Archive | November, 2010

Water and Spirit

26 Nov

The rest of the group is out yuck’n it up on the last night in Jerusalem while I sit here in the hotel room paying for expensive wi-fi but I need to reflect. I’ve yucked it up a few nights while here but the bigger the group that goes out, the more I need to retreat. I prefer it when there are just four or five of us. Plus, I feel a little sad.

Today was AMAZING. I hiked up and down Masada and floated in the Dead Sea. Not many of us hiked so I got some wonderful time alone from the group out in nature and with God. It’s really trippy to think that the founders of Judaism roamed these deserts and that the Hebrews at Masada were as courageous as they were – choosing death over being taken captive by the

The days when we’ve been out of Jerusalem have been my favorite. As my bus buddy said to me today, “You like the days that involve nature and water.” He’s right. I like the days that involve nature and water best. I loved Galilee, Mt. Nebo, Casesarea and Masada best, although Jerusalem is amazing. I need to be in spirit and water. That is how I find God.

I am already scheming my next trip here hoping my best friend will join me on a private tour with Ilan, our guide. And when and if I ever marry, this is where I want to go on a honey moon.

Tomorrow Marcello and Anna are renewing their vows. I am doing a reading in the service. Then we have most of the day free and at 11:30 p.m. we board a plane from Tel Aviv.

I feel sad. I feel the transition back home even before getting on an airplane. I come home to wonderful things though. All is good. I will be back.

At the Wall

25 Nov

Yesterday I spent a considerable amount of time at the Western Wall or Wailing Wall, a remanent of the outer wall of the second temple located in Jerusalem. It is a sacred site for Jews and people all over the world come to it leaving their prayers on slips of paper crammed into its nooks and crannies.

I had a lot of time there because my group went on a tour of the nearby tunnels which would have made me claustrophobic. And maybe I was feeling a little claustrophobic – suffocated from a lack of quiet time on my own with God. So I took some time with the God at the wall and prayed a deep prayer that needed to be put out to Him.

The Jewish quarters of the wall are beautiful. They reminded me of my four years of working at the Hebrew Home for the Aged in Riverdale, New York. I feel grateful for the education Israel is providing me, allowing me to finally begin to understand the vast details relating to the history of this land, its people and the Torah.

When you’re in Israel, the spirituality in the city is so palpable, it seems one has intense encounters with God daily. I won’t get into the details of this now but how God met me here will be the source of deep reflection in the future. Below is a picture of people quietly contemplating the night before Jesus’ death while sitting in the garden of Gethsemane.

These two men are my spiritual teachers of the moment – my pastor, Ed and our guide Ilan. I think I may drive them batty with all my questions and the way I hover around them but so be it. I can’t get enough information. I want to drink of it all day long.

There are also teachers of the heart – those I’m in fellowship with. This is Nan and Barry who prayed with me today at the site of the tomb over the same prayer I wrote on a slip of paper and crammed into the Western Wall.

There are so many other things I could write about – places I’ve seen – giggles I’ve had – but I think I’ll close on a reflective note for God seems to be at my heart these days more than anything else.

Experiencing the Bible

19 Nov

Scribbling (okay typing) quickly before dinner is not the ideal way to communicate about the first few days of my time in Israel but for now it will have to do. But in a nutshell the best way to describe this experience is WOW – this has surpassed all expectations.

We crossed into Israel after spending a day in Jordan visiting Mt. Nebo and the ancient Greco/Roman city of Jerash. From Mt. Nebo one can look down and see Israel just as Moses did before he died and just as the Israelites did before moving into the Promised Land. Having just written in-depth about Exodus, it was surreal to actually step into the story I have been tracking all quarter in seminary. Jerash is a phenomenal Greco/Roman ruin that leaves one with a sense of how vast and influential the Roman empire was during Biblical times. I had the pleasure of dancing with a Jordanian man in a Greek style amphitheater when a band spontaneously started playing and he and I joined in the joie de vivre of the moment. Priceless. For everything else there is Master Card…. (Or is it Visa?)

But from there we had a trek along the border of Jordan and Israel, plus dealing with customs and luggage. We felt like the tired Israelites clamoring to get into the Promised Land after hot long years in the desert. So by the time we arrived at the Ron Beach hotel in Tiberias, I was simultaneously wired and tired. Between fits of sleep on a mega long plane ride and time changes, I was not what one could call rested or relaxed. Until I jumped into the Sea of Galilee near midnight with a few other people from our tour. There we laughed and hollered and listened to the disco playing a few paces down the shore as I looked up at an inky black sky. It is November yet the weather as delightful as summer so the evening had the feel of a hot Mediterranean night.

However, it wasn’t until I came back to the Sea in the morning that I began to have a real sense of the historical and spiritual significance of being in the Holy Land. The sun was coming up and the sky was a gorgeous pink. I went down to the water thinking I’d have another lovely swim only to discover a wind blowing up and the sea not calm. (I still went in anyway – of course). Yet immediately I remembered the story of Jesus lying asleep in the boat while a storm swelled up and the apostles freaked. And there he rebuked both the sea and the apostles for their lack of faith.

The day from then on was filled with a heightened sense of spirituality, fellowship, wonder and Jesus. Beginning with a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee (in which we all danced the Hora to Havah Nigila (sp) to time spent in Capharnaum, the town where Jesus performed many of his healings, the day was filled with awe. So I will end on that note because writing of AWE takes more reflection than I can put to words at the moment. However, we are at this wonderful hotel for three more nights where the internet connection is good – although free time might be spartan. (I want more swims and more dancing and we site see all day).

I will say though that being here makes the both the Old Testament and the Gospels pop. One’s understanding of the text takes on an entirely different dimension, giving scripture an unbelievable texture and profundity. And it was deeply fulfilling to sit at the possible site of the Sermon on the Mount reading Matthew 5 in Greek, which I specially prepared with my tutor for this occasion. It was worth the hard work translating with her this summer. Learning takes on an entirely different meaning. It cuts to the heart. Today won’t be the first day I shed tears nor enjoy wonderful friendships and fellowship. Praise God.

Creative Tension

10 Nov

Whenever I teach psych-education groups on stress management, one of the things I find interesting related to the subject is that to a certain degree, we can’t avoid stress. We are wired for it with a built-in protective device to fight or flee when we perceive a threat to our well being. All we can do is learn to work with our bodies to counter the hyper-arousal that stress induces and widen our perspectives when we distort the degree of danger we’re actually in. But what I also find interesting is that a certain degree of stress or tension occurs when we’re experiencing positive events that demand us to grow and step beyond our comfort zone. So do we learn to tolerate stress for the benefit of our good or do we ultimately reject it because the growth it demands makes our skin crawl?

I have never been one to enjoy stress. I don’t thrive on pressure. I don’t like working under the gun. I have never pulled an “all nighter” to get a paper done or meet a deadline of some sort. Up until recently, I’ve been able to keep my life somewhat under “control” by saying “no” to things when I thought I had too much on my plate. But lately, many good things have been put on my plate that I don’t think I’m supposed to reject. Instead, I think I’m supposed to grow. Yet what does one do with the tension that is evoked?

Peter Senge addresses this question in his book “The Fifth Discipline.” He writes, “Emotional tension can always be relieved by adjusting the one pole of the creative tension that is completely under control at all times – the vision. The feelings that we dislike go away because the creative tension that was their source is reduced. Our goals are now much closer to our current reality. Escaping emotional tension is easy – the only price we pay is abandoning what we truly want, our vision.” That is all fine and dandy but do we want to give up our vision and the things that make us tick in life? I don’t think that is what Senge is suggesting. Instead, I think the answer lies in Leighton Ford’s comments on the subject in her book “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.” She writes, “A spiritual leader is not willing to merely escape emotional tension; rather, he or she has the stamina and staying power to remain in that place of creative tension until a third way opens up that somehow honors both realities” (p.27).

I think that third way opens up through faith and surrender, which creativity ultimately demands. While on the one hand, I create through my will and discipline, it is my willingness to walk into the unknown and to trust the Source that is guiding me that ultimately sustains me and the product I produce.

When I was younger, I pursued acting in college and although it was my PASSION, I couldn’t stand the demands that being in a show put on me while trying to juggle schoolwork. So I would occasionally not audition for plays and/or turn down parts. Yet inevitably, when I did that, I would sink into a semi-depression because I missed being immersed in my passion. Likewise, whenever I plugged into that current, despite the stress, I always made straight A’s those quarters. I believe this was because there is something about being engaged in our passions that makes everything else flow.

Case in point – I just finished writing a big paper on a dense subject. And I am spent. And yet it isn’t the type of exhaustion that breaks you down and gives you a cold. It is the type of exhaustion like after giving birth. One is spent yet filled up with the mystery of life itself which to me is God.

Yes, I hate creative tension, but I don’t think there is any escape from it for me. I must create. But part of creating is also resting and being still enough to connect to the Source that fills us. ”