As I write this I’m on the plane from Istanbul to Chicago enjoying free movies, a free glass of wine and $15 wifi (almost hit the jackpot there). Unfortunately this wifi isn’t quite strong enough to upload any of my own photos so I’m attempting to snag some from other locations across the interwebs. Once again, the Turkish like to fly hot…I’m just about sweating.
We did some heavy climbing yesterday on our way to the top of Masada…some 700 steps! Exhausted and with a view of the Dead Sea from the top I decided that I would find a spot to take a nap…after I quit sweating. Best 20 minutes spent in a while. If you remember the camel-backed mountain we hiked, that one (Gamla) is known as the “Masada of the North” because a similar event took place there as at Masada…a last stand battle staged between Jewish rebels and the armies of Rome. After climbing all those steps to get to the fortress of Masada I’m surprised those Roman soldiers went through with it!
We also went to the caves of Qumran, which is the site of probably the greatest archaeological discovery in biblical history, i.e. the Dead Sea scrolls. All the books of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament) except for Esther were found fragmented here in seven parchment scrolls. The book of Isaiah was found in its entirety; the scroll was 21 feet long. There were two other places I’ve mentioned this scroll on this trip – both at Gamla with the unrolling of the scroll for the reader (and Jesus quoting in the synagogue) and at the Israel Museum with the picture of the Isaiah scroll in facsimile.
Perhaps one of the most meaningful experiences of the day was in our visit to a waterfall at Ein Gedi. Marlin encouraged our group not just to dip our feet in the water but to take a prayerful moment to “remember” our baptisms. Some of us were baptized as infants, some as teens or adults but that was not the point…the promises of God are the same regardless, and those promises should be rehearsed and remembered often! Marlin used an old hymn text and the Prayer of St. Patrick to help guide our prayer as we spent time in the water, pouring it over these parts (my choir members will recognize both these texts from anthems we sang last year):
God be in my head and in my understanding.
God be in my eyes and in my looking.
God be in my mouth and in my speaking.
God be in my heart and in my thinking.
God be at my end and in my departing.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.
I’m looking forward to being home. I’m looking forward to sharing with you in person more of my experiences, particularly with the living stones whose stories have shaped our experience just as much as the dead stones.
I will also miss our time in Israel/Palestine and oddly enough, a part of me will miss that gnarly call to prayer from the mosques that bellow out over the city a handful of times a day. Most of all, I’ll miss these friends.
When I signed up for this trip it was a no brainer – MOST of my closest friends from seminary (minus one defector who went on the other immersion trip) plus two amazing professors and two even more remarkable tour guides, in Israel/Palestine. I imagine I’ll write more later of the changes in perspective (that occurred as predicted), but for now I’m reflecting on this time in my life with these people, most of whom will be graduating in less than four months. And now there are a bunch of new friends too! Everything I expected was not only met but completely surpassed. God is good.
There are many hours of travel yet ahead…5 hours on this flight, an hour and a half in Chicago and a good 4 hours to San Francisco. Your prayers have been so appreciated and they have been so felt. See many of you soon!