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 that 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. Jew, Christian and Muslim 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 head gear 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 in a bus trip from Tel Aviv to the 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 line 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.