Today marks exactly four months in Israel. How do I feel about that? How have I found the past four months? Well, whatever adjective you can imagine would probably speak into some part of my experience here thus far. It’s been exciting, heartbreaking, lonely, joyful, f***ed up, complicated, confusing, stressful, tiring, exhilarating, fulfilling, etc, etc, etc. The only word I couldn’t possibly use is ‘peaceful’.
I wanted merely to survive until Christmas. I managed that (always set the bar low for the first few weeks, I reckon).
But then Lent came quick on its heels, far too quick.
Ooooh, Lent in the Holy Land, I thought to myself. It will be wonderful and moving and really, really special. And Holy Week?! How amazing will Holy Week be?! It will be the best Holy Week EVER.
No, actually. It’s been a pretty ordinary Lent. It’s been the kind of Lent where I started with good intentions of prayer and piety. And then work took over. And God got left out. And groups came. And reports had to be written. And emails answered. And conflict escalated. And I travelled all around Israel and the West Bank and then to Rome for a presbytery meeting and a few days’ break. And I’m not long back.
I had promised myself three days of no email, no politics, no church in Rome. I wandered. And drank coffee. And shopped. And stared into space. And slept … oh, how I slept the sleep of the deeply, deeply weary. And enjoyed unrushed meals and proper conversation with my husband.
I found myself admitting to friends at presbytery that I couldn’t remember my last full day off. I found myself realising that all the things I enjoy, all the things which relax me and ground me — long walks with the dog, knitting, banjo playing, reading, staring up at the large Borders country sky — got left back in Scotland. I found myself almost in tears confessing to Justin, I don’t know who I am anymore without my work. I feel the emotion of others so much here that I don’t know what I myself feel.
That was my desert moment, the moment that will define this Lent, the moment that I will take with me into this Holy Week.
And as the plane landed at 2am at Ben Gurion airport a couple of days ago, I couldn’t decide if I was happy or not to be back in Israel. I did know, however, that I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.
I came back to a kirk session and Jerusalem presbytery meeting that had my stomach in knots. I went to the gym for an hour and a half afterward to clear my head. But I also came back to a clearer vision of what my ministry is here, a healthier perspective on what I can achieve, and the knowledge that I am not doing this on my own.
And so I am here on the eve of Holy Week, after a frantic weekend of making palm crosses, sorting out liturgy for tomorrow, rushing to the shops as soon as Shabbat ended to stock up on ink cartridges because in a fit of pre-Holy Week obstinance which is beyond cliche, my printer decided to dry up.
I am here in all my weakness, and weariness, and limitations, hoping that God will show up, praying that in Her power, the Spirit will transform my paltry efforts, knowing that Christ has already died and risen and that my self-striving, my perfectionism, my workaholism will not change that but will only get in the way of my living the truth of it.
I have spent four months saying yes to every opportunity that has come along because I haven’t wanted to miss out, because I have felt like I had to prove myself, because I wondered and worried what people would say if I said no.
But this week, I have decided I must say no. I have said no to offers of Holy Week in Jerusalem. As homesick as I am for Old Saint Paul’s, as much as I will miss the quietness of the church in the wee hours of the morning of Good Friday, as much as I long to sing the Exsultet at a Vigil service, I have resisted the lure of creating complicated liturgy for the Triduum. Instead, out of a mixture of necessity and intentionality, I have pared everything back, simplified it, made space for people — and myself — to journey with and worship the God who wrestled with his earthly ministry, experienced forsakenness, and through it all, never lost sight of the love he had for all people.
I don’t know who will come. That’s part of the joy and frustration of ministry here. It could be just me. It could me and a handful of curious tourists wandering in and out. It could be me and a church filled with visiting pilgrims.
But what’s important is that God will be there. Whatever happens. Whoever comes. God will be present.
Let Holy Week begin. I am not ready. But I am here.