April 22, 2003
Easter / Walk to Emmaus
[Bethlehem, West Bank]
It's been a busy weekend. I think Easter Holy Week must be the
most hectic time of the year for religious leaders in Jerusalem.
There are so many events commemorating Jesus death and resurrection.
You've got something going on every day. I didn't go to much of
it. (But I still have the opportunity to go to a lot more, since
Easter isn't over yet. Orthodox Christians celebrate it this Sunday.)
I opted for Easter in
Bethlehem this year. Bishop
Munib Younan asked "Who will roll the stone away?"
and Phoebe was baptized at the Christmas Lutheran Church. Very
nice service. Later I had lunch with the Salsa family, and we
had a quick band practice since Usama was in town. I'm getting
kicked out of the band. They don't have a need for a poor guitarist
who only knows three chords. Darn.
and Bishop Younan give Phoebe's cousin a little religious instruction
And yesterday I made one
of the worst decisions of my adult life. I've made some poor decisions
before, but this one has got to rank near the top.
My crazy German friend
JZ invited me to join him and a group of superhuman wonderbar
uber-hikers in their annual trek to Emmaus. (My Jewish carpenter
boss Jesus Christ walked with a few disciples on the way to Emmaus
after he was resurrected. He taught them and interpreted scripture.
And so it is now a pilgrimage site.) I've done the spiritual retreat
which the United Methodists call "The Walk to Emmaus,"
-- other groups call it Tres Dias or whatever -- so I was anxious
to actually do the walk. There are several possible locations
for Emmaus, but this particular hike was to the most distant site
-- about 23 miles (37 km) from Jerusalem.
I thought the walk would
be a good opportunity for reflection. Perhaps a revelation of
some sort. A new and refreshing scripture interpretation. But
usually when I expect some sort of spectacular divine intervention,
it doesn't happen. This particular experience was more like torture.
I've always considered
myself to be in fairly decent shape. Always enjoyed sports. Grew
up on the farm with all the haymaking that goes with it. Even
finished a few short distance triathlons (in last place) some
years ago. So a moderately-paced walk should be no problem, right?
I figured I could walk 100 miles if I walked slow enough. Granted,
I am not currently involved in any exercise program. I am not
lifting weights or running or biking or swimming. However, I do
usually walk to the taxi waiting outside my front door.
A medium-rain fell as
our fresh group started from Jerusalem at 7am. Ages ranged from
about 12 to 70+. I cleverly paced myself by staying near the back
of the group, taking my time as those in front went out too fast
and surged ahead. I watched as an impeccably-groomed Poindexter-type
scrambled over rocks and slippery slopes in his dress shoes and
slacks. I think he might have been wearing a tie. I chuckled to
myself that this guy was in for a long day. But Mr. Poindexter
seemed to be getting along well in his non-athletic attire, so
I tried to use him to gauge my progress.
I struggled. By the end
of the tenth mile I had blisters. We stopped for lunch. I was
hoping that we would call it a day then and there. I was pretty
soaked. My feet were begging for attention. I wanted to take my
shoes off, but I was afraid of being incredibly embarrassed at
my blood-soaked socks. Poindexter stood during lunch chatting
amicably with those around him. He looked refreshed by the experience.
I wondered if he was mentally in a different place.
I decided to try to focus
on God and ignore the pain. Recite a few scriptures. Pray a bit.
I'm pretty sure that I was thinking about God for a full 30 seconds
before I started feeling the pain in my feet and legs. Then I
started praying a lot more. I prayed that God would get me through
this miserable experience.
Everyone else looked fine.
There was a bounce to their step. Through the valleys, over the
hills, they continued to walk. I found myself at the rear of the
group, but not because I was pacing myself. Since Poindexter (and
his shined, black slip-on loafers) was long gone, I set a new
goal for myself -- I would attempt to keep visual contact with
the next-to-last hiker so that I knew where the path went and
would not be lost in the Israeli rock piles.
I was beginning to doubt
that Jesus walked to this particular Emmaus site. If he did, I
think he and his disciples were in pretty darn good shape. Was
it common for folks in those days to walk 20 miles? The Bible
does mention that Jesus explained all of the difficult scriptures
to his disciples. If this was the walk, then he certainly had
Ten hours -- and 23 miles
-- after we left Jerusalem, I dragged myself to a bench at Emmaus.
At that point, I believe my body was in the worst condition it
has ever been in. I was walking like a 90-year old man. Well,
not any of the 90-year old men on this hike, but like normal 90-year
old men -- the ones who are slumped over and walking with bent
knees and pained expressions.
A kindly, bespectacled
nun smiled and suggested that I walk up the hill to the monastery
room where grapefruit juice was offered. I'm afraid of what I
said -- it has been repressed from my memory -- but she didn't
ask again, and I didn't move. Literally. I didn't move. An evening
service was held at the archaeological site of the old church,
but I didn't move. The Patriarch arrived in his chauffer-driven
limousine with important little flags on the corners, but I didn't
move or salute or cross myself or anything. Without moving my
head, I glanced at the others in the service. They were standing
and praying and singing and offering praises. Poindexter was processing
round and round the church. I was slumped in a sort of fetal position.
JZ came up to me after
the service and congratulated me on finishing. "What a great
day! You did it! You just walked 23 miles! There is rejoicing
in Heaven!" He helped me to a nearby taxi and invited me
on the next hike -- Jerusalem to Jericho. This hike is about the
same distance, but requires some rappelling, rope-climbing, and
swimming through natural pools. Yeah, I think it sounds great
-- but if I'm not there, please start without me.
through war-destroyed Lifta
past Roman road-markers
us walked wearing garbage bags.
the 23-mile walk with a service in the ruins of a church at Emmaus.
It seemed like we stood more than usual.