen to place more value on my relationship with the sacred and God's creation, and less on what we humans have designated as sacred.
That said (I told you the answer would be a convoluted.. oh wait, I think I said complex. Oh well.), visiting Jerusalem has given me profound insight into setting our story - God and God's people - in context.
I get the water thing. When it's 94 degrees out and you feel like your bones are bleaching in the sun under your skin, a sip of cool water is life itself.
Jerusalem is hilly, it's a pain in the butt to walk up and down over ancient pathways, stubbing your toes and ending up with filthy feet at the end of the day. Riding into town on a donkey would have been swell.
Hospitality is more than saying welcome. It's switching rooms so you can have a better breeze, making you homemade soup because you have a cold, it's calling your friend to lend you his laptop so you can blog your silly stories, it's exchanging phone numbers and being told we'll keep in touch and really believing it, it's offering to drive you to the airport so you don't have to spend more on cabs - all things our hosts at Al Cazar offered.
And finally, I see hope. For a people who have been nomads and homeless; for the bedouins who are slighted, for the silent Hasidim who walk without seeing you, for the Muslim girl putting on her first chador-a rite of passage- for the Christians waiting for the Golden Gate to one day be unsealed.... there is hope in Jerusalem for the return of the one who will set all these free. And I am one with them. I hope.