Monday, January 30, 2012

The gates around the Old City; these were constructed during the Ottoman Empire and remain the borders today. We walk up and down this road each time we travel to and from the Old City. Wow!
One of the entrances to JUC's gardens -- home to a variety of vegetation, including grapes, roses, pomegranates, kumquats, and cypress trees.
A partial view of Jerusalem from JUC's roof on a sunny day -- from Mt. Zion, JUC overlooks the Hinnom Valley. The main street running through the photo is Hebron Road. 
The main courtyard of the campus. The "floor" is made of smooth limestone, which can be a little slippery during rainy season. 
Front entrance of JUC -- a campus with a lot of history! At one point, some of its walls may have been a section of the wall enclosing the Old City, and in periods during the 20th century the campus buildings served as an army base for the IDF [Israeli Defense Force].

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem [Psalm 122:2]

My feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.
…Wow. It’s incredible to be here, and I am so excited for the semester ahead!

The university is located just outside the Old City, a walled enclosure of some of the most ancient areas left of Jerusalem – this includes the Temple Mount with the Western Wailing Wall (the only wall of the Temple’s platform left standing when the Romans sacked the city in A.D. 70) as well as the Muslim Dome of the Rock. JUC [Jerusalem University College] is just a few minutes’ walk from Jaffa Gate, a western gate into the old city that guides us just between the Christian and Armenian quarters as we enter. From my bedroom window I can see a portion of the skyline of the new city – the more developed, modern part of Jerusalem. The lights are beautiful at night, and as I looked out this morning I could see the warm sunlight painting the sides of the buildings from the east as the sun rose. 

It is difficult to comprehend being in this place, because the land holds so much history, some of which has “carried on” through continuity in language and culture, but much of which is hidden by layers of historical phases and the face of modern culture. Flying into Tel Aviv was my first experience with trying to wrap my mind around being here…

As we descended through the misty clouds (it is rainy season in Israel), I scanned the window across the aisle, searching for any signs of the land below. I closed my eyes momentarily, and the next time I opened them, there it was below: the modern city of Tel Aviv. In biblical times, this was Joppa, a port city along the coast. So many international traders, travel parties, and military excursions passed through this area, but not in the form of the city that I saw below. This city was new, sprawling, and extensive; as I surveyed the ground which rose so quickly to meet us as we descended, I tried to envision the land as it once was. Much was left to imagination.

I thought about the selection of reading I’d done that day – during my time here, I am reading Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbath. Heschel was a 20th century Jewish scholar and writer, and though his native language is not English, his essays and books flow like poetry. In his first chapter, “Architecture of Time,” Heschel comments on the relationship between humanity’s treatment of space and time: humanity, he says, has enhanced its power in the world primarily through the spatial realm, and since we don’t have as firm a hold on the nature of time (abstract, eternal, and fleeting all at once!), we don’t know how to acknowledge or handle it. “We must not forget,” Heschel writes, “that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.”

I thought about this in light of Tel Aviv, and in light of the land that lay sprawled around me as the plane touched ground. It was comforting to be reminded that I don’t have to depend on space alone to offer significance – I didn’t have to feel something transformational or life-changing as soon as I had my first glimpse of the land, because the things of the land – buildings, borders, markers – have changed incredibly over the years. It is not that the space doesn’t have significance – it does, but because of moments of history that remain eternal despite the shifting nature of the spatial realm. In this way, as much as space holds significance – and it does – significance is ultimately something we must carry in our hearts. The rocks and buildings won’t recall all of their history; it is up to us to remember the significance that comes with time, and, I think, to be transmitters of that.

P.S. Photos will be posted soon if/when possible! Uploading pictures has proven to be a slow (and potentially undependable!) process so far… 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Time to take a walk

As many of you know, I will be spending this spring semester studying abroad in Israel. When the possibility of studying abroad became the plan in fall 2011, I was blown away by how many people in my college and home community were excited with and for me. Several of my friends asked if I would be blogging while I was there. This blog, then, is for me and for you. It is for me as a tool for reflecting on my time and capturing memories, and it is for you because I want the meaning of my experience to reach beyond myself.  

I have heard the Holy Land termed the “fifth Gospel” – that is, another testimony that brings God’s and Jesus’ work to life through geography, topography, geology, culture, language, archaeology… The list goes on. Israel today is a culturally diverse, linguistically saturated, politically complex, and historically rich environment. As I look forward to taking part in this, I am excited about daily experiences like feeling the dirt of the land under my feet, studying on-location in different regions, bartering in markets, chatting with and learning from Jews, Muslims, and Christians, building friendships with my peers, professors, and local shop-owners, and soaking up sunsets over Jerusalem. I am also expecting to have my heart broken and challenged as I continue to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reflect on years past and think about the years ahead. Whatever my glimpse of this “fifth Gospel” is to be, I would be honored to share it with you.

A note about my blog: I chose its title with the Hebraic metaphor of walking with God in mind; when the Hebrew Scriptures describe the patriarchs’ relationship with God, it is often said that they “walked with God.” To me, this paints a picture of intimacy, of a journey, and a keeping of pace – with his spirit and purposes. As I come into contact with the tangibility of this “fifth Gospel” – this terrain that I (a Biblical Studies major and Linguistics minor) have studied from a distance through the lenses of textbooks, photographs, commentaries, articles, and lectures – I want to continue to discover what it means to walk with God.

I leave tomorrow (Jan 26th), and with that I want to say “thank you” – to friends who have rejoiced with me and encouraged me; to members of my family who have supported my decision and provided for me; to professors who have brought the Scriptures to life for me and have helped prepare my mind and heart for this semester; for anyone in these groups who has taken time to pray for me; and to God, who I believe walked with our forefathers and to this day invites us to keep pace with him.

…Time to take a walk!

P.S. As I will have limited Internet in Israel and do not plan on using Facebook extensively during my time there, my e-mail and this blog will be the best ways to stay in touch.