We’ve had several more enlightening, exciting, and scorching days in Israel.
Yesterday started with a tour of the Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine in the Old City of Jerusalem. Muslims believe that this was the site of Muhammad's ascension into heaven. Interestingly, this holy site of Islam sits on the Temple Mount, an area where the Jewish temple used to stand before its destruction in 70 A.D.
As we entered the Temple Mount area, we were approached by a guard who inspected our group for admittance. Suddenly and unexpectedly, he pointed at me, my dad, and our friend Suzanne and rattled off some angry-sounding Hebrew words. He was motioning to his arms and knees and looking upset. (Let me add that having an angry Arab man talking about me was not the most comfortable feeling I’ve had in my life.) The guide then translated and told us that the guard thought that we were dressed immodestly.
My dad and I looked at each other in disbelief. I mean, yeah, we all know that my dad wears some pretty short and somewhat disturbing running shorts...but that is only when he is running. Yesterday, he was wearing knee-length khaki shorts and a polo. And I was hardly a sexy Marilyn Monroe...I was wearing a frumpy, Old Navy t-shirt and a knee-length skirt. To make matters even more confusing, everyone in our group was dressed exactly like us! Almost all of the men (including the guide) were wearing long shorts, and the women were all wearing short-sleeved shirts. (Remember, it's over 100 degrees!)
Well, for some reason, us Westovers were on the guard’s immodesty radar, and he escorted us to a stall where we could purchase (at extremely overpriced rates) some coverings for our provocative arms and legs:
I must say, if the guard was trying to prevent us from looking sexy, he should not have recommended that shawl for my dad. Dad looks even better in a man-sarong than he does in shorts! (Just wait until I tell Deborah!) In fact, I was so taken with his new look that I insisted he pose for a couple of glamour shots. This is what he came up with:
After the tour, our group members were all chuckling about the fact that we got targeted for being immodest when they were dressed exactly like us. One of the ladies said, “Well, I guess this means that Rachel and Suzanne have the sexiest arms of all of us. I mean, maybe the guard looked at them, and those arms were just too much for him.”
Since I have been somewhat concerned lately about my ever-floppier “church chorister” arms, I was quite pleased with that explanation! :)
The whole event was just fun and funny...and we didn’t mind. We were happy to comply in order to be respectful to another religion. (Our guide insists that we were dressed appropriately and that he’s never seen a guard be so picky. Maybe the man selling shawls was the guard’s brother?)
Anyway, one thing that our guide told us before we entered the Dome of the Rock area was that men and women are not allowed to touch each other on the temple grounds. Well, part-way through our tour, I heard Penny Parrot, the southern 62-year-old lady in our group who I absolutely adore, suddenly shriek out, “Don’t touch me!!” I turned briskly in concern--hoping she was not being accosted by a pickpocket or other such villain. It was a relief to see that she was not fleeing from an unsavory character but was instead shrinking away from her husband, who had temporarily forgotten the rule and had tried to put his arm around her. After her harsh rebuff, he looked a little shocked and then said in his darling accent, “Oh, but honey, I just love you so...I don’t know what to do when I can’t touch you.” It was the absolute cutest thing I have ever witnessed. I hope Ryan and I are so in love after 43 years of marriage!
Here I am with Penny and Oren Parrott, two of my favorite new friends:
The tour of the Dome of the Rock was very very interesting, and then today, we went to experience a little of the Jewish religion at the Western Wall. (This area is known as the Wailing Wall to outsiders, but that is considered somewhat offensive to Jews.) It was Bar-mitzvah day, and it was incredibly fascinating to watch the young boys engaging in their religious traditions--reading the Torah with their fathers, binding the phylacteries to their heads, and singing the ancient Hebrew songs.
I’m overwhelmed by the pervasiveness of religion in this country. It is extremely touching how three major religions (Islam, Judaism, and Christianity) all have sacred roots in this place, and so many people worship so devoutly here, every day of their lives. I aspire to be like these people--who are humble, faithful, and fiercely committed to what they believe.
I know most of my blog posts are lighthearted and funny, but--hot weather, Dedos, and man-sarongs aside--the most meaningful aspect of this trip for me has definitely been growing spiritually and personally. With that in mind, I thought I’d end with something a bit more serious. I’m not one to get church-y on a blog, so I hope you don’t mind me sharing something I thought about the other day as we rode across the choppy water of the Sea of Galilee.
Several accounts in the New Testament recount Jesus walking across this same body of water to reach his frightened apostles in the midst of a storm. In Mark 6:47-51, it says: “And when evening was come, the ship [of the disciples] was in the midst of the sea, and [Jesus] was alone on the land. And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them: and about the fourth watch of the night he cometh unto them, walking upon the sea...He talked with them, and saith unto them, ‘Be of good cheer: it is I; be not afraid.’ And he went up unto them into the ship; and the wind ceased...”
It’s so interesting to me that Jesus stood on the shore watching the disciples struggling and toiling before he intervened and calmed the storm. He was there all along, watching over them, but they didn’t know it. This has so many parallels to my life experiences. Christ doesn’t always immediately calm my storms, just because I want Him to. He often waits until the “fourth watch,” meaning that I often have to struggle and toil for a long time before He lightens my burdens. Nevertheless, He is always there, “on the shoreline,” watching over and protecting me in the midst of my storms.
This afternoon, we had the opportunity to go to a hillside above Bethlehem and read the stories from the Old and New Testament that occurred there. As I sat on that peaceful hill, I contemplated my own faith and the way that this trip has deeply impacted my convictions. I am grateful I’ve had the opportunity to come here...heat or not!...to feel of the spirit of Israel.
It’s been an awesome experience.
Overlooking the city of Bethlehem