Here are my ‘big’ insights from a pretty amazing day. Picking up a car in Tiberias I started driving south down Hwy. 90 which hugs the Jordan River (think Ventura Highway…sort of). Having a car allowed me to do all the geeky things I wanted to see at my leisure.
First stop: Jericho. The longest inhabited city in the world. Yes. You read that correctly. This is what archaeologists do – and the site of Jericho has been the longest continually inhabited city they’ve found. I spent an hour or so seeing the ruins and shrugging off the salespeople. Here was what I came away with: There weren’t many people living on the earth back when Joshua ‘bit the battle of Jericho’. Everything was small – even the longest inhabited city was pretty tiny by today’s population.
After a cup of fresh squeezed pomegranate juice I was back on the road taking in the desert view – and thinking about the great Desert Fathers and Mothers who moved into this exact Judean desert in the 5th century in order to find holiness in asceticism and self-denial.
That’s when I came upon the pretty amazing church of St. Gerassimos.
The little spot of Greece is built at the place where Abbot Gerassimo set his hut many centuries ago. Now, thousands of years later, there is still a worshiping community. Sister Reurandisa Elrogea and I began talking and before I knew it, she had fixed a snack and I was sitting with her and a guy who comes from Cyprus who once / year to fix things around the monastery. Sr. Elrogea had no concept of a woman minister. I mean really no concept. As in, “What are you saying to me because these words don’t make sense.”
I tried to help her, but she really couldn’t understand how women could be “priests”. After lunch I left thinking about how much of our faith language is just trying to squeeze the Infinite Almighty into concepts we can understand. Or at least concepts for which we have a mental picture. That might not be so bad…if we didn’t then spend the rest of our lives defending these (limited) categories.
Which brought me to yet another amazing thing – tonight I and a dozen others went out with “Ira, the Astronomy Guy!” to see the stars over the Negev Desert. It was a spiritual experience.
Seeing the moons of Jupiter, the nebulae of Orion’s belt, and our ‘plain old moon’ through high powered telescopes was stunning. But even hearing the description of what we see when we see the stars never gets old. We look back in time to see things that are no longer — even as they are being presented to us as immediately alive. Really we are seeing things from the past.
The smallness of Jericho, the limitations of our minds, the ephemeral nature of our time-bound present. This could have made me low – but instead they were exhilarating – freeing even. As small as we are and as temporal as we are we still get to be part of this pulsating energy of life and vitality all around us. We hunger for the holy because we hunger for something eternal, something big enough to help us make sense of our small size in this expanding universe that for a few seconds we call home.
But let’s not get confused – even the best things we can say and our best thoughts about God are still small, limited and time-bound. Jesus kept it real with people. He never over-reached in his explanations – preferring to just say, “Only the Father knows”. His humility seems like a good path for us to follow too.