I saw more of the Divine in a beggar on the road to Calvary last year than I did in the three religions occupying Jerusalem. The beggar’s blindness beamed into me, and I’ll never forget the look on his face as I offered him Israeli shekels, and he bowed to me in thanks.
It is you, my brother in poverty that deserves all of the thanks. I gained a large piece of heaven in giving you such a pittance from my earthly change purse. I will carry with me forever the image of loving compassion you helped to elicit from me. I thank all that is holy that I stumbled upon you and shared such a moment.
I first saw you as I traced the steps that Christ walked en route to the Crucifixion. The streets of the Holy City are narrow and covered by stones as they wind their way from the Jewish holy spot, the wall from the second Temple of Solomon that still stands. Above that “Wailing Wall” is a golden structure built on the spot where a prophet from the world’s third leading religion is said to have ascended into heaven. It is the “Dome of the Rock” where Mohammed once prayed.
Just think. Jews, Christians, and Muslims have prayed within that small spot of earth for more than a millennium, and visitors can see and touch the grounds the holy men once walked. I believe their spirits still occupy that area and are more palpable there than in any other region in the world.
None more so than in the body of that blind and possibly crippled beggar of undetermined ethnicity. Was he Jew or Arab? I don’t know. He was dressed in a white garb that covered his head to his feet. He wore some sort of headgear beneath the cloth covering the top and the back of his head. The covering was a poor man’s version of what a Lawrence of Arabia would have worn.
His hands and face appeared wrinkled and weathered with age. He moved slowly as I watched him spread out a sheet of cloth in front of him, arranging it neatly to place what was a small wicker-type basket.
He wore no socks on his sandal-covered feet. His facial features were thin. There was no excess fat on the cheeks or exposed portions of his neck. He was old. Older than all of the pilgrims I accompanied on a bus trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
I had split from the group, many of them Russian Jews who remained at the Wailing Wall offering prayers and inserting petitions written on pieces of paper they reverently placed into the many cracks of the brick edifice. Meandering away from them, I followed a group that included Roman Catholic nuns who walked up a hill toward the streets of the Church of the Sepulcher, the place where Greek Orthodox Christians believe Christ was put to death. They built a large church with hundreds of religious icons covering the walls to help remind the faithful of the sacrifice made for their salvation. It is dark and somber inside; nothing like the open lighted space where the Jewish Temple wall beckons to another set of believers.
A smaller building — actually, a tomb — encloses what the church says is the spot soldiers placed Christ onto a cross; where he died; and where he was later taken down, according to the Gospels, and laid in the arms of his Mother and other mourners. Christians wait in lines four to five abreast to go inside and to kiss the spot hoping to return transformed from the experience.
I walked the path and wanted so much to feel uplifted, to be touched by something far greater than myself. But, I felt nothing. I felt emptiness. I felt deprived. There I was on a spiritual journey seeking answers to the Mystery of Life and I felt a big fat zero upon leaving the church and the place of my father’s religion.
While walking back I felt cheated, almost misused. I looked at none of the hundreds of offerings of clothing, jewels, and “holy” objects being hawked by merchants from small booths on either side of the walkway. Earlier, I bought a Philadelphia Eagles football shirt printed in the Hebrew language. I placed it in a bag where I carried a baseball-styled hat that stated the wearer was a member of the “Israeli Army.”
Then I came upon the spot where the beggar sat cross-legged, eyes fixed toward the ground in front of him. I took a dozen steps beyond his location and then stopped. Something called out to me, and it pulled at me. Reaching into my pocket, I took out some money, turned, and walked back to him.
I don’t know how much I gave to the man. It was when I held out my hand, that he looked up and stared directly into my eyes. I saw whiteness in one eye and loving-kindness in the other.
I saw what I had come to Jerusalem to see in the first place.
I saw the Face of God.
I saw Him in the beggar and I also saw Him looking out from inside of me.
What I love about Yerushalayim is the unexpected. Wheter it’s a beggar with shining eyes, or an Israeli soldier sharing a fag with a Muslim mullah.
Yerushalayim can be overwhelming, but I think you understood what it’s real and what is not.
I openly wept as I hugged the wailing wall praying for all who had ever been persecuted, be they Jew or Arab, Black or White, Woman or Man, Slave or Freeman.
We are all brothers and sisters and can clearly see that in the holy lands you call “Yerushalayim.”
Had another thought (hope you don’t mind). Being able to see a little more clearly required (for me) that I leave the church and its insistent on exclusive dogma behind. After that, it became easier to discover that God’s imprint – or DNA – exists in all mankind, and not just those who follows a certain set of rules. I learned that positive behaviour is a result of people being true to themselves, and their God-DNA, not the other way around. The beauty of nature is reflected in my fellow man, and his abilities, skills and creativity, just as much as it is in a newborn pup.
Discovering this allowed for a freer expression of grace and music, and it allowed for a more relaxed attitude (much more relaxed) toward those who believe differently than I do. An atheist or agnostic holds just as much God-DNA as I do, and so is deserving of respect and consideration.
No longer was there any room for judgement of someone on the basis of where (or if) they go to church, synagogue or temple. Additionally, someone’s accomplishment could be better appreciated, even celebrated on the basis of this truth.
This discovery opened the world to me, in a marvellous way. Thus, your blog speaks to me now in a way that was never accessible before. Simply awesome. In the literal sense of the word. It’s part of the reason that what you wrote resonated so clearly and deeply.
I like your God-DNA descriptiion. It fits everyone and all things no matter if they believe in it or not. The God-DNA can be akin to the higher consciousness they we all have and can be more in tune with if we but be true to ourselves as you suggest.
I like the Quaker approach of seeing in everyone the “Light” of whatever you want to call that higher force. Even in a newborn pup. (Or should I say, “especially” in a new-born?)
Your story is, to me, the way the Divine All works. Just like this. I love you, too, Michael J.
As the Wolf says below, the Divine is often found in the least expected places, and, if I might add, the least expected people.
Forgive me Michael – you may not like to hear this and I know I am only one ignorant person in a world of so many more who claim to ‘know’…
We are God.
Please read that in the right light (more to your other readers than to you)
We have the power to act in a way that becomes the meaning of ‘love’ every day.
We are not perfect.
We will hurt, we will insult – we will degrade – we will shame – we will falter in our trust.
We will do all that – and we will also love.
Grace is a ‘forever’ thing – a lifelong thing…
I love you,
Opening ourselves to the Divine that’s in us and all around us once we’re able to let go of the hurt, the degradation, the shame and become One with that “Forever” thing you call Grace.
I’d say “I love you” may be divine – but may be evil, too. It depends on who says the words to whom.
I don’t know if unconditional love could be used for evil purposes, Yael. I hope I never see it in the heart of a true child of God.
There was unconditional love in the eyes of my dog Roger. More love than some human beings are capable of feeling. Thanks for your warm welcome.
It’s surprising when you see His face outside of the usual crowd you would expect to see Him in isn’t it? Pretty cool actually.
I loved reading this Michael.
Maybe we should expect the unexpected more. Sounds like something from Quantum Physics.