Thursday, September 11, 2008

It's a Small World

Back in 2000, I led a small private tour to Israel/Palestine for a couple from New Zealand. It was a particularly difficult time in the holy land. The second Palestinian Intifada (uprising) was raging. It was a tough time to travel in that region.

It was an especially magical time to be there in one respect. That year, Ramadan (the Muslim holy month of fasting), Hannukah (the Jewish Festival of light) and Christmas (the Christian holiday commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ) all intersected that year. My ideal day was Christmas eve. I fasted during the day with my Muslim friends, broke the fast at sundown with suvganiot (jelly filled donuts which are traditional at sundown during Hannukah) with some Jewish friends, and read the Christmas story out of the New Testament of the Christian Bible with my tour clients. A perfect day for me! Touching each of these traditions during a most sacred time was indeed a powerful experience for me.

We had another wonderful experience on that trip. My clients were from New Zealand. There were very few people touring in this region, at that time, due to the political situation and the ongoing violence. We had most sacred sites to ourselves. Other sites were very difficult if not impossible to reach (because of Israeli military closures). We did the best we could and visited as many of the holy sites as possible.

One day we spent time visiting the holy sites in Bethany (a Muslim and Christian Arab village near Jerusalem, on the southeast slopes of the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem.

Bethany was the home of Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:38-44), and his sisters Mary and Martha. Jesus often stayed in their home.

Jesus was anointed at the home of Simon the Leper in Bethany (Mark 14:3) and returned to Bethany after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mark 11:11). According to Luke 24:50, Jesus ascended into heaven near Bethany (commemorated at the Chapel of the Ascension).

While we were in Bethany, we had a special and unexpected encounter. I believe we were visiting the church where the tomb of Lazarus is traditionally believed to be. It is a site revered by both Christians and Muslims (who respect the miracles of Jesus and consider him a great prophet).

When my clients from New Zealand and I entered the church, we found it empty except for 2 people who were at the front of the church, singing. They were the only other tourists we had seen on our journey. As I mentioned, due to the tension and violence that was occurring in December of 2000, tourism had come to a grinding halt. These two people were singing in English. There music as so powerful that as I stood there and closed my eyes, it literally felt as though en entire choir was singing there! The music was inspiring and powerful.

When they were finished, we walked up to them to appreciate their singing. As we got to chatting with them, we discovered that they too were from New Zealand! The only other tourists we encounter on our tour, up to that point, were from the same place that my clients were from! What are the odds? The chances? It was really quite amazing. We had a nice visit with these folks and marveled at the ability of the universe to put us in exactly the same place as these people in order to share that special moment of unity and connection. It was somehow reassuring to find them there, in that special church.

We are always in the right place at the right time... at least as far as the universe in concerned. I truly believe that something greater than ourselves guides and directs our every step. We can cooperate with this power, or we can resist it. Our response to it doesn't change the fact that it exists. We can, however, tap into it more and more fully and revel in the wisdom of universal intelligence!

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