Thursday, February 9, 2012

Treasures in the hills

It's hard to decide just what to blog about; there are so many moments and sights here in Jerusalem that I'd like to share! As a student of linguistics, I treasure words, but must admit that at the end of the day, they are no replacement for the feeling of the afternoon breeze or the smell of spices wafting through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. My words can't accurately describe the accents of my Jewish professor or Arab shopkeeper friend. I can't describe the vastness of the hilly Judean landscape viewed from the Old City ramparts (or our campus roof!) on a clear, sunny day. Nevertheless, I believe that words are a gift, and even if they can't ultimately do justice to the "real thing," they have a wonderful power that shouldn't be wasted. With that in mind...

By now, I have begun to feel more familiar with the streets of the Old City (which, by the way, I was somewhat wrong about in a previous post -- they are not all just fit for foot traffic. Several are fairly wide -- I just didn't realize it during the day when the shopkeeper's merchandise spills out from inside their shops to crowd the alleys! Additionally, there are several more open areas than I realized. The more I explore, the more I learn...). I have begun to form friendships with students from all over the States and world, and I love and admire each of my professors already. Last weekend, I walked the ramparts of the Old City with a group of friends, and had my breath taken away by some fabulous views of Jerusalem and the surrounding land -- high hills, densely packed with houses from valley to peak. The ramparts standing today were constructed by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century or so, but the base of the wall is older, and sometimes one can even see original bedrock! One of the most exciting slabs of stone that I have laid eyes on so far is from Herodian times -- it's a pair of stone gates just a minute from JUC that led into Jerusalem. Jesus -- and countless others -- very well may have passed in or out of them. Here they are, in fact (the two center slabs):

This past Sunday was our second "field study" for a mandatory course here at JUC -- "Physical Settings," which is a fun (and mind-blowing) exploration of historical geography. On field study days, we leave campus for the day to study on location in a certain region or city in the country, tracing biblical events, characters, and texts as we go and taking looks at archaeological excavations. It's truly experiential learning, as they call it, and so far, it's been simply incredible. I can't express how much deeper understanding I feel I've already acquired of certain biblical texts. I'll share an example from the Psalms that was particularly meaningful to me, but take a look at the photo first:

This is a view of the Judean hills surrounding Jerusalem from the City of David National Park; if you take a look at a map of Jerusalem, this is on the eastern side of the city, not far from the Temple Mount (the photo faces south). The valley running through the photo on the left side is the Kidron Valley, and the settlement on the left hill in the foreground is an Arab town called Silwan.

From a rooftop in the park, our group read a portion of Psalm 121: "I lift my eyes to the hills -- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth" [121:1-2, NIV]. If David penned these words (it's likely he did), he may have been a little lower on the hill than this (archaeologists have identified a possible location for David's palace lower down), looking up at these very hills. In our field study we asked: what does the psalmist mean -- and feel -- when he lifts his eyes to the hills? It's likely that he had enemy troops in mind! Jerusalem is not actually on the highest peak in the immediately surrounding region -- how frightening it would have been to think of enemy archers shooting across the Kidron Valley at you on the hillside. I can't imagine how terrifying it would be, in fact -- I am so far removed in time and space from that culture. In the midst of this very practical fear, however, David commits to trusting the Lord.

That's amazing in itself, but here's something that made it even more amazing to me: Psalm 125. Here the psalmist says, "As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore" [125:2, NIV]. This is striking, because here the author uses the very same concept (the hills) to illustrate a completely different understanding of the land! Rather than feeling fear, he emphasizes how closely -- almost protectively -- the hills surround Jerusalem. As the hills envelope Jerusalem, the Lord embraces his people. What a powerful image.

There are so many treasures in these hills.

I have studied the connection between God, people, and "the land" for five semesters -- now I am beginning to see a bit of the intimacy of that connection. I can't express how much I wish anyone who wanted to could experience this -- that's the tough part of all this. Already, I am thinking about how I will ever "translate" what I experience here into the world I know back in America. The land and people are teaching me so much as I get to know them better and love them more... I don't know what else to say other than that I know I am blessed, and hope not to forget it. 


  1. Oh Chelsea, thank you for sharing such a feast of "visual" writings (and pictures). I know I will never see these sites until I see the "New Jerusalem" but I so pleased that at this point in your life God has given you this experience. Take in everything that He has for you each day and store it up in your heart. He is giving you these experiences so that you can bring glory and honor to him through your life. Keeping you close in prayer, love, Kate

  2. Thanks so much for your words. I hope my heart has room TO store all of it! Sometimes it doesn't feel like there's room. I can't wait to see what God does with these experiences in my own future and in the future of my peers here... WoW, that's an incredible thought. Thanks for keeping up.