How often do you expect to find yourself down on the floor of the plane, crouched next to a Hasidic woman who has misplaced her shoe over the course of the 11 hour flight? Well, I had a flashlight handy and she needed that shoe to get off the plane! And we found it. But it was the first time in my life that I also felt like I was in the clear minority. The plane was packed with Hasidic families, the men wearing their hats and earlocks, and the women wearing conservative wigs and hats. That's right, wigs. At the beginning of the flight they all disappeared, one after another, into the plane's restroom to remove their wigs for the duration of the flight. They kept their heads completely covered with woolen slouchy hats once the wigs came off. The hats the men wore had special carry-on boxes shaped exactly like the hats to store them in while the men travelled.
I knew by the people on the plane that this was going to be a different trip. Apparently just 2% of the entire population of 8 million people in Israel are Christians. I've never been part of such a clear minority of people.
Our first group meeting was held in the hotel's synagogue. What hotel has any kind of room for religious expression, much less a synagogue? Judaism is part of the air people breathe here, and the rich traditions will carry me back to the time when Jesus lived, worshipped and studied here.
We are staying at a hotel on a bluff above the Mediterranean Sea and I have opened the glass doors overlooking the Sea just a crack to hear the powerful sound of the water rushing to collide with the bluff. (It is also helping us to get rid of some of the stifling heat in this room. We cannot figure out how to make the thermostat work!)
We had an amazing meal tonight of fresh, cut vegetables, copious amounts of hummus, tahini, baba ganoush, and a lively quince salsa that was a brilliant yellow and had a taste to equal the color.
Tomorrow we travel to Caesarea Maritima, Mount Carmel (or Megiddo depending on the weather--it's gray and rainy today), and NAZARETH!! We will then stay by the Sea of Galilee for 2 days, and, as a woman told me this past Sunday at church, while much has changed since Jesus walked the earth, the Sea of Galilee Is the same as it was then. Imagine that.
I will continue to pray for all of you throughout my trip. Not sure how much internet I'll have, but I will try to post.
Ok, I opted for the paid wifi as we fly over the Atlantic Ocean on our way back to Newark International so I could spend some time in reflection, which I fear I will not have one this plane lands.
I need to be prepared for the heat since it has not gone above 70 degrees for the past 2 weeks of my trip. This morning it felt distinctly like autumn. I need to be prepared to re-begin a healthier eating plan. The carb-rich diet broke all my good habits, and I did not consume even a grain of quinoa in the past three weeks. But sweets, tray bakes, scones--bring 'em on! So now I need to realign my life, my body temperature comfort zone, my basic habits, and of course, my body clock. I am completely integrated into a schedule 5 hours different from normal.
What I have found most interesting is that I had the best trip overseas that I have ever had. I felt a part of the community in a new and different way, and found myself no longer wrestling with some of the differences I used to wrestle with.
An example: the other night we were invited to a dinner and offers to bring a salad. Well, for me, that means a medley of greens, baby tomatoes, marinated cheeses and olives, and a choice of salad dressings. We went to a local grocery store (the high-class one with specialty items) and found most of the 'green' ingredients, but they had no bottled salad dressings. We finally found a very small selection--about 5 types--in one aisle. I used to find that differences like this caused friction in my soul--and raised unanswerable, and unimportant, questions:why wouldn't they have salad dressing? Do people even eat salad? What kind of culture doesn't eat salad?
"Big deal" you might say. Who really needs/cares about salad dressing? But this is a micro example of a major difference between the U.S. and perhaps many other places--choice and abundance. We have sooooo much choice available to us in the U.S. Salad dressings that take up most of an aisle. Cereals with every kind of possibility--fiber, protein, gluten-free--you name it.
I realized throughout this visit particularly that almost all ahomes used the same dish soap (Fairy brand), and the same hand soap (Carex). Stores carried very few options, and no one seems to have fancy soaps like those from Bath and Body Works that I love so much. Most families used the same tea, the same biscuits or cookies, and the same laundry soap, tissues, etc. This used to drive me a little crazy because I am so used to creating my own home environment and being different in even small ways. I am used to having LOTS of choice, but I don't think it really gets me anywhere special, to be honest. It has made me picky and critical.
I am used to showering every day, changing my clothes every day, washing things after wearing them once. This trip changed that by necessity. We got to choose between sleep or showering during the Mission portion of the trip, and I chose sleep nearly every time, except for the one day I waited on line in the mud for over an hour. Not worth the wait. I feel like I became more human, to sound ridiculously corny. But I felt as though appearance wasn't the answer; presence was the answer. And my ears and hands and heart still worked fine even when my hair was not clean or perfectly presented.
I felt freed up to be more loving, to participate more fully and to accept the differences of culture that I experienced. I feel like I lived with people; i wasn't just watching them. I took off my USA glasses and accepted the life I was given gratefully. Accents faded in my ears and became part of the way I knew that I was home, with family and with people I love. And so this became my deepest experience of Northern Ireland, to the point that I felt a sadness as though I was leaving my own home this time when we took off.
But on a bigger scale, I think this trip 'broke' something in me that needed to be broken. God, in his graciousness, broke the grip I had on the world as I knew it and He fully invited me into communion with the world as it is, different landscape, weather, traffic patterns, foods, sounds and smells. And I chose to join this time. I accepted his invitation and I believe it will make me a better traveller from this time forward.
As I have thought about my new plans to travel to Israel this coming January in 2016, I am far more ready to embrace a roommate I do not yet know, weather conditions that might make me uncomfortable, limited access to coffee, hairdryers or foods that are familiar and to anticipate the different, the unsettling, the miraculous even. I pray that these changes remain for me because I realize that I have often made myself the God of my own tiny world rather than allowing the God of the universe to show me the delight, difference and diversity of His world in which I am a very tiny , but enthusiastic, part. I am so grateful for His patience with me, because it has taken many trips to get to this destination, an acceptance of home as being where God has placed me, not a physical address or a particular place or lifestyle. So very grateful, and so excited for more adventures in His world, my island home (to quote Eucharistic Prayer C).