Shabbat Shalom

Sabbath peace, from the Kibbutz Ein Gedi, on the Dead Sea.

This is a wonderful day off from the relentless schedule of the tour. I slept eight and a half hours last night — until 7:30 AM — and spent a leisurely hour and a half doing Morning Prayer and reading the Bible and thinking and reflecting, until joining some friends for breakfast. I was quite Israeli this morning for breakfast — with fresh mozarella, two kinds of fish, quiche (although they called it something else), thick bread with butter and date honey, and more! All the food in Israel is unbelievable tasty. It’s all organic and grown locally in this tiny country.

Knowing the geography of this land is causing me to appreciate the Bible as if I’ve never read it before. For instance, from Psalm 121:1 —

“I lift up my eyes to the hills –
from where is my help to come?” —

— and it is so helpful to know what those “hills” look like, how steep and stark and dramatic they are.

Verses 5-6:
“The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.” —

— and I now know how protective that shade is; how necessary for life.

From Psalm 122:
“”Let us go to the house of the Lord!
Our feet are standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem.” —

— and having been to Jerusalem, and seen where the Temple was, the destination for the pilgrimmage; imagining how the pilgrim from the backwater village would have been in awe!

From John 2:13:
“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.” —

— and knowing how yes, indeed, you do go UP to Jerusalem.

I have already come across countless more examples. It’s made me realize that I have been educated to interpret the Bible as a literary document, using literary analysis. Reading the Bible through the additional lens of geography will greatly enrich my preaching and teaching.

I’m writing at 1:45 PM, conscious that you are seven hours behind me, and that the first of you are waking up on Saturday. Or course, this is the sabbath in Israel. I am greatly enjoying being around people who are open to receiving the sabbath as a gift. A day of rest — not as a “should”; a restriction — but as a gift; a delight! At 4:00 PM on Friday, everything shuts down. It is a time to spend with family, playing, laughing, enjoying. Last night, at dinner, parents an small children were around tables, laughing, giggling. This morning, at breakfast, there were smiles, joy — such as I never see in a public dining room in our country.

For years I have taught about the importance of sabbath. This is the first time I have experienced sabbath in a culture that appreciates the gift of a rest day. Wow. How restorative this is.

I’m also thinking about the juxtaposition of the peaceful, restful sabbath in the strong state of Israel with the Jews’ experience in Europe during the late-1930s through 1945. Yesterday we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust remembrance museum. And last night I began reading “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s remembrance of his Holocaust experience. That history makes it difficult to disagree with our government’s support of the state of Israel.

Driving to Ein Gedi last night, we were reminded of the vigilance necessary to maintain a peaceful and strong state of Israel. We stopped, as required, at the checkpoint at the original 1947 “green line,” before proceeding into what has been Israel since the 1967 war. The bus driver was told to turn on the interior lights. Two soldiers got on. She was 23 or so, with the same beautiful face and smile as my late young friend Samantha Trost. He was the same age. In our country, you’d expect to see him playing on a college IM volleyball team or something. Both were smiling, thoroughly professional, as inoffensive as possible, asking, “Are you enjoying your time in Israel?” — as they looked us over, checked what was in the overhead bins. “Enjoy your trip!” they called, cheerfully, as they exited the bus, their sub-machine guns slung over their shoulders.

Our trip leader, Professor Monte Luker, has done a masterful job exposing us to both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma. Pastor Mark Brown of the Lutheran World Federation office in Jerusalem and Pastor Mitri Rahab, of the Lutheran church in Bethlehem, were compelling and convincing, arguing the Palestinian perspective. Then, Bob Lang, leader of the Efrat settlement, was equally compelling and convincing, arguing from the perspective of a Zionist settler.

How can peace possibly be accomplished? Only as God the Holy Spirit will give it.

And, of course, all Christians are Palestinian. But there are very few Christians in the part of the world where Jesus actually lived. I’m thinking about that a lot.

This afternoon, as the sun sets, the Jewish sabbath will end. But we have another day of rest tomorrow: we’ll observe the Christian sabbath! We have seen and heard so much on this trip. These two days are necessary, to rest, to think, to reflect, to process.

Then — there is another week to this pilgrimage. We’ll move north into the Jordan wilderness (the Biblical term) and into Galilee. It will be wonderful!

I also know that I will be glad to be on the airplane home a week from tomorrow. I sure do miss my best friend, and I sure will be glad to get back to her. (She has a real job, and couldn’t come along on the trip.)

About Pastor Andy Ballentine

Pastor Andy Ballentine loves being a parish pastor! Pastor Ballentine took his BA degree from the University of Virginia (with a major in sociology) and earned the Master of Divinity degree at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology degree at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, with the thesis topic of: "How Benedictine Monastic Spirituality Nourishes Parish Ministry." He has completed the program of Spiritual Direction from the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Ballentine has served as Dean of the Peninsula Conference and as chaplain to the candidates in the Virginia Synod’s Candidacy process (those on the way to being approved for ordained and professional ministries in the church). He has staffed many, many Virginia Synod youth events!