Friday, February 5, 2010

Walking in the Footprints of God – Part Two –Israel & Her People

Being in Israel was like being in Church, mundane everyday activities taking place in a portal between heaven and earth. The Holy Land, like the Mass, is the very thinnest of places, a place you don’t see so much as you feel.

My first impressions of Israel one of self-assurance; by contrast our emphasis on consumerism feels very shallow. Shopping malls, so carefully planned, manicured and attended to are the pinnacle of American attention. Malls are our temples, and we worship shiny things as if they could bring meaning to our lives. Israel appeared to have no such delusion. Our tour guides tell us that most of Israel’s people are atheists or at least secular. Nevertheless, the country has a presence, not an arrogance; a presence that lets you know this is a place of substance, a place with a sense of both history and destiny, a place of unquestionable significance on the world stage. Perhaps even a place where the battle of good and evil is being played out in both mundane and supernatural ways. Our hyper focus on appearances feels simplistic, a bit adolescent, an empty endeavor held up against such a backdrop, but the backdrop of Israel’s people is fragmented like looking in a broken mirror and not quite being able to make out a clear reflection in the jagged pieces.

The nation has a unique blend of peoples and each seamed to have it’s own distinct personality. My quickie impressions:

Israel is a nation that loves children!!

Our son was genuinely welcomed everywhere we went. Folks wanted to know how many siblings he had back at home and when we said he’s our only one I was asked why the factory was closed. As an infertile woman that question would have brought tears not to long ago, but being a Mom changes everything and the question was asked in the spirit of a love for children and family, a decidedly Catholic position, so it didn’t sting. All of the people we met were very open to children, never once did anyone we encountered react with distain or recoil as if an unpleasant smell was in the air as sometimes happens here in the States when a child is present.

The Christians:

A very small minority, but devout and almost exclusively Catholic or Greek Orthodox. Primarily Arab descendants whose families converted at the first Pentecost. Imagine living two thousand years in one region; imagine a Christian lineage two thousand years old. Meeting these people was like reaching through time and touching a little bit of that day when the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. You could almost hear Peter’s voice.

The Jews:

Vast majority, mostly secular but with pockets of devout orthodoxy. Pleasant people overall, not intrusive but very friendly and helpful when approached. Orthodox Jews are very committed to family and tend to have a lot of children, and they travel with their kids. El Al’s planes are equipped with bulkhead cribs and each flight was full of children. Orthodox men won’t speak to women and would ask to be moved if seated next to a woman other than their spouse, and of course they pray no matter where they are.

The Druze:

A quirky minority of Arab heritage practicing a mysterious religion that’s largely unknown because converts aren’t permitted. It’s believed to be a mix of the three monotheistic religions, but apparently includes reincarnation and amazingly the belief that the Messiah will be born of a man. To wit the men wear pants that look like a throw back to an MC Hammer video from the 80’s, just in case they need the room should they be the one the Messiah will choose. At least that’s what we were told about the pants. I did see the parachute pants, but didn’t get an explanation from the locals.

The Druze were very warm and friendly. We visited their village for lunch and it was a very comfortable place to enjoy a meal. Very inviting, very pleasant, a nice place to visit. Our son was treated like a prince and spoiled rotten with baklava for desert. We were all treated very well, but we didn’t all get baklava!!!

The Bedouin:

Another quirky minority of Arab heritage who make their home in the desert. These are nomadic people who live with their flocks in an area so dry it looks like living on the moon. We didn’t meet any Bedouins so I don’t have any sense of their personality as a people, but we saw their encampments and it looks like they live as monastics but without all the comforts of shelter etc. Very, very remote with no appearance of anything but temporary sheds and flocks. Seeing their encampments felt like looking at the tribes of Israel wandering around in the desert for the forty years.

The Muslims:

Of Arab decent and truly some of the nastiest people I have ever met. They make up the largest minority of the Israel population and they are a miserable people. There simply isn’t any softer way to state the facts. The Palestinian areas they control such as Bethlehem and Jericho are filthy dirty. If you’ve seen video of the poorest of the poor in Mexico living in the trash dumps, think that kind of filthy, but these people didn’t move to a dump to survive, it’s what they’ve done with where they live. Not only are the public areas filthy and uncared for, but private residences as well.

The street vendors and the shopkeepers are absurdly intrusive, apparently believing that a glance at their merchandize constitutes a contractual obligation to buy, and that shoving their wares in your face is the best way to secure that first glance. At one point in the old city of Jerusalem my path out of a shop was blockaded by the shopkeeper and I needed to be rescued by my husband and another of the men we were traveling with and in that same outing his wife was chased out of a store with the keeper screaming at her about wasting his time.

Shopping travails notwithstanding, the Muslims we encountered were extraordinarily hostile. Glaring as you walk down the street toward the Holy sites, in fact there is a Muslim billboard on the road to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which pretty much states, “The Koran Says You Are Going to Hell."

Notice the speakers above the billboard.

In the old city of Jerusalem the Muslims have bricked up the Golden Gate because according to our guides as described also in Wiki. In Jewish tradition, this is the gate through which the Messiah will enter Jerusalem. Ottoman Sultan Suleiman I sealed off the Golden Gate in 1541 to prevent the Messiah's entrance. The Muslims also built a cemetery in front of the gate, in the belief that the precursor to the Messiah, Elijah, would not be able to pass through, since he is a Kohen.

We were told that the Muslims make it a point to situate their Mosques as close to churches as possible, and to buy up as much land around Christian sites and homes as they can. Believable in that they have attempted to prevent the coming of the Messiah into Jerusalem by bricking up a gate and planting a cemetery to prevent his passage.

Our visit to the Church of the Annunciation gave us some insight to the Muslim’s strategy. Mass that day was in the Grotto of the Annunciation, a small chapel in front of the cave where the angel Gabriel came to Our Lady, and the word became flesh. As we prayed the decade of the annunciation at the end of Mass the Muslim call to prayer blasted from the minarets on the Mosque outside the Church. You can see the speakers in the photo of the billboard above.

It was surreal, otherworldly. As our small group of pilgrims prayed, the sound outside the Church was deafening and reminded me of a war time psych op strategy designed to weaken an enemy. On a supernatural level it felt like being surrounded by demons screeching and wailing as they looked in at the Heaven they weren’t permitted to enter.

Am I reading more into this experience than was there? Sure it’s possible, but why blast your call to prayer into a Christian church, particularly the Church marking the exact spot where God came to earth, the very dot on the planet where the rift between heaven and earth, the chasm separating God and man, began to be bridged? Nazareth is a big town, why make sure every Christian pilgrim to the site of the incarnation passes a sign that denigrates Christianity?

I recall hearing in the wake of the 911 attacks that Islam is a religion of peace. I’m a 911 convert. In an instant as I watched the towers fall I knew in the depths of my tarnished soul that good and evil existed and as I searched for the good I ran headlong into the arms of Jesus like millions of prodigals who’ve come before me.

I don’t have much personal experience with Muslims aside from my few days in the Holy Land, but this personal experience shows me not a religion of peace, but one of hatred and distain. What other motivation could there be for bullying and harassing another group of people? Bullying and harassing are not agents of peace, walling up gates in an effort to control isn’t peace. Islam does not engender peace in her followers. Muslims are not a people at peace, but they are a people with an agenda of destruction. You see it in their communities, you see it in the way they treat others.

Not a particularly subtle or sufficiently nuanced take on the Muslim position? A bit hard to take for our PC society? I suppose, but it seams that Jesus isn’t terribly nuanced when he said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me, scatters.”

These people hate. Not because we are American. No they just hate. We would do well to take note.

Lord Jesus Christ, True God and True Man, Have Mercy On Us!

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