Friday, December 28, 2012

On the Way
by Fred & Gloria Strickert

We are sitting in the waiting lounge at Ben Gurion airport with a few minutes to catch our breath before our departure as we head on our way.

Catching our breath after another event-filled few weeks commemorating Christmas in the Holy Land, a time also filled with a range of emotions, worshipping in solemn candlelight, celebrating together at joyful Christmas parties, and sad, teary-eyed goodbyes.

Catching our breath after two and a half years of meaningful service accompanying the local Christians and ministering to others who are sojourning here in various capacities from short-term assignments, volunteer work, and study, to pilgrims and tourists who touch down for a brief moment and who then go on their ways.  It seems like we just arrived yesterday, but we hit the ground running and have been sprinting through our days here.  And it's come to an end much too quickly.

We go on our way, not really knowing where we are going nor knowing what comes next in our lives, other than spending some precious time with family in Iowa and North Carolina, and really taking the time to catch our breath.  No deadlines, no expectations, no pressure of "to do" lists, just being on the way.

Today is December 28, Holy Innocents Day on our calendars--the day commemorating the deaths of the children in Bethlehem when self-centered rulers demonstrated their lack of tolerance and their exclusivistic world view, while Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus were forced to flee Bethlehem and to go on their way.

The Evangelist Matthew made a connection with the biblical matriarch Rachel, described as weeping for her children--Rachel who, on the way to Bethlehem, died in childbirth and was buried on the way (how odd that the Genesis writer mentioned twice that she was on the way).

We've had a fascination with the story of Rachel since our mid-nineties year-long sojourn in Bethlehem when we watched Rachel's Tomb being transformed from a memorial for travelers from all religious expressions, all nationalities, and all ethnic groups (pilgrim reports demonstrated that Christians, Muslims, and Jews worshipped there together for nearly two thousand years).  This varied group found a welcome at Rachel's Tomb where they would pause for prayer before they continued on their ways.  Then in the mid-nineties it was being transformed with high walls, watchtowers, and soldier guards into an exclusive fortress for one group of persons, at the expense of others.  If you want to understand the situation here, this is paradigmatic, where security, control, power and land have taken the place of God and where respect for the other is disappearing. 

Fred's 2007 book--Liturgical Press

Martin Luther suggested that Rachel was a paradigm of faith because she was never quite there at her goal, never possessing, never controlling, never fixed to one particular place, but always on her way. That's the essence of the Genesis story:
  • as Rachel is introduced at the well near Haran, the meeting place for people on the way;
  • as Rachel is on the way to marriage;
  • as Rachel is on the way to children;
  • as Rachel is on the way to the land:
  • as Rachel dies on the way to Bethlehem; and
  • as Rachel is buried on the way.
So the real Rachel seems to be the ideal patron saint for the strangers of this world, those on their way, such as her own son Joseph carried unexpectedly off to Egypt, as the exiles heading to Babylon, and to the Holy Family heading to a place of refuge where God's angel would guide them.  Her empathy for the other, whoever that person may be, pours forth in her tears.

So here we are in the early morning hours of December 28 pausing to reflect as we go on our way.

And we find ourselves thinking less about where we are going than about those we leave behind in Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem.  Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  Pray for the Christians who continue steadfast in their faith and witness.

Thank you for sharing with us in our Walk in Jerusalem--even though it did seem more like running.  Thank you for taking time to read our stories about life in this place as we have had the privilege of being in accompaniment with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. 

And now they're calling our flight.  We're on our way. . .

Fred & Gloria Strickert