Stories from the Mount of Olives

The taxi dropped me off at Dominus Flevit. It was a hot day at the end of May 2006; the morning sun was already baking the Mount of Olives. The taxi driver was a bit rude; he wanted to take me to Bethany; I did not want to go. He persisted, so I finally I just ignored him and I did not like that.

Exiting the taxi I went into the church. A cat was running around, skittering here and there, seeming to play with an imaginary cat toy; it was not a cute cat, it was too lean and hungry.

A Franciscan came along – he seemed very agitated and and started to yell at the cat; my prayer was interrupted by his angry words. I don’t even know what language it was. I started to ask him a question and he scowled, said something and left.

I sighed deeply, once again reminded that I could not “create” religious experience just because I was in a particular place or because I wanted to. You’d think I would know that already. I do know it, but I am persistent in my pursuits, so I guess I keep hoping.

After taking a photo through the window behind the altar, I left and made my way down the hill, passing the gold domes of the Church of Mary Magdalene. This was my second trip down the road; I was there in 2004 too. This church is intriguing, but only open at certain times; once again my timing was off.

In front of the Magdalene church complex gate, there was a man with a white mule. He smiled at me, I smiled at him. He said, “Peek-CHOOR?” Yes, I could take his picture. He posed and after I snapped, he put out his hand and offered me a toothless smile. *sigh* Some shekels and I parted company and he smiled again. I kept going down the hill.

My next stop was The Garden of Gethsemane. The trees are ancient and gnarled, standing like sentinels. The quiet was penetrating, no one else was there. After some time in the garden,  wondering about Jesus praying there so many years ago, I entered the Church of All Nations

If there is something bizarre to me about Jerusalem, but maybe not, it is that finding a time and place to go to mass is a challenge.  So I entered the church and in the dark silence of the entrance, I scanned a sign and it did appear that mass would start soon.

The church was cool, dry and dim. I sat down, no one was there. A group of tourists came in, I think that they were Polish. They were noisy, running around, touching things and having animated conversations.

What was it about creating religious experience that I did not understand? This was religious experience, just not one that I could control.

They left and soon thereafter a priest entered. He went to the altar and I thought that mass would begin. He looked about 35 and was wearing a cassock; he went to the altar table, then to the chair, where he sat and prayed.  Eventually he left and once more, I realized that another plan of mine was foiled. No mass. I felt angry.

Some other people came in and out, groups of 4 and 5, from different countries. There were some very loud Asian people who went up on the altar and took photos of each other. My inner hanging judge was on high alert.

Creating religious experience again, not accepting what was. A theme.

Then they sat down and became very still. One of them, a woman, went over to the rock where Jesus is thought to have prayed and sweated blood, and she lay down up on it.  I pretended to pray with my eyes closed, but I was actually watching her. She prayed and stayed there a long time and I thought about how I would never do that. I must admit that I thought this with an air of superiority. That’s how Ms. Planned Religious Experience rolls. How annoying I am – to myself.

They left and I remained, a tightly wound ball of control issues, anger and judgment. Nothing worked. Maybe I should have gone to Bethany after all.

My eyes closed and I went into my favorite form of contemplative prayer – sleep.

About 15 minutes later I awoke with a start and I knew what I had to do. I got up and walked up to the altar and turned around; the church was empty. Next thing I know, I am on my knees next to the rock.  A moment later, I am draped across the rock and I begin to weep.

Yes, I myself am laying on the rock and I am now sobbing uncontrollably. In my heart and through my tears, I hear myself making a promise and a big one at that. As I literally press my entire body, shaking through the tears as it is, against the rock, I hear myself saying that I am giving my whole life to God.

I don’t really want to be saying this at some level, but I am saying it nonetheless. And I know I do not want to say it because it is true and I can’t bear it.  It is true and I can’t bear and I do not want to be saying it, yet at the same time I begin to feel a weight lift and I feel some tremendous relief.

Then I realize that I am in a public place, flat upon a rock, crying and sobbing, on an altar for God’s sake. I get very still, just staying where I am. It reminds me of when I was little and would not want to be seen. Back then it seemed that if I got really quiet and really small no one would see me.

Of course, I was not little or small so I simply got up at one point and surveyed an empty church.

I returned to the chair I had been sitting in before and collected myself. A barrier had been broken; I had made it clear to God that I was in. Buyer’s remorse danced around the edges of my consciousness. I mean, I was already more religiously inclined than most. This was different however, very different.

It was also too late to turn back.


Leaving Lent – Entering Holy Week

The Judean Desert, November 2004, photo by me.

I wrote about Lent quite a bit at the beginning, but I have not really kept up with it. So it goes. I really wanted to focus on forgiveness this Lent and to write more about The Forgiveness Project – I told you that.

But that did not happen.

 Signs of green in the desert. My workplace, photo by me.

And suddenly – here we are! There are signs of green in the desert as we work our way to Jerusalem. We may leave the desert behind, but I can assure you, death is on the way.

And then new life.

There is a lot going on in the Church right now that says death is on the way, but even at my worst, I am pretty sure that new life will not be far behind.

The desert has been what it needed to be. I have not really moved as far as I would have liked around forgiveness. I have made some inroads, slight ones, towards reconciling some broken relationships.

However, I have astoundingly broken other ones. *sigh*

 Jerusalem, from the Mount of Olives, May 2006, photo by me.

Anyway, the desert gives way to the city. I am reminded of what a short distance it is from the Judean desert to Jerusalem and how quickly… and starkly, the landscape changes.

And I know, from experience, you can’t go to Jerusalem and leave unchanged. If it doesn’t kill you, it does transform you. Metanoia.

Now to enter Holy Week. Jerusalem, here I come.

Taking A Walk

I have seen images from The Journeys Project over at Deacon Greg’s and they are very haunting, thought provoking.

The image at the top of this page particularly struck me – Jesus walking with a Nazi, carrying his gun. It is called The Second Mile.

It makes me pretty uncomfortable, really uncomfortable. Then I try to look more deeply, that is hard too.

The word Nazi has been tossed around rather frivolously lately, at least in my opinion. There are many who compare the current presidential administration to Nazi’s. While I firmly believe that there is a lot of work to be done regarding health care reform, I do think that this is extreme.

Very extreme.

Yet the word is oft used in regard to what is called the holocaust of abortion and now with some of the alleged elements of health care reform. Abortion is a holocaust… however, I very carefully choose the word alleged in regard to health care reform, because I have yet to find evidence that supports many of the emails that I receive from individuals and groups. And I have looked.

In my day-to-day life, I am considered a “liberal” person. Due to this, I often find myself in various situations in which people presume what I might believe. Some think that because I am a so-called liberal that I must be “pro-abortion.” Others, usually other “liberals” think that I am some kind of Catholic cool kid because I can’t really support the pro-life community in the Catholic church, at least as they perceive it.

Both groups are wrong about me.

My views regarding abortion, other than I do believe it is wrong, are not what we are discussing on this particular post. If you want to discuss that with me, you can get in touch with me via email or I will write about it soon enough.

What I do want to bring to the fore is this image… Jesus walking down the road with a Nazi, talking and carrying his belongings for him. What powerful imagery!

Jesus, always open to conversation which might lead to conversion, is speaking with someone most of us would consider the height of evil. Furthermore, Jesus then bears the load of this man, so that he can walk unencumbered.

This is nothing less than remarkable.

So if the abortion providers are Nazis, if the health care reformers are Nazis, if the tea bag people are Nazis, if President Obama himself is a Nazi… then would Jesus reject any one of these lost sheep?

I think not.

I was once a pretty lost sheep myself with all kinds of different beliefs. However, I was also a curious sheep and I found my way back to the sheepfold. It has not always been easy, but slowly, surely – through grace, love, community, exploration, faith and risk, I have come around. And what being “in the sheepfold” means for me and for another might be very different.

Assumptions are generally not helpful. I should know, I make a lot of them myself.

If Jesus in various forms of all those who have touched my life, walked down the road with me, a real apostate at times and still a bit sketchy even now by some standards, why would he not walk down the road with others?

He didn’t say, leave your belongings (beliefs, ideas, thoughts, feelings) behind. He actually took them off my back and walked with me. We talked, walked, talked, walked some more. Eventually things began to change. Slowly – oh so very slowly. He stayed with me and I began to change. Conversion. Metanoia. Really deep and transformational change. And it continues, thanks be to God.

God knows – Jesus has been so very patient with me, filled with mercy and compassion and so much patience. My eyes tear up even just thinking about this… I am grateful beyond words. Jesus is also very clear with me. This is why I continue to respond to His call.

It makes me look at the terrible tenor of so-called discourse in our country and I am feeling some genuine fear. Fear of how things might not change if we can’t get off of shouting and name-calling from all sides. Fear of how hearts and minds are hardened because some of us might sound more like Nazis rather than Christians. Fear of how we might reject others because they seem a certain way to us.

No, Jesus in my experience has never sounded like a Nazi or any other kind of dictatorial figure.

Oh Jesus is very clear about what we must do… We heard it this past Sunday… “Take up your Cross and follow me.”

That is clear, but I don’t think we are rejected if we don’t pick it up immediately because we are foolish and recalcitrant sheep without a clue. All of us.

I walk and I walk and I walk, thinking of all that I have become because he took my burdens, he took my sins and he walked with me for so long, walking with me still.

If Jesus can walk with the Nazi, converse with the Samaritan woman, heal the Syro-Phoenician woman, pick, heal on the Sabbath, eat with Zaccheus, consort with all the worst people of his time, I know I am in good company.

He came to us. We really might want to consider talking a walk with him, a very long walk, free from name calling and open to change.

** Please read the comments if you can. Commenter Cynthia posed a question and I responded. How we use language and how it is read are always a challenge, especially on topics such as this one.**