Friday, February 21, 2014

A Moral about Seeing

The city of Bethlehem.

As we walked through the streets of Bethlehem we talked about getting a cup of coffee. We had just bought some icons and were looking at the face of this city, both ancient and modern. The street was a mixture of vendors, cars, taxis, and travelers. We walked up a hill and as we walked a saw a small child, no more than 8 or 9, pushing a shopping cart up this stone street. He would get over a few stones only to be halted by gravity and his own lack of strength.

We reached the top of the hill and I stopped. They said, “What's up?” I responded, “Did you see that kid?” They said, “No.” I handed my bag to a friend and walked up to the kid. He didn't speak English but I pointed to his cart and asked if he wanted help. He said yes, perhaps thinking I asked “Is this yours?”

I pulled the cart of the hill—it was empty and a light task for a grown man. I motioned to him to follow me. I stopped at the top and I gave him a smile. He stared at me, saying nothing, and I couldn't decipher it as a sign of thanks, disappointment, or anger. It was a strange face. Two of the other guys, my friends who were looking on, gave their hand for a high-five (or fives of some kind) and the kid reciprocated—so he must have been a little happy.

We went on our way to get a cup of coffee. One said, “That was a particularly Christian thing to do.” This was in the shadow of the birth place of our Lord. Another noted, “I didn't even see him.”

The moral is not a tale of my virtue. What I did was minor and most likely of little consequence. What is important is how, even in holy places and in the company of friends, how easy it is to simply not see others. Others who suffer from hunger, injustice, or from simply going on unseen.

It is not merely sin, that is an active form of rebellion that progresses evil in the world. A lack of seeing and, when we see, inaction that stunts the growth of love. My friends did not act because they did not see. I saw, so how could I not act if my conscience has been formed by God—by “observing his decrees” (Dt 4:40) and “walking in his ways” (Ps 128:1)?

Being attentive to the world advances love when we respond as we are able. “You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands” (128:2) so “practice justice, love compassion, and be prepared to walk with the Lord your God” (Mic 6:8).

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Ein Gedi: Near to Him

Ein Gedi is an oasis in the desert near the Dead Sea. We walked one of the paths of Ein Gedi which was hewn into the rock. A small stream of water ran alongside the path, cascading down a number of tiny waterfalls as we walked up. Right beside this water, lukewarm in the sun and cool in the shade, was green vegetation. In the same valley, just meters away (and sometimes mere inches), the terrain returned to its normal image: rocks, dust, sparse and barely-surviving vegetation. Apart from the area near the water nothing looked desirable.

As we walked upward we came to a place where the path and the water met. There was a tunnel, about five feet high and seven feet wide, formed out of rocks on the bottom and reeds/roots on top. The air was immediately cooler and the smell of, perhaps, fresh straw minus the farm became apparent. Further still were pools of water and similar tunnels. We finally arrived at the highest point we could walk to and there was a waterfall. It wasn't immediately impressive, coming out of the rock like water from a faucet as opposed to large waterfalls as we're accustomed to think. The rocks formed like a roof over the area covered with thick vines and rich vegetation. Apart from the water it was silent and peaceful. The air was even a bit cooler now and I took a while to reflect in prayer how this very place has been used in Scripture.

I give this description to help you walk, in some small way, the path I walked. It is amazing to consider that in the following passages the inspired authors had the very place I had walked in mind. They themselves had visited this place, a safe haven for travelers and a place of repose for the weary. But rather than simply reflect on comfort, they saw the land itself tell a story and teach a lesson. Here I offer, weak though I am, my reflection on the beauty they saw and, more importantly, how one may learn about God.

“My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Ein Gedi … As a lilly among brambles, so is my love among maidens. As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men” (Song of Songs, 1:14, 2:2-3).

God says to Wisdom, “Make your dwelling in Jacob … among your chosen people put down your roots” (Sir 24:8b).

Wisdom replies, “I grew tall like a pine tree in Ein Gedi” (24:14)

A famous scene between Saul and King David takes place in the caves in Ein Gedi. As Saul leaves, his life spared by David, David emerges from the cave holding the tassel he had cut and shouts out to Saul proclaiming that he had done no harm to him though God had delivered Saul into his hands. He says, “Know and see today that it is not evil in my hands, nor injustice and a breach of trust, and that I have not sinned against you” (1 Sam 24:11).

Ein Gedi is mentioned other times but in these three passages it is spoken about most explicitly. We find that Ein Gedi, its landscape, is a living analogy of love, wisdom, as well as mercy and reconciliation.

Ein Gedi was chosen as a portrait for three important virtues that help us grow closer to God. Just as everything quickly dies and turns to desert when it is far away from the water so too does this happen to all things that are far from these virtues. Ein Gedi is a place of contradictions.

Beauty without love is ugliness.
Knowledge without wisdom is ignorance.
Justice without mercy and forgiveness is tyranny.

Ein Gedi was chosen as a portrait of life being nearness to God. Everything apart from him, even the greatest virtues, die quickly and turn to a desert waste. Ein Gedi is a place of contradictions and that which we hold dear is placed in stark contrast with a new truth.

Money without God is poverty.
Harmony without God is cacophony.
Life without God is death.

Think of every good thing in your life—because God is in your life—everything, even trials, may be a source of joy for you. Without God even your accomplishments will be a source of grief.

The inspired authors saw this and this beautiful spot teaches this. It stands as a living symbol for this truth:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind (Dt 6:5)