|In ancient times the Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus, made this telling observation: “You cannot step into the same river twice.” How true this is! No two experiences, no matter how seemingly alike, are ever exactly the same. A much more modern writer, T.S. Eliot, in a similar vein remarked, “We had the experience but missed the meaning, /And approach to the meaning restores the experience/ In a different form.” As I pointed out last week, we had made our first visit to the Holy Land five years ago. It was in April, spring time, shortly after Easter. The weather was, to our mind, very pleasant; hot, yet cool in the evening. One could comfortably wear a cardigan or jacket. In fact it was almost necessary. |
During this year’s trip in late July, the heat was much more intense, the vegetation, in places, not as green. There were fewer flowers in bloom; their first flush long spent. What remained were reminders of what had been. This came home to us forcefully when we visited Golgotha this trip. Before us was a small hillock, the white remnant of a rock quarry. How wrong the distant hymn writer got it when musing of “A green hill far away.” Yet on this trip, much to our delight, we found the olive, fig, and pomegranates trees blooming and laden with fruit, unlike our first visit. On many occasions we saw houses everywhere adorned with flower boxes with burst of the most beautiful flowers and vines.
St. George’s Colleges has interesting gardens and walkways, well labeled. A stroll through them gives a lot of information of plants, flowers and herbs today that were also to be found in biblical times. There is a trestle with grape vines heavy with ripening fruit. So also the fig trees, olives and pomegranate, almond, limes and lemons. Many other flowering trees and flora are the same as those to be found here at home: the oleander, aloes, lilies, hibiscus and yellow elder. The entrance to St. George’s Cathedral is marked by very fragrant roses. In biblical times roses were said to grow upon the mountains. As a fervent amateur gardener, the gardens gave me endless enjoyment.
Dawn comes early in Jerusalem in the summer time, 5:00 a.m. Every morning one could enjoy the quiet hours of the morning with a delicious cup of coffee or tea in the Common Room on the third floor and catch the English version of the news on the BBC or the English version of a T.V channel from France. Morning Prayer or the Holy Eucharist was held daily in the cathedral and many of our pilgrims shared in devotions before breakfast at 8:00 a.m. Jerusalem is a city of prayer. Throughout the day, the Muslim call to prayer (five times) and church bells summon one to pray.
At the beginning Course members were randomly divided into groups of about five called “families” and responsible for looking out for and checking on each other. On one project these groups had to go into the Old City, interview people there about their life, work and experience, find the delineations and marks of the Quarter, its High Places and distinguishing marks, select and purchase for no more than 40 NIS ($10) a symbol typical of the Quarter and make a report to the full session at the College. Most of us found this to be quite an adventure. It was during that time that Billy and I who share the same “family” group had the opportunity to walk the ramparts.
During our trip we got a good sampling of the local cuisine. The food at the college was always plentiful and good. Breakfast usually consisted of eggs, cold cuts, and cheese with lots of fresh vegetables, tomato and cucumber salad with yogurt, or humus, fruits, olive oil dressing and various spices such as zatar/thyme and saffron. Then there was the ever present pita bread. Most of our lunches were usually out on field trips; either a picnic lunch at a convent, or one of the religious guest houses which gave a beautiful, sweeping view of Jerusalem. Dinner at the College was buffet style; a selection of saffron or white rice, lamb, chicken, turkey or fish, lentil, fruit , fresh vegetables and various desserts. In the Galilee, in Nazareth, we stayed at a very modern German religious Guest House, the Pilgerhaus, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The food again was wonderful. In the early morning and evening conies were to be seen sheltering on the rocks or walls. Our pilgrims feasted on the popular Peter fish from the Sea of Galilee, showing their native skill in dealing with seafood. In Galilee and Bethlehem we dined at Bedouin style restaurants, under a spreading tent. At a local Palestinian eatery in Jerusalem we had great fun at lunch trying to decipher the menu and learning that our understanding of their items did not exactly coincide with theirs. Turkish salad, for example, is not turkey salad!
There were other moments of fun and hilarity such as the time we had at the Dead Sea. After a trip down the Jordan Valley to visit historic Masada, Qumran and Ein Gedi, we made our way to the lowest point on earth the Dead Sea. We were advised that we were not to attempt to swim in the highly saline water but to float and not to stay in for more than fifteen minutes at a time due to the heat and dense salinity. Once in, floating was effortless. But no one told us how tricky it would be to negotiate entering the sea itself. The Slippery and much prized mud causes one to sink down to the knees. Cdre. Smith and LaGloria lost their water shoes at the very first attempt. For the rest, we all had our tumbles, slipping and sliding in a sea, shadowed by the colourful Mountains of Moab.
One of the moments we will long remember! And what better way for a Bahamian group to end an afternoon than a shopping spree in Bethlehem spurred on by a favourable currency exchange rate of four New Israeli Shekels to the dollar and vendors eager to haggle and to make a bargain!
At St. George’s it is customary for Course members to provide entertainment at the closing Reception. Our group was ably represented by Agatha, LaGloria and Beverley. The evening ended with a farewell barbecue in the College gardens.
But it was not all going and coming. We had ample opportunity to practice silence and to be still. It is often in silence that we distill our experiences, reflect upon them and hear the yet still voice of God speaking to us.
“Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease,
Take from our souls the strain and stress
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of thy peace.
from Dean Patrick L. Adderley