Wednesday, May 25, 2011

(1) Holy Land

At least for me, just about every aspect of the Benedictine
Tradition is about *formation,* particularly spiritual formation--
and it's a lifetime work. It certainly has been for me, and no
doubt I'll be engaged in this process unto my last breath. Why?

I can't speak for others, but within my own depths there was
something that really responded to the need to become a more
spiritual person: i.e., recognizing a Higher Power, needing to
relate to Such, and somehow living my life under its direction.
This is rather ambitious, actually. How does one go about
working into this? Especially if one is a solitary sort, so to speak,
standing outside the Benedictine monastery, far beyond the walls.

Even more challenging, how does one even begin the formation
process when one's grip on a sense of God is actually unsteady?
That was surely my case more than three decades back. I had
my little Benedictine booklets, pious, but necessary for a
beginner. Still I wanted to forge much further, much deeper.

Looking back those many years I certainly had an odd way of
starting out. Even though not from Missouri, I had to see for
myself. Other than culturally inheriting my religious belief system,
I hadn't done much depth work when it came to understanding
who Jesus really might be. Sad, but I probably wasn't alone when
it came to this particular situation. Perhaps spur-of-the-moment,
but I decided to go and visit the Holy Land and see those special
places where Jesus lived, taught, and trekked himself.

I was soon winging it to Israel. Naturally I had the bad luck of
landing at Tel Aviv on the eve of the Jewish Sabbath--and
finding transportation to Jerusalem was an incredible challenge.
But I did make it to my hotel, a distance out-of-town but with a
great view of this historic city. I just gazed at it, nearly incredulous
that I was actually there. What an astounding view, *the* place
where three of the world's great religions took root.

After such a long journey, I had to rest for awhile and figure how I
was going to carry through during my visit. Start at the beginning
I guess--so oft to Bethlehem!

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is very old. First built in
the 4th century by St. Helena, burned down (I believe), it was later
rebuilt by the Emperor Justinian. Upon entering, I knew that this
was like no church I ever knew. It was really *old,* really dark, lit
only by high-hanging lanterns. As for Christ's birth, we were given
a glimpse of a small wood manger near an altar--and we were told
that this was Christ's manger. Also nearby was a kind of bejeweled
cistern-like floor, where people could lean down and kiss the exact
place where Jesus was born. Unfortunately (for me), I left that
church and my experience there mostly skeptical.

I wanted to feel guilty over my skepticism, especially since probably
millions of pilgrims have come to that church and truly believed the
details provided them. But I come out of a more investigative milieu,
I guess. And those awful little questions--like how can they point to
this wooden little manger, this specific spot in the ground, and say
essentially that "this is it"?

This all relates back to not even a medieval mindset, but to an
archaic one. Their grasp of historical specifics simply did not exist.
Again piety was at work, assuming a historical correctness. Now
years away from that, I no longer remain so stunned. Yet, at the
time, I just walked out of that church shaking my head in near