Jerusalem, Holiness, and Holes

By Duane Larson

 

The Rev. Dr. Duane Larson is Senior Pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, and teaches in the Comparative Cultural Studies Department of the University of Houston.

The most popular “picture point” of Jerusalem is probably on the hills just east of the Kidron Valley. Tourist buses stop there routinely. A beautiful park like venue has been built there for just such purposes. From there one sees the panorama of all the Old City, with most of modern Jerusalem spread behind. At the focal point is the Temple Mount, marked so well by El Aqsa Mosque on its south end and the Dome of the Rock at the north. The dome’s golden colors shimmer throughout all the perfect frame of the picture. Most all of us have seen this view, even if never having physically been there. The perfect picture colors our senses. It filters our eyes with awe, as if we are beholding holiness.

That’s the impression most get when their gaze is restricted from afar off. It is, as it were, “purer” than what one sees up close, if one were able to see it closely.

To see it “closely” today is possible only for Muslims. I actually was able to see the rock over which the dome was built. I understand why I cannot see it now. Much has happened since I saw it almost four decades ago, before entrance to the Dome mosque was forbidden to non-Muslims. Before real and figurative security walls were constructed to fend off disrespect and violence. But it makes a difference today that people are kept from seeing and understanding the real details. It makes a difference when people are kept from recognizing and understanding “the holes” in one’s experience. To be able to see the details does not necessarily mean that one will no longer encounter holiness. Indeed, one may well come to discern that holiness is only real when it subsumes and transforms the real holes that we must encounter. Our encounter with holiness itself cannot be real without encountering and understanding the real holes themselves..

One is allowed only certain angles of perspective. One can see firsthand only what authorities want one to see.

Why do I speak of “holes”?  When I saw the rock, which served in ancient time as a sacrificial altar, I saw that it was full of holes. They were strategically placed to drain animal blood into channels that would carry the blood away into collection areas. The altar-rock was not a smooth stone. It was not a gem. It was riddled with violence. Yet, somehow, when understood, when appreciated in its history, when honored as no longer functional, when received as a symbol for new life, it became an occasion of the sacred, a place for prayer, a catalyst for the imagination of mercy, justice, and, yes, holiness.

I don’t get to see that rock these days. Nor can I get even close. Indeed, the “holes” have spread. One is allowed only certain angles of perspective. One can see firsthand only what authorities want one to see. What do we see from afar? Even the maps now of what politically or “legally” constitute Israel and Palestine shows the permitted country to be full of holes. Palestine looks like the holes in Swiss cheese. And the solidity around the holes is calcifying even while growing every day. This is happening politically, “legally,” even spiritually, as it used to be that Muslim and Jewish and Christian people of prayer could join together in their praise of the Divine. Time, land, and life in Jerusalem and all it symbolizes is full of holes. Blood is let into pools all around. Jerusalem the Golden is far from the sacred that the rock had promised.

The first step in mediating the holes is to understand, and to understand from as many perspectives as possible, from those voices least heard and understood today.

The first step in mediating the holes is to understand, and to understand from as many perspectives as possible, from those voices least heard and understood today. And so, I am excited to announce a national one day conference, October 11, in Houston, TX, that brings together scholars, ecumenical theologians, and peace builders on the theme Jerusalem, What Makes for Peace?. This one day conference offers a timely exploration of Jerusalem as key to peace in the Middle East. Together, we will identify concrete steps and goals towards advancing the vision of an inclusive, diverse, and equitable Jerusalem.

Register and learn more about the Jerusalem Conference here.

Featured presenters include Rev. Jim Winkler, President of the National Council of Churches; Rev. Mae Cannon of Churches for Middle East Peace; Jim Wallis – Founder and President of Sojourners; Rev. Mitri Raheb, President of Bright Stars of Bethlehem; Dr. Iva Caruthers, General Sectary of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference; Dr. Santiago Slabodsky, Associate Professor of Jewish Studies at Hofstra University; Fr. Elias Mallon, Franciscan Friar of the Atonement, James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute; and Dr. Bob Roberts, Founding Pastor of Northwood Church. The event is cosponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine. Following the Jerusalem Conference will be Room for Hope’s Palestinian Festival of Arts, which begins at 5pm at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston. Registration and tickets for that event are available here.