18 April 2014

stones (israel-palestine chronicles - 2009)

it began early in the morning, ascending the Mount of Olives.
it ended late in the evening, descending to the Western 'Wailing' Wall.
in between, there were many steps and stories, silences and shouts, sights and sighs...we experienced beauty and busyness, contemplation and commerce, sanctity and sacrilegiousness, temptations and trials, glory and gluttony, tears and tumultuousness, awe and agony, love and lamentation...we were curious and cautious, fascinated and flustered, amazed and appalled, illuminated and unnerved, underfed and overwhelmed, enraptured and exhausted.
it was quite a day.
and in the midst of it all...there were stones.

stones of remembrance and retribution, tribute and terrorism, echo and execution...stone caves and corridors, walls and walkways, stairs and sculptures, streets and statues, sanctuaries and sewers, altars and aqueducts, pools and porticos, pillars and palaces, monuments and mausoleums, terraces and tombs.
the stone at the Church of the Ascension, where Jesus supposedly ascended into the heavens while his amazed disciples stared up into the sky wondering what to do next...

the stones that were not meant to be left one upon the other after the destruction of the Temple, which led to the closing of the East Gate, where Jesus most likely entered jerusalem on that triumphant and fateful palm sunday...

the stone that served as an altar for Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemene, where he agonized in a wrestling match of temptation and prayer while his disciples sat by and slept on their own stones...

the past temptations Jesus surely remembered that night, like the stone that he was tempted to turn into bread in the wilderness...and Simon, the one Jesus renamed peter, or 'stone', who tempted him to follow the path of least resistance towards political power and coercion rather than the pathway of sacrificial love and suffering...
the stones of the Via Dolorosa, or 'Way of Suffering' that Jesus traveled through Jerusalem, to his trial, flogging, sentencing, and all the way to the cross...

the Stone of Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre that marks the place where Jesus gave his life freely in love...

the Stone of Unction, where his body was laid in preparation for his burial...

the stone tomb.

by that stone tomb, we heard the account of this journey from the Gospel of Mark. and with the fullest depth of passion and wisdom, my friend (and our guide), Shane, reminded us of two things that were the reality of those who had followed Jesus through those fateful hours, and are the reality of those who've sought to follow him right to this day (echoing the voice of his dearly departed friend and our former PTS professor, Don Juel)...
      the only One able to deal with the depths of human brokenness and sin is stone cold dead.
      and the only hope we have is that God won't leave him alone in that stone cold tomb.

i staggered out of the church profoundly perplexed and deeply disturbed, fully fatigued down to the marrow in my bones, dazed and confused...
in an intellectual, emotional and spiritual sense, i felt stoned.
later that evening, i staggered my way back out to the Western 'Wailing' Wall with a couple of friends. it was the Sabbath, and not many people were still out in the city. a few people were at the Wall praying, while others were stacking up the chairs from earlier in the day. i covered my head and slowly approached the sacred area down near the wall.
i saw the cracks and crevices in the wall, places where it has been worn down by centuries of lauds and laments, of praises and petitions, of tirades and tears.
i saw the notes and pictures folded and shoved into every possible space in the wall...remembrances of loved ones, cries for justice, pleas for peace.

i did the only thing i felt like i could do at that moment.
i bowed my head...i lifted my hands...and i prayed.
i faltered at first, trying to remember what little Hebrew i know. but that mysterious language seemed right in that place at that moment.
'Shema, Israel...' Hear, Israel...
'Adonai...' LORD...
'Shalom ha'aretz...' Peace on earth...
the tears welled up in my eyes, and i leaned closer to the wall.
'Shalom, children of Abraham...Shalom, people of Mohammed...Shalom, sisters and brothers of Christ...Shalom, Israel...Salaam, Palestine...
'Shalom Salaam...ALL children of God...'
i prayed to the Prince of Peace for peace.
i prayed for his Kingdom of justice and mercy, righteousness and love to come more fully into this world.
i prayed into the space where so many prayers had altered the shape of something seemingly impenetrable.
i prayed into the stone.
i prayed to the Spirit to alter the shape of my heart of stone.
i prayed for shalom to transform the hearts of all people into living stones.

i headed back to our hostel, and laid my head down to sleep.

but my pillow...and my head...felt like a stone.

(18 June 09, Old City Jerusalem)

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