Last weekend I went oystering.
There is probably a better name for it, but you know what I mean, right?
As I was making my way through the low-tide muck in the fishing boots I’m not wholly accustomed to wearing, I found my feet slipping out from under me and the feeling of the ground under my feet,
lumpy but smooth, reminded me of what the bottom of the Dead Sea felt like.
You know how the bottom of the ocean and most rivers (at least the ones that I’ve been in) are mostly flat except for the occasional crab or stone you step on? The Dead Sea is decidedly not like that. It’s lumpy, bumpy, slippery (but not slimy) and absolutely impossible, due to the incredibly high salt content, to maintain balance.
Once you are about thigh-deep, your feet are swept out from under you and you can,
no lie, just like you learned in school, lie flat on top of the water and float. You can’t not float.
It was an experience I will never forget!
I was so fortunate to travel with some dear Bethany UMC friends to Israel-Palestine eight years ago this January. I fell in love with everything about that land that a few popes and quite a few others
have called “The Fifth Gospel,”
and every year about this time I remember….
Stepping onto the Holy Land for the first time,
history so deep we have a hard time imagining,
the rocky soil,
the Ancient Boat, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sea_of_Galilee_Boat
the breathtaking size of the stones in the Temple Mount,
the most delicious salads for breakfast,
the Sea of Galilee,
and the people…
The Innkeepers in Bethlehem,
our Palestinian Christian tour bus driver,
Hani Imam, an Arab-Israeli University of Alabama grad whose prepared a meal for us in the back room of his shop in Hebron
the trinket vendors
the people of the Kibbutzim we visited
the Jewish faithful praying on the Temple mount
the faithful Israeli soldiers, whose very presence
comforted the Jews, cautioned the tourists
and extremely aggravated
the Muslim faithful, also gathered for prayer on the Temple mount,
a space held as a
Most Sacred Place
God’s people who are Jewish
God’s people who are Muslim
God’s people who are Christian.
This year’s memories have been a bit extended as I follow the news surrounding the intense attacks between Palestinian rebels and Israeli forces over who gets what land. It’s so sad. It must grieve God so.
A big part of me that wants to climb those steps to the Dome of the Rock (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dome_of_the_Rock )and cup my hands to my mouth and yell out something like “HEY Y’ALL!!! Can’t you see that the one thing we have in common is that we all say we are God’s people? God’s love is our Bridge! The bridge that will get us from war to peace, from raised fists to open-handedness, from closed-mindedness to generosity. Can we, just for a second on this Holy Temple Mount lay down all of the literal and figurative weaponry in our arsenal and trust that the God whom WE ALL CLAIM is All Powerful will hear our praise for Him in whatever language and manner we choose to offer it? Can’t we just let God deal with our hearts and not worry about being right all the time?”
And then I think of that story Jesus told about not worrying about someone else’s splinter until you take the plank out of your own eye (Luke 6:21-42) and I realize (again) that the sins I commit are not one bit less grievous to God than the bitterness, anger and hatred that play out daily in a land that God ordained to be such an important part of His unfolding story,
and that God ordained a piece of His story to unfold in me, too.
I turn to the seemingly ever-wise ****Arianne Braithwaite Lehn**** who always has the words I need when I am on such lumpy, bumpy, slippery ground, this time from her prayer “When I don’t want to love someone”
My very life grows from you,
the Vine from which I stem
with hope for fruit that will last.
Your love force flows through me,
and yet it also moves into
I don’t want to acknowledge my
Connection with some of them –
these people who block my sun
or suppress my spirit.
I struggle, Jesus, to see and love the goodness in another,
even as your life current nourishes me
with the same sustenance.
Maybe my first step
is to simply name,
our connection through you.
To remember the seed that
brought forth me also birthed them.
To unfurl my leaves—
soak in the sun, the rainfall –
and, in doing this,
open my heart to you
and every single other…
To keep all veins open
for transformative possibilities
that come not through my own doing,
but by being joined with you –
the One who can and does
bring redemptive relationships
I never thought possible.
Today I will celebrate
being a part of the Vine,
and rest in the work you will do.
You only ask me to stay connected,
abiding in Love.
Matthew 5:7 * Luke 6:27-28 * John 15:1-11
**** Arianne Braitwaite Lehn is one of my most favorite authors and the author of one of my most favorite books of prayer, Ash and Starlight: prayers for the chaos and grace of daily life. ( https://www.amazon.com/Ash-Starlight-Prayers-Chaos-Grace/dp/0827200803/ref=sr_1_1?crid=12LQZ9TBAMEPX&keywords=ash+and+starlight+prayers+for+the+chaos+and+grace+of+daily+life&qid=1676590311&sprefix=Ash+and+Starlight%2Caps%2C191&sr=8-1&redirectFromSmile=1 ) It would be my great delight to get a copy to you if you only let me know you’d like one! ****