Today is filled with some bittersweet emotions. My group was faithful in their endeavors to try and see the Nativity Star in the Grotto of the Church of the Nativity.
We got early. I checked it out and the church was open and there were no crowds, I rally the troupes and we head over that way. We process through a now forming, but much shorter line. Najeeb catches up with us and says not to worry
if we need to wait a short while. We are getting excited. A small band of folks move, but it is not through the standard door in which the public is allowed. Our group follows them, in hopes that we, too, might be granted access. Alas, the caretaker challenges
Najeeb saying that only Orthodox Christians participating in the early morning prayer service are allowed to descend the steps. The public must wait until much later.
We move our group to
the exit side of the grotto and encourage our group members to go to the edge of the steps, not actually going in, which could get us all in a heap of trouble, and look around at the Star and crèche space in the grotto. Najeeb wants us to at least get
to see the additional caves until the church, We go around to that entrance. There is a caretaker standing guard. He and Najeeb exchange pleasantries. The caretaker says we must wait a while. I join the party and tell Najeeb that If we can get right in, then
we want to do it. It we have to wait, then we are going back to the hotel and get ready to leave. Again, a few words between Najeeb and the caretaker and we get right in. This time it is clear he is making this offer to us as something special.
We are to do it as quickly and as quietly as possible as to not attract the attention of others. We descend a level or two. We get a quick overview of these caves and what tradition tells us happened here: 1) Joseph’s dream of going to Egypt and 2) The
writing of the Vulgate…one of the earliest form of scripture as a collection. We exit quickly giving our thanks to the caretaker for letting us go in.
to the hotel. We do last minute changes and packing. We arrange the luggage for pick up. It is then that I again realize my time here is coming to an end. I love it here. I love the sense of urgency folks have in sharing the gospel to anyone
one and everyone. I love the unassuming love and grace that is given to friends and strangers. I love being drawn into their lives with a genuine attitude of caring and compassion. I already begin to miss that, and them.
But we press on. We have seen in the last few days a small piece of ground that has shown us the tan sands of dessert. We have seen the Mediterranean Sea offer up some lush green foliage tuck
in and around some pretty substantial hills and Tels. We will move, rather quickly, from an area where summer is represented by shrubs and flowering plants; to a space where anything green is going to be sparse and precious. The Hills will get taller. The
elevation will drop over 800 feet; and, everything will turn to stone paralleled by a large body of water of which practically nothing can grow in it or by it.
I am reminded just how much
I love quilts. You take a bunch of scrap pieces of fabrics, of all colors, shapes and backgrounds. They are placed side by side in an intricate pattern, pulled together and something amazing is created for all to see. That is exactly what God shows us in this
small space of the planet. God takes the vast differing landscapes and things that grow on each of them and weaves them together to create something beautiful for all the world to see. I think that is exactly what God is also trying to do with us. We human
beings are so different in ourselves and in our cultures. Not one of us is in every way the same as anybody else. Yet, I think says, now take those differences and stand them side by side, bonding each one with the one next to it. Now, something beautiful
can be made for all the world to see.
We stop in on the Qumran site and find it under major construction. Can’t wait to see what it to become of that. Still, the site is open and the
story is retold of the Hessians who set themselves apart from the rest of the world to make sure the Word of God is preserves for all to read and be changed. They write and re-write these words, placing them is stone jars and tuck them away in nearby caves
We drive by the En Gedi National Park. It is literally an oasis in the dessert. To look at it from the surface you wouldn’t think it matters much. However, if you
climb the rocks up and around a few levels and corners there lies a small pool of water being fed by a waterfall coming out of the dessert mountain. A person can walk even further up and around to find a second waterfall. Tradition tells
us that David might have hid here from Saul for a short time; and, that Elijah hides out here when he know that Jezebel has put a price on his head.
Our next stop is the Tel of Tels…Masada.
It is known for the group of Jewish zealots who wanted to outlast the Romans. When they see that is not going to happen, they draw straws for a small group of men to kill of all the others and then eventually even kill themselves. When the Roman Guards
get up to the top of Masada they find almost everyone dead and plenty of supplies of which those folks could have lived for a very long time. It was simply a matter of principle for these zealots who no longer were willing to live under
the rule and oppression of the Roman Empire.
It has turned out to be a very long and hot day. We go to only two sites and are already worn out. There is a rather large and complex Food Court
in the lower level of the Masada Guest Center. Each person is told to take their time, get whatever they want for lunch and relax. The Dead Sea Spa, where we are staying the night has called and let us know the rooms will be ready around 3 PM. We manage to
make lunch last until around 2:30 PM. We board the bus and arrive at the David Dead Sea Resort just before 3 PM. After some hospitality refreshments are offered, we are sent to our room with all the instructions need for those who want to float in the Dead
Sea, for those who want to venture around this hospitality driven establishment with Spa Pools, Swimming Pools, Exercise Rooms, Lounges, Eateries, Shops and Bars. Everyone is let loose to
enjoy our surroundings and take some time for ourselves.
Our rooms are spectacular. There are amazing views from every room. All the amenities are there for the taking. We will for one night
get to be a little spoiled. Sometimes you just need that in order to move on. Which we will do at 6 AM tomorrow morning.