On the Banks of the Jordan River
On a recent trip to Israel, I had an “aha moment.” I was in Upper Galilee with my friends when we stopped at the Jordan River. While this wasn’t anywhere close to where John the Baptist reportedly baptized Jesus, it was close enough for me.
I felt compelled to touch the water, but in order to do so, I had to lay down on the ground and reach my hand into the water. One of my friends wanted to take a picture of me with the water in my hand so I had to turn my body toward the camera. As I did so, I looked down into my shirt pocket in time to see my glasses slide out of my pocket and into the water only to disappear. I felt my stomach sink. For the rest of the trip, I would have to see Israel in a blur.
Immediately though, my friend Henry said he could see them, and he promptly took his shoe off and began to reach down into the water with his foot.
“Henry,” I said, “the water is too murky. You cannot possible see them.”
It was clear to me that he couldn’t see my glasses, yet he insisted that he did. As his foot settled on the riverbed, my glasses miraculously slid right into his toes. He grabbed them and lifted his foot out of the water with my glasses between his toes. I would be able to see clearly again.
For the rest of the trip, I held onto my glasses tightly. In my mind’s eye, I reimagined them falling out of my pocket into the water and seeing Henry pull them out of the water.
To me, this experience is a metaphor for how we experience the world. We get excited and reach for something we think is important only to have it unexpectedly turn in a way, signaling disaster. Then, with little expectation of success, what seems miraculous happens, and, as a result, we see more clearly than we did just moments earlier.
The rest of my trip to Israel was peppered with learning about the never-ending conflict between the Palestinians and the Israelis: The constant threat from Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza strip, with the Iran always poised to strike.
We visited a Palestinian refugee camp that has been in place since 1948. Even the Palestinian Authority seems to forget about them.
But at every point where I felt confused and wanted to throw my hands up, there were bright rays of hope:
There was IsraAID, which helps Muslim refugees in the Mediterranean Sea fleeing the Syrian War.
We were introduced to a charity that creates meaningful work for elderly Russian Jews who have immigrated to Israel.
We encountered a hospital that repairs congenital heart defects in children from all over the world.
We observed a workshop that helps Arab Israeli women find productive work and empowers then when they feel trapped.
And on and on.
This past weekend, eleven people were killed in a Pittsburg synagogue for no reason other than that they are Jewish. Not their political beliefs, not for anything they have done, just because of who they are.
While in Israel, I visited Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust Museum. It is powerful and overwhelmingly troubling. It reminds you that six million Jews were killed just for being Jewish. And yet, there remains within the Jewish spirit a desire for love to define who we are and the ceaseless drive to repair the hurt of the world.
Now that I am home and have my glasses again, I pray that I will see clearly that love is the way of God. Fear and hate surround all around us. Now more than ever, I stand with my Jewish friends both because of what they believe and stand for, but also just because they are Jews.
My experience in Israel recommitted me to the work I do in Memphis at Church Health. I know that the people we encounter in our clinic have stories every bit as moving as the ones I saw in Israel.
While on my trip to Israel, I also visited sites where Jesus walked – Capernaum, Nazareth, Jerusalem. But they did less for me, because I know that I find Jesus today right here in Memphis amidst the daily struggles of our city. I know I will see and follow Jesus by staying the course of our work here. The experience and reflection have breathed new zeal into me.
I have also ordered a second pair of glasses in case the ones I have fall out of my pocket again…and Henry is not there to save them.