Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Intermittent Months

(this blog was written in April. But I lost it. And just found it. And didn’t want it to go to waste)

It’s been a while.

As I was explaining to Sophie the other day, on the hour-long car ride to Muhaze,
I only write when I feel full of words.

Stories build up over time and then, in a few glorious moments (or hours), everything pours out, and I can’t type fast enough.
This presents a problem, however, when there are no words. When the stories feel stale, foggy or just plain uninteresting.

And this is the point where the faith of the storyteller is tested.

I know there will come a day when I don’t apologize for writing too many words; When I don’t have to search for the most startling incident to catch your attention. A day will come when the details of simple life, crafted gently, but not overworked, will be enough. Just enough.

I have a box full of stories. Things I have a lived through in the last 4 months. As much as I would like to write about today and forget the rest, I’d feel like a bad steward… or something like that… because I am lucky, so very lucky, (we are all so very lucky) to be living life and I count it a blessing to relive it all through writing.

So here I am, stomach down on my Rwandan foam mattress, listening to Kate Walsh and remembering…


On my way home from Africa for Christmas, I visited my friend, Emily, in Jordan. Emily is my travel soulmate. Over the next 2 weeks, there wasn’t a situation that didn’t leave us in stitches, slapping at eachother’s forearms, looking for something to hold on to, barely able to breathe… I think we wet our pants once our twice. There was something about the combination:
Arabic culture + Maggie + Emily = EVERYTHING is hysterical. Don’t ask me why.

We spent the first few days bumming around Jordan. Buying DVDs for a dollar, cooking macaroni and cheese I’d brought back from Africa (I thought it would be this huge surprise, only to find out that Jordan is naaat a third world country… ie they have mac and cheese), going to the Turkish bathouse (they scrub you and scrub you and scrub you… it’s amazing) and getting to know the feel of where my friend lives, alone, with a mosque next door that wakes her up at 5am every morning.
We decided to take a trip to Israel. To say it was hard to get in would be an understatement. Look it up somewhere else online, I feel weird talking about it here.

I don’t have words for this place. In the times I’ve tried to describe it since, I’ve used words like “Intense,” “Spiritually tumultuous” and “Bordering on creepy”. You could FEEL in the air (the way you can feel awkwardness at a social gathering) the centuries of religious tension and spiritual turmoil.

Nonetheless, it is magical place. Every rock has significance. The place where Jesus wept, the road he walked before his crucifixion, the shore where he cooked breakfast for the disciples (and where Peter, in his euphoria, jumped into the water to swim to Jesus).

We spend 2 days in Jerusalem and then took a bus up to Galilee. Our worst idea of the trip was biking “around” the sea of Galilee. We were told it was a 20 kilometer ride to Capernaum, and the sun was about 2 hours from setting. Great, we thought. Scenery, fresh air, exercise, is there a better way to sight-see?
Yes, there was.

3 hours later found us out of breath, out of energy, out of time and not yet to Capernaum. The road we were on had turned into a high was and the sea was no longer in sight. The Israeli-Jordanian border closed at 8pm and we HAD to be out by then. It was 7 and pitch black at this point. We tried waving down cars, but no one would stop. Two American girls hitchhiking at night in Israel = Probably not our best move of all time. We got frantic and started standing in the Road. Finally 2 women stopped. We explained our situation and they just said “sorry” and drove on. FINALLY, after about 30 cars had passed, a taxi driver with a bike rack on his roof pulled over. We had to talk him into it, but he finally agreed to take us back, 50 kilometers in the opposite direction, to the place where we’d first rented the bikes. In the 5 minutes we had before leaving, I scolded the man behind the counter for lying to us about the distance to Capernaum. I have a feeling this has happed before and will happen again.

We got to the border, just in time.

The next morning, we took a car to Syria. Emily was there for work, so I visited my friends, Benjamin and Christian who were living in a monastery outside of Damascus. Syria was also strange, and I feel strange writing about it. The people were beautiful, the food enchanting, but there was also something very hidden about the culture. Something I probably wouldn’t get after spending months or years there.

The next few days turned into a “tour of Syrian monasteries”. Those of you who know Christian and Benjamin won’t be surprised. It was amazing. My favorite monastery was out in the middle of the desert and used to be a Roman fortress. Like 20 miles from anything. We climbed one mile up stone stairs in complete darkness (save for Benjamin’s cell phone screen). The cold air burned in my chest and tears were streaming down my cheeks. But, thanks to Benjamin’s determination, we pressed on without pause, climbing the stairs, into the dark mountain.

We arrived at the gate and the candles lit the way into a tiny 1st- century chapel, insulated by carpets hanging in the doorway, filled with pilgrims and nuns in thick socks and fleeces.

A burly, robed and bearded man sat, cross-legged on the other side of the room. I don’t know how else to describe him but to say he was the closest thing to Jesus I’ve ever seen on this earth He looked at directly at with eyes that both welcomed and saw, knew and loved. “You are welcome” he said, interrupting his own liturgy. I sidled up against the stone wall as the tears continued to make their way from my cheeks to the carpet. It was an experience that goes beyond words or intellectual reflection. (Words, please? Anyone?) It was beautiful. It was otherworldly. I shared Eucharist with 20 people I’d never met (and 2 I had) in a cold ruin on the top of a mountain, in the middle of a desert, in a strange land. And it felt like home.

I think that’s how Christ intended it to be.

And that’s all for now.


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