July 3, Sunday, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Michael Marmur, Arie Ben David

At 7:30 a.m. we left for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to attend Sunday Services.  I have never seen the Old City so deserted.  When we arrived at the square at the entrance to the church I was greatly surprised to find it empty, and so I persuaded a passerby to take a picture of our group in front of the church.

Once inside we found the church deserted.  This was the first time I have everwalked into the church and was able to walk into the tomb of Jesus without standing in line.  So I had to take a picture of the place, where according to tradition Jesus lay in the tomb.  Within fifteen minutes of our arrival, the Coptic Church began its Sunday morning liturgy.  Their little tiny corner of the Church is at the back side of the tomb.  I was able to grab a video of part of their liturgy that went on for over 2 hours, so as to be able to record their chanting mingled in with the pealing of the bells that signaled the beginning of the Greek Orthodox procession to their very large and ornate chapel opposite the entrance to the structure that represents the tomb.  We have to remember that in order to build the church, the Byzantines quarried away most of the rock that made up the rock of Golgotha and the place where the tomb was where Jesus was laid.  So now there is only a wooden structure to represent the tomb.

This was the first time I have had an opportunity to experience the liturgies in the church not as a member of a tour group.  I had the leisure to stand and take in the incense, the sights, the sounds, to reflect and pray.  Though it was all quite foreign to my own relatively stripped down protestant tradition, and though all of the liturgies were conducted in languages I did ot understand, I was still surrounded by a sense of mystery and devotion.  While I was listening to the Coptic liturgy the desk clerk from our Hotel came to worship with the small group of Copts who were gathered.  He greeted me and explained that his mother was Roman Catholic and his father was a Copt, and he had chosen the Coptic way.  Knowing one of the worshippers enhanced my sense of being a part of the worship. (See video posts following.)

Ray Dunmyer attended the Roman Catholic Mass in a smaller and less ornate Chapel than the Greek Orthodox.  The Priest who said the Mass was a Korean Friar who performed the liturgy in Spanish.  The Franciscans are the custodians of the Catholic sites in the Holy Land.  The priest took his time, but since there was no choir, no homily or other embellishments the Mass was only 40 minutes.

The Greek Orthodox service was long, very ornate, very formal, lots and lots of incense.  We attended for a while, but then left the chapel in order to witness the procession of the Armenian Priests (see video).  Their entrance was proceeded by two major domos wearing fezzes and using ornate canes they stamped on the floor to announce the coming of the priests.  The tourists were held back from the tomb to make way for the priests who went inside to perform their devotions before coming out and proceeding up stairs to a chapel where they hold their service.

Such a dazzling array of sights, sounds, smells, we left and walked into the bright sunshine to return to gather together as the Jaffa gate.  On our way we stopped at the Lutheran Church built by Kaiser Wilhelm.  A small congregation was worshipping in Arabic.  A little girl who reminded me of my daughter Jennifer at the age of about three caught my attention.  She came over and had her picture taken.  After about fifteen minutes, we had to continue making our way to the Jaffa gate, so we could proceed to our appointment at the Hebrew Union College.

From the Jaffa Gate we cross over the road into a new very expensive shopping mall.  And as we made our way through the shops we notice sculpture on display for sale.  The very last piece of sculpture was a marvelous rendering of the sacrifice of Isaac, the angel holding the lamb in one arm as it stayed Abraham’s hand with the knife with the other.  The sign said for sale, but there was no price.  If you had to ask, you couldn’t afford it.

We were met at the Hebrew Union college by Michael Marmur the Vice-President for Academic Affairs.  He introduced himself and then proposed a Torah Study based on the text from Numbers 12:8 about seeing and hearing God.  In this passage Miriam and others are criticizing Moses.  Like most pastors Moses was the subject of continual criticism.  They are arguing with Moses claiming that they too have seen God.  But God then rebukes them saying that no one has seen the Holy One like Moses for with Moses I speak mouth to mouth and he beholds my divine presence.  Mouth to mouth a divine kiss echoing Genesis 2 where God breathes into Adam the breath of life.

What does seeing mean?  In every day life we talk say, “I am seeing a girl,” or “I am seeing a therapist.”  We mean more than the physical act of taking in light with our eyes.  We are talking about perception and all of the internal lenses and filters through which we perceive.  We spent time with some Midrashic texts that discussed the “speculums” through which we perceive the world.  In the Talmud the scholars speculated that the prophets saw elaborate images of God, because they were looking through their own particular speculums, but that Moses was unique, because when he perceived God, he saw “no thing.”

Michael Marmur also lifted up the text from I Corinthians when Rabbi Paul talks about seeing as if in an imperfect reflecting surface dimly, but when the Messiah comes, we shall see face to face.  The prisms through which we see reality are like veils that make our vision of things and especially the divine imperfect, sometimes even opaque.  Every once in a while some of the veils may part, and we behold a glimpse of divine truth.

As seekers of divine truth we always have to ask the question, “am I striving to see God, or am I in love with my own reflection.”

Mostly profoundly we need to understand that ethics, that according to Maimonides may be the foundation of clear spiritual insight, begins when we can see the face of the other.  How many times do we really see the homeless person, or our enemy?  It is the people we don’t see who are the measure of our success or failure in seeing God.

Marmur offered a further insight when he said, “we are caught in a loop when we say all things are relative including the preceding statement.”

We talked about the problem of trying to see one another and hear one another in interfaith dialogue.  And unless we can accept a certain amount of pluralism, we cannot see and hear the other.  One of the problems in trying to dialogue with the Jihadists is that by the time someone is strapping on a suicide belt, the time for theological reflection is over.  But of necessity we must continue to work together in community theological discussion because I must be interested in what you see, because I can only see with my own eyes.  None of us get to see reality as it really is.  Even internally we see life from different perspectives.  We have to use two eyes in order to have depth perception.  In the same way we have a right brain and a left brain, and unless we are using both functions, our reality is shallow, we have no depth of understanding.  Sometimes we need more than one pair of eyes, more than one perception of the divine to begin to appreciate the richness of the experience of God.

Jonathan contributed an insight from Arthur Green who we met in Boston.  In post-modern times to be singular and non-pluralistic is to miss the vision.

Michael Marmur graciously gave us a tour of the Hebrew Union Campus.  It is a beautiful facility.  And then we made our way toward the YMCA to have lunch.  The Jerusalem Y is a beautiful building that was founded to be a place to where representatives of many different cultural groups can come together to seek peace.  It is a laudable mission, but very difficult in the present atmosphere.  After lunch we walked about six blocks back to the Scottish Hospice, where we found Arie Ben David waiting for us.

Arie is originally from Scarsdale New York.  He grew up secular.  Quite to the surprise of his parents, when he finished undergraduate work he wanted to become a Reform Rabbi.  So he began studies at Hebrew Union College, and his first year was at the Jerusalem campus.  He never left Israel.  He did decide that if he was serious about Judaism, he should become Orthodox, and so after many years of study he became a progressive Orthodox Rabbi and taught in a yeshiva.  After several years of teaching he decided that something was missing in his spiritual life, and he realized that he while he knew the law, he was lacking a personal relationship with God.  He began a new quest three years ago to examine the personal encounter with God.

When Jews sit down to talk God is ever on the list of subjects.  Why?  Because Jews are intelligent successful people and when they try to talk about God they sound like third graders.  Jews are trapped in their heads, and have difficulty relating God to the heart.  Jews also have a lot of baggage about God from the Holocaust.  If God really cares, and if you can have a personal relationship with God, where was God during the Holocaust.  Personally relating to God is also scary.  Thus Jews have lost Tevye’s ability to talk to God.

What Arie has discovered in the last three years is that the experience of the divine is a state of doing.  Prayer is not the goal.  The goal is to live in relationship with God.  We become one with God, when we a line our will with God’s will.  We can become one in our relationship with each other, when we both a line our will’s with God’s will.

of us has a role in the healing of the world.  Think of the beloved community of God as a symphony.  The conductor of the orchestra is the Messiah, and each one of us have a unique note to play in the symphony.

How do we do this?  Learn, pray, and have a mentor to discover your purpose.  What does God want from me?  The path God wants for us is seldom the path we would choose for ourselves.  What we want for ourselves is comfort, while God wants us to change the world.  Like Abraham we have to listen to God’s voice even when we don’t know where we are going.  Listening to God, the inner voice makes us authentic.  My souls is always singing or whispering to me.  The experience of the divine is doing what we are supposed to be doing at the moment.  Living in the image of God is the experience of God.

And what gets in the way?  We are busy.  Too busy to listen.  Too busy to really stop and see our neighbor.  Too busy to pray.  Too busy to live in God’s presence.

How do I become a more loving person?  I need to pray three times a day, in my own words.  Ann Lamot says there are only three authentic prayers, Arie adds a fourth:  Yes!  Please, please, please!  I need help!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!

We also need soul mates, spiritual partners who can help us on the spiritual path.  Since Arie has been walking the path of personal encounter with God and a spiritual partner, his son says, “You are a much better abba.”  Spiritual partners are people with whom we can talk from our hearts.  God wants our hearts, but we get stuck in our heads.  Material success is not the answer, but we have an approach avoidance problem with embracing the heart.

Israel has been described as “start-up nation,” but what if we became “soulful nation.”

Spiritual paths all go in the same direction, but they don’t all get to the same place.  Judaism is intended to be the inner chamber or the rudder of the ship.  We are small, but we are intended to help give direction to the nations.  We are chosen to be a model nation, but most Jews have forgotten the mission.  Israel is a microcosm of the world.

Religion is for people who are afraid of Hell.  Spirituality is for people who have been there.  People have to have experienced struggle to become spiritual.  Being spiritual means being called to serve.  In our present materialistic age we need to help people learn that getting and keeping will not make you happy.  The more you give the more you serve the happier you will be.

At the end of our discussion Arie talked about where he lives, Ephrata, which is a settlement inside Palestinian Territory.  He expressed the belief that the land belongs to Israel, and he cannot see a solution to the problem between Arabs and Israelis in his life time.

In the evening we were invited to dinner with David and Ariel Morrison.  David was a psychiatrist in Birmingham and moved to Israel almost 20 years ago.  He was originally a Reform Jew, and since coming to Israel has become Orthodox.  His wife Ariel was fascinating.  She had a profound religious experienced at the age of 9 and really became a spiritual seeker on a long and involved journey that took her from the Episcopal Church to Conservative Judaism and ordination as a Rabbi and then to Israel.  After coming to Israel she and her mixed race son converted to Orthodox Judaism.  She has been a teacher and counselor, Jungian, and I was interested to find out she is friends with Tzippi Moss with whom I had dinner upon arriving in Israel.  Tzippi is a Jungian therapist, and Ariel was a teacher of Tzippi and Allan’s daughter Sarah.  Ariel served us a wonderful meal, and after much conversation we returned to our hotel, which is why I did not get this posted last night.

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