by Mike Cassar
In the Holy Land, architectural landmarks pile up like geological sentiment. Here the Jebusites, there the Israelites. The Byzantines built that, the Babylonians destroyed this. The Crusaders stopped by, so did the Ottomans. They all did some things, and undid other things. Yesterday, for instance, we attended Mass at a Benedictine church built by the Crusaders some 800 years ago in present day Abu Gosh (for those trying to place Abu Gosh, its home to CNN Travel's 3rd best Kebab restaurant in the world. A curiously overlooked site of the Holy Land). The walls were decorated with the last fragments of frescoes that had survived Islamic refurbishing and centuries of wear. The faceless saints clung to stone walls that housed a beautiful Mass. It was a timeless celebration of the Eucharist- making Christ again present as the monks and nuns solemnly chanted in recognition of the sacrifice taking place.
Due to the visit of WWE Hall-of-Famer (or as you may know him as, President) Donald Trump, we were forced to change our plans today and head away from Jerusalem and, like the wandering Israelites, head towards the desert (albeit, with an air-conditioned bus and wi-fi). We breathlessly rushed through sites trying to get to everything. We ran through Tel Beer Shevaa UNESCO world heritage site that contains the ruins of thousands of years of history and is associated with Abraham's treaty with Abimelech (Gen. 20). We also visited a well that may have been the well that Abraham dug (although the museum guide who showed us the well hedged quite a bit on the historical reliability of such claims). The museum presentation included a 3-D video on Abraham. To me, there seemed to be something chronologically disorienting about watching the story of Abraham in 3-D: a bit like exploring the ruins of Avdatan abandoned Nabatean cityand then stopping by the McDonald's next door for lunch (which we happily did). In addition, I reflected, how am I to relate to Abraham and other the other Old Testament figures of our patrimony when they are culturally foreign, often psychologically opaque, and refracted through unfamiliar literary genres? The same thought came to mind again as we stood on a bluff looking down on the spot of David and Goliath's contest. I saw a road with passing cars and a green house.
Praying with the Old Testament is harder for me than praying with the New Testament. It does not take much to be moved by the sacrificial love of Christ, but the Sacred Writers of the Old Testament are not always as immediately engaging to us (or maybe just me?). Perhaps, though, the difficulty in penetrating the world of the patriarchs is a special indicator of God's wide-ranging love and providence. He does not only speak to people of my milieu, nor did he wait for the advent of the scientific method to make himself known. He broke into history to form a special relationship with the Jewish people whose history and lived experience helped to reveal God to the world. God worked before the axial age as steadily as after. All the upheavals, triumphs, joys, and tragedies of history were under the guidance of His providence. He understands when we cannot, he loves perfectly when it's difficult for us, and he speaks in dialects that are occasionally strange to our ears, but perfectly poetic to others. Through it all, I surmised, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is working to gather the world to himself.
Mike CassarMike Cassar is a second-year theologian studying for the Diocese of Lansing.