Plans change sometimes, and the more you travel, the better you are at going with the flow. So when it started raining here in Jerusalem and the streets became flooded in the southern desert due to the runoff water from the Holy City and kept us from going to the Dead Sea, I figured that it could be worse and that changing plans is part of life. The heavy rains also stopped us from visiting the large outdoor markets, so we have spent a lot of time inside, getting some much needed rest from walking 9+ miles each day since we got here. And if the Jerusalemites are inside when it rains, it seems fitting that we should be too. When in Jerusalem, do like Jerusalemites.
So what did we do? We had more lectures on various topics from food to films, archaeology to the Oslo negotiations, and mummies to ancient cups. All of the lectures have been riveting, since they have highlighted issues within the state from a variety of vantage points, mingling ancient and modern problems with the messy situations to try to pinpoint the areas of tension throughout the state. For me, what has emerged is an incredibly nuanced and dynamic understanding of the forces at work here that somehow, despite all odds, holds a steady yet precarious balance.
Now, these past few days were not all indoors. The highlight was our excursion to Bethlehem, where we visited the famous Church of the Nativity. Built in the basilica style by Constantine, the Church is one of the few Roman structures that was not destroyed by the Persians, because the mosaics in the sides depicted the three wise (and importantly, Persian) men giving gifts to Christ. The Orthodox Church had a number of icons, but was under extensive renovation. Nonetheless, we entered into the small grotto where Christ is traditionally said to have been born, feeling a spiritual presence even if the site itself is symbolic.
Then, we visited the Shepherd’s Fields, an old system of grottos overlooking the Palestinian countryside. The shepherds used to sleep in these grottos, humble workers whose lives were close to nature, dirty, and simple. As noted in the Gospels, Christ’s birth is announced to the shepherds, indicating the importance of the poor and simple, that Christ comes for everyone, including especially those who are socially the weakest. And later, Christ becomes the shepherd, a humble leader of the humble, a guider of us, the flock.
In addition to this, we went to the Israel Museum, and later the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. The visits were interesting (but I didn’t take any pictures….), as we looked into the Dead Sea scrolls, ancient artifacts, and the modern government right across the street. And of course, I’ve had many more excursions back to the old city of Jerusalem, having fun running around slick cobblestone covered in the scent of spices and the weight of hundreds of years of history.
Lastly, one of the most exciting things that has happened has been meeting my family! My dad’s mother’s brother’s kids were all here, due to some unfortunate circumstances, but somehow, I have been blessed enough to see them all together even though most don’t live here. My family is from all over the world, including the USA, London, Greece, Cyprus, Oman, even South Africa. Even more amazingly, this is the first time that most of their children have seen all of these aunts and uncles together at once, and their children are older than me. All in all, an incredible coincidence that seems like more than a coincidence, and a beautiful reconnection with much long lost family.