I sit cross-legged before the cabinet doors, surrounded by such disarray that I cannot move without sending a crystal candy dish or porcelain mug crashing to the floor. I am intent on purging my house of its excess. There is yet more that must be pulled out, set aside, sorted, discarded. I no longer wish to hold on to the diversions that have overtaken my life. Sets of glasses, bowls, platters, pitchers, vases: none of these have I used in the past years, and they must go. This is only the beginning. Over the next few days I will tackle the bedroom closets and discard much of what I have carried with me for decades. Objects that have occupied the spaces in my heart and obscured the line between treasures and crafty imitations. I will pack boxes full to the top with shoes, scarves, jackets, jewelry, and baskets. I will toss away newspaper clippings and worn-out boots I have saved just in case. I am fifty-three years old and no longer wish to be shackled by such distractions.
* * *
I walk this night with my husband on the boardwalk overlooking the Sea of Galilee in Tiberias. We are here with a student group, and my husband delivers lectures after daytime tours and dinner. Located on the western shore, Tiberias is considered one of Israel’s Four Holy Cities due to its status as a center of Jewish learning in the 18th and 19th centuries. The scene along the shore this late evening is a carnival of noise and light, buyers and sellers of worthless baubles and cheap trinkets, plastic altars and menorahs, T-shirts, postcards, and olive wood carvings. We walk further from the center of this sidewalk bazaar, assaulted and repelled by the music and the frenzy of tourists. There is no escape. Everywhere is activity, shouting, laughter, the pulse of hunger prowling for relief, sharp eyes, muscled shoulders, seductive glances, easy yet elusive embraces.
How can it be – this sea gazed upon by the eyes of Jesus and sailed upon by fishermen who wagered their lives on a teacher from Nazareth – how can it have become little more than a gaudy marketplace?
My heart cries out for rest, for the calm of gentle currents, for the quiet of water once called to bear up the feet of Jesus as he made his way toward his followers. This sea, humbled, honored, lifting its head in shy glory, its silken skin trembling, overcome to be caressing the weary feet of the son of God.
The quiet of the night calls out to me, and I strain to hear the soft lapping of the Galilean waves, but I cannot discern it, drowned out as it is by this carnival of hawkers. I long to hear the voice of God, long for his touch, but it escapes me. I hear him not, feel not his presence, and I am bereft, stricken. My husband and I move near to the edge of this ancient sea, descending steps and running our fingers through the cool dark water once touched by the hand of the Christ. For a moment I am lost in wonder, torn between the mystery of this holy place and the rape of my senses on the sidewalk above.
Early the next morning we take a boat across the water, cutting the motor far from shore and listening to the silence. Sights and noises of the city are distant and muffled. Almost without effort, we relax in the calm, our spirits soothed, comforted, refreshed. Our guide remarks so poignantly, It has been said that if Jesus were on earth today and were dropped into the center of Jerusalem, he would not recognize it. But if he were brought to the Sea of Galilee he would know his way home.
I, too, yearn to find my way home, to thrust away from myself all that deceives and entangles. My soul longs to live unencumbered by the trivial and fleeting.
I want to raze the carnival booths in my heart, toss out their merchandise, drive them from my shores, bar them from return. It is so easy to allow them to slip inside the gates and set up shop again, quietly at first then boldly, boisterously, proudly. It is so easy to overlook a snatch of discordant music until it swells into deafening throbs. So easy to permit the flimsy sidewalk overhangs to shelter crowds of revelers, so easy to force out the quiet of meditation and reflection. Meaning is overcome by activity, and what is essential and life-giving is cast aside in favor of deceptive and worthless wares.
God, cleanse my heart and receive me into your holy stillness.
May my life reflect these lines by the 19th century Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier:
In simple trust like theirs who heard beside the Syrian sea
The gracious calling of the Lord,
Let us, like them, without a word rise up and follow Thee.
Oh Sabbath rest by Galilee, oh calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with thee
The silence of eternity interpreted by love.
Drop Thy still dews of quietness till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace.