DAY 6 Part 2       Through the Vale of tears, a place of springs..the pilgrim ascent to Zion              Psalm 84:6,7

Now on foot, we make our way through palm and olive groves to cascading falls where we sit and rest, our feet dangling in the pool of cool spring waters. Who would have imagined a place as beautiful as Ein Gedi could possibly exist – a veritable Eden – hidden away in the heart of the wilderness?

Hans has found his pulpit on a rock above us and commands our attention: “Only in the desert does God reveal himself in intimacy.” A lesson in Hebrew etymology follows. MIDVAR, Hebrew word for desert, wasteland, or open, un-fenced “pasture-ground”, actually refers to the land between Egypt and the “Promised Land” – the “backside” of the desert, i.e., the western region behind a person , as opposed to what lies before a person when he is properly oriented toward God (East). In other words, it symbolizes the spiritual condition of a person or people who have forsaken God, and so, a place of trial, temptation and persecution, a place of despair. It is precisely here that Moses, after 40 years of shepherding sheep in the wilderness, while contemplating his confused and aimless life under the shadow of Mount Horeb (desolation), has a face to face personal experience with God in the Burning Bush (Exod.3) – the place of desolation is the place of revelation! A hint of this profound spiritual truth can be gleaned by closer attention to what is contained in the kernel of the word. Hans goes on: “DAVAR , is the root of MIDVAR. Usually it signifies a ‘Thing’, but it can also mean ‘Word’, the formative principle that creates and reveals the arrangement of and order in things. In the ancient Hebrew way of thinking, ‘words’ are ‘things’ as real as food, perhaps more real. Words are placed in the ear as food is in the mouth.” Is this what Jesus was getting at in his after dinner conversation about loaves and fish and proper dining etiquette (John 6)? But there’s more. “The Hebrew name DEVORAH, the feminine form of DAVAR means Bee. Bees are a community of insects which live in a perfectly ordered arrangement.  MIDVAR, which initially appears an empty, trackless wasteland, upon closer scrutiny reveals a place existing as a perfectly arranged eco-system in balance and harmony. God places Israel in MIDVAR to teach balance, order, harmony, Shalom.” This Rabbinical way of reasoning is a bit obscure, but just the same makes sense. So then, the place in which we experience confusion, disorder and chaos – the true condition of our own soul – is the place of healing and restoration and God’s gracious provision: MIDVAR. A whole host of Biblical texts and stories come to mind: Moses, who receives the TORAH , the sum of God’s teaching ( the first five books of the Old Testament) during the 40 years of Israel`s wandering in the desert; David, the anointed-to-be-king, fleeing from the black rage of envious Saul, in sober self-reflection and examination, discovers His Rock and Fortress, the God of his salvation (psm 57); the Valley of Achor that becomes the Door of Hope (Hosea 2); Isaiah’s poetic descriptions of wilderness transformation; Jesus’ 40 day trial and refreshment in the wilderness….

But now Hans has our attention again as he speaks personally of how a hornet sting and ensuing chronic condition of extreme muscular inflammation led him into a dark and desolate desert chapter of his life (one year) where he was brought face to face with his deepest and paralyzing fears. [ Hornets in Holy Scripture are God’s messengers sent to drive out the enemy from the land/soul – see Exod.23:28, Deut.7:20, Josh.24:12] His words speak directly to me. I know the place – the struggles and wrestlings in the abyss of the soul –and am strangely comforted. It is a profound moment, the quiet, intense, pregnant with the presence of God. And then suddenly we are overwhelmed by a bevy of beautiful young girls who emerge from behind the rock and plunge into the pool before us, dancing and singing, their faces radiant & alive. The air is filled with laughter. How intoxicating and freeing is the sound of children’s laughter! These girls, all dressed in school uniform, are probably here as part of their Bat mitzvah preparation. The verse of David:“…And thou shalt give them drink of thy pleasures as out of the river. For with thee is the well of life; and in thy light we shall see light.” (Psm 36:6-7) ring in my ears. Perhaps the very words they are singing. We are reluctant to leave, but Raffi, our Jewish tour guide, reminds us we are on pilgrimage and there are yet other treasures to behold and delights to savour before we reach the heights of Jerusalem tonight.

In no time, we are transported to the edge of the Dead Sea to experience the curative properties of salt, water and mud. Elaine, with the heart of a Good Samaritan, spends most of her time extricating fellow bathers from the mud while I stretch out on the water, relax, and gaze upward into the heavens. The fresh water showers on the beach leave one feeling thoroughly re-invigorated. (Only in our hotel later that evening does E notice how swollen are her arms and legs  – a reminder that on a wilderness journey water is essential as air -The spiritual analogue is not lost to us.)

Minutes stretch into hours as the sun declines into the west and the canopy of blue deepens invitingly. There will be no dust devils today! At length we are underway and making the steep ascent through the gorge along the Jericho Path to the mountain heights above. Our plan is to build an altar of prayer and make holy Eucharist with the Lord. But a wrong turn adds minutes to our journey and we arrive as dusk is rapidly falling. There is a scarcity of rocks about; the living sacrifice of our souls and bodies will suffice. The table is quickly laid, and there, on the rocky crag, with the lights of Jericho twinkling in the distance, we celebrate the Communion of the Lord, in humility, and with gratitude to the One who will remove, stone by stone, the wall of fear our pride has built, and baptize us in the sea of His love.

The “Mass” is over! With great speed we make the final ascent to Zion, jubilant and expectant, singing:

“I was glad when they said unto me, ‘We will go unto the house of the Lord.’

Behold, our feet now stand within thy gates, O Jerusalem.” Psm 122:1-2