Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Finding Love in Jerusalem

This is a hard post to write.  I’ve been thinking about it ever since we visited Jerusalem, trying to think of ways of explaining my thoughts, my feelings.  So, if this is slightly incoherent, bear with me – just aim to get past the words and feel what I’m saying, intuit it rather than analyse it. 

I have a real big hefty problem with religion.  I hate to offend (yet know I will and I apologise here and now) but truly I believe that religion has blood smeared all over its body and soul.  It’s been said before, so many times, but a huge proportion of war and murder throughout history has been promulgated in the name of religion.  My god is better than your god.  My religion is right; yours is wrong.
I understand why people believe; I think I do.  It has been said that we have a genetic propulsion towards belief; that belief in a god or gods is effectively a survival mechanism; that without belief, we can easily fall into despond, believing that the universe is ungoverned, our lives purely animalistic, without deeper meaning. I get that.  And I don’t mind belief; I don’t mind faith, I don’t mind different religions, people worshipping in whatever way they wish. I just hate the religious dogma; the one-upmanship; the hard-lining – I’m in, you’re out; I’m right, you’re wrong.

Really.  Think about it.  Imagine, for a moment, there is a god.  A God. Let’s keep it simple and just deal with one for now, okay?  God is up there/in here/wherever – all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful.  Do you really, truly honestly think He/She/It is going to fret about the detail?  About which day we take for rest; about which foods we eat or don’t eat; about whether a festival is celebrated this way or that way?  About what kind of covering we wear or don’t wear on our heads?  Really?  Truly?  Honestly?  And, if He/She/It does, then - you know what – I’m not sure I’m terribly impressed by Someone/thing that is quite so petty. 
Individual religions and their rules erupt from social and geographical conditions and that’s fine.  I don’t have a problem with anyone celebrating spirituality in any way they wish.  Just accept that it is a choice and that other people can celebrate it in their own different (not better, not worse) way. It’s when religion starts or fuels conflict that my blood really boils.

I went to former Yugoslavia literally right before the bloodbath began. I remember sitting in a café in Sarajevo talking to a bunch of people over lunch.  They truly didn’t believe there would be war.  ‘We’re too well integrated,’ one of them said. ‘Look at us here, round this table  – I’m Muslim, he’s Catholic, she’s Greek Orthodox, he’s Jewish…and so on.’  Yet, the day I left the tanks rolled into Zagreb. The market I’d shopped in was bombed; the mountain we’d picnicked on became a front-line; to this day I wonder if those people round the table are still alive.
In Israel, nobody even pretends there is integration - because there isn’t.  Yet in Jerusalem, three religions (and many variations within those three) are squashed into one small city centre, eyeing each other up uneasily like children in a playground. 

‘Jerusalem is weird,’ my friend Jane told me before I went. ‘I hated it.’

I didn’t.  I loved the higgledy-piggeldy streets, the architectural play of curve and line – reminiscent of a child’s wooden building blocks.  I loved the brashness of the souks, the vendors cajoling; the clouds of incense; the twists and turns.  As Tel Aviv is all fresh and funky and outgoing; Jerusalem is ancient and deep and introspective. It broods, despite the sun.
We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - as tourists.  A shop was selling crowns of thorns at the entrance.  Inside there were Islamic tiles and stained glass in the ante-rooms.  I wished people would see the similarities, rather than the differences.  There's a lesson in Kabbala - all religions find a place on the Tree of Life.

This is Golgotha, where Christ was crucified.  There was a queue to pray at the altar, to lay one’s hand on the Rock of Calvary.  And I don’t know why I queued but I did, chatting to Rosie, snapping pictures as we waited.  But then, as I knelt down and laid my hand on the rock, going through the motions, something happened.  It felt like something had stabbed me in the heart, deep, deep, deep. Tears sprang to my eyes and I fought hard to keep control.  What was it? 

Love. Total overwhelming Love. Unconditional love that sweeps away all prejudice, all difference, all wanting, all needing, all sense of I, of ego. 

I staggered to my feet and walked unsteadily away.  Someone touched me on the arm. Michal, who runs the educational programme at Kinetis. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Yes, sure. It was just…’
‘Powerful?  Yes, it is. It hits me too. And I’m Jewish.’ She smiled.  ‘Maybe it’s the years of belief and prayer that imbue the atmosphere of Jerusalem. Faith sticks to the walls.’

Maybe it is.  Maybe it does.
We walked then to the Western Wall. Watched the same kind of pilgrimage, the same intent, the same need. This time prayers written on paper and pressed into crevices.

So many people.  So much humanity.  The same hearts and bodies dressed in different ways; the same anguishes and desires wrapped in different rituals.  It sounds trite, it sounds New Age and hippy dippy, but really – we are all just people. 
What was my prayer, for the wall?  It has to be obvious, surely?

To dissolve the need for enmity, to eliminate fear over that which is different; to replace hate and suspicion with that one true cleansing emotion. Love. 
Does that leave you wide wide open?  Yes.  Does it mean you can be hurt, used, manipulated, crucified even? Yes. Does that matter?  No. 


36 comments:

Midlife Singlemum said...

I feel like you have looked into my soul. It has been my mantra for years that with so much suffering in the world, if God is going to be upset because I go in a car on Saturday(Jewish :-))then that's not the God I can respect. But the spirit can allow you to fly if you don't get bogged down by the minutiae of the 'rules'.

Belle_Lulu said...

This post is like a view into my heart. My issues with my Christian upbringing and my struggles to identify with any organised religion have been major obstacles to my spiritual life. I'm learning, slowly, to take a more personal route - not to throw out everything which lies at the heart of the religious life just because some of the exponents are hardline fundamentalists.

I have experienced a couple of profound spiritual experiences in my life - they are not necessarily bound in tradition or ritual - and know that "jolt" you experience when you tap into something which is deeper and more meaningful than the shallow depth at which we normally get on with our everyday lives.

What a place to go and what a wonderful wealth of experiences to have under your belt!

Can't wait to hear more. xxxx

rosiescribble said...

Beautiful. I should probably write more than that but reading your post has left me feeling emotional, just as it did standing next to you and then kneeling below the altar. Moving, emotional, unexplainable.

susie @newdaynewlesson said...

Wow-lots of words and lots of emotions. (and I see you liked my picture :-), knew I took it for a reason-I used in a post as well.)

I belief in choices our souls make prior to birth and I believe being born into a religion or finding a religion later in life is one of those choices that your soul makes.

The question is what you do about the religion. I think the truly pious worship the way their religion meant-and that means with universal love and tolerance for everyone. The problem with religion and most things, is that when you are not 100% sure in yourself or your beliefs, you need to make everyone else believe what you do in order to feel you are right. Did that make sense?


I think that the people who engender hate because of religion don't know their religion well enough.

For me, being in that church was odd because I was not the way I was raised. I was taught that we don't go into churches. Yet I can respect other people trying to connect spiritually there with their religion.

Miss you.

Raven Dane said...

A moving and thoughtful blog...and a wonderful evocation of the essence of this ancient, blood-stained city. As a pagan woman, I struggle with the concepts behind all three Abrahamist faiths. But I can well believe the depths of spirituality you experienced there. And it is all about love.
Thank you for such a wonderful blog...and oasis of serene thought in the middle of everyday bustle.

Exmoorjane said...

Okay, so I'm crying at these comments because THIS is what I mean....this is exactly it. Here are five women all coming from different faiths yet all respecting one another.

So why is it so difficult *out there*? Why?

Midlife Singlemum said...

Maybe because organised religion is largely run by men?

Milla said...

Bloody brilliant, my dearest Jane, just brilliant. What a fantastic feeling and how beautifully you brought it into me, into us.

elizabethm said...

Just the most fabulous post jane. I tried to respond at more length but just disappeared up my own backside. So just thank you.

Jo Beaufoix said...

That was so beautiful. I was brought up Catholic but have had my own version of 'faith' from being a teenager. We're all people and as long as we try to be the best we can and look out for each other, any 'God' I could believe in would be happy with that.

the veg artist said...

I agree with Sue that "people who engender hate because of religion don't know their religion well enough". I have heard both the Archbishop of Canterbury and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks say exactly this. If we read the religious books for ourselves, there is a common way; a way of living that has love and compassion at its heart.

The people who go to war while quoting religion want to go to war anyway, and are extracting words and phrases out of context, to suit their purpose. True religion doesn't come into it.

If you are interested in reading further without necessarily following a "Christian" route, can I suggest some of the Quaker writings. Their "Faith and Practise" speaks more sense (out of modern day mouths) than I have read anywhere else. There are even Buddhists, agnostics and atheists who are Quakers!

Nora said...

I would love to have an experience like yours. Maybe it would alter my cynical heart. I guess I do look for some kind of miracle like that. A personal epiphany.

Catharine Withenay said...

I was once told by an old lady - a devout Christian of many years - that she couldn't understand all the teachings and judgements of the bible. For her it was all about love: love for one another, as God would love. It is so true. Extremists use religion for their own ends, but I hope and pray that love will conquer in the end.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Powerful stuff. You know my beliefs and you know they conflict somewhat with the church, but as human beings, we are all capable of intense love, and with that brings intense hatred. Wars and bloodshed are focused on our religious beliefs and I am sure our God wouldn't want this to be the case.

I stayed in the holiday resort of Eilat back in 1998 and had a wonderfully luxurious two weeks in a 5 star hotel. But we visited Jerusalem and Bethlehem and found ourselves fearful. Soldiers and guards walked near us, staring at the women in particular, intimidating us we only wanted to see the place where Christ was supposed to have lived, and died.

I will never go again, ever. To walk round in fear is something no human being should have to do and that one day in Jerusalem shadowed the other 13 days in Eilat.

CJ xx

Melpomene Selemidis said...

Wow! Well, you've just articulated, ever-so-eloquently, how I feel about organized religion. I was born into Greek Orthodox but feel more drawn to Buddhism or Ancient Greek Gods & Goddesses- ha ha! Beautiful post. Love = Peace.

Yvonne Johnston said...

I have thought for many years about this one. Voltaire once said 'If God created us in his own image, we have more than reciprocated.' The reason religion causes wars, death and division is that so many belief systems can only understand God by using anthropomorphic concepts/language. But in so doing they reduce the very idea of God. The only reasonable position to my mind is agnosticism. There may be a God but we are not in a position to know for sure and we are still less able to know anything about him. To have the audacity to inflict violence on others or even to be intolerant toward them on the basis of an imperfect attempt to understand that which cannot be understood is the height of human hubris and probably the most ungodly act any person can do. It is the person acting in the name of God, not God at the heart of religious division.

susie @newdaynewlesson said...

Catharine-think you might like this article I wrote: http://www.newdaynewlesson.com/love-as-a-guide-coping-with-intermarriage/

Crystal-do come back again-think you would have a completely different experience.

And Jane-you so need a subscribe to comments option on your blog.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

Susie (sorry to hijack your blog, Jane!!) - The journey over was intimating too. We were interrogated for at least half an hour at Manchester airport after having been split up as though we were criminals. We couldn't wait to get on the plane and get to our hotel. It truly was beautiful (The King Solomon in Eilat) but unfortunately, the stress gave me 2 epileptic seizures and I ended up in Eilat hospital for 3 days! It's a holiday I'll never forget but one I wouldn't never wish to do again. Thanks for your reply.
CJ xx

Leonie said...

Amazing post, tears in my eyes. spent some time in Jerusalem & Tel Aviv about 2 years back. My late husband was Jewish and we always said we would go, sadly that never came about but I went with a friend. Went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall and had a similar experience as you, its an emotional place even for a pagan like me.

I always say that religion is a personal matter and wars brought about in the name of "God" are unjust, we are all the God/Goddesses children.

babs4760 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
babs4760 said...

thank you for publishing your evocative, emotional & clearly heartfelt blog. I share many of your sentiments & concerns about organised religion which is really about interpretation & not the acceptance of God. I am so pleased your visit to Jerusalem was a profound experience. Thank you again

dulwich divorcee said...

I envy you that jolt .... Sounds extraordinary x

ColdhamCuddliescalling said...

God is god - all powerful and all seeing. All the differences down here on earth are because HE allows us complete free will to do what we want. If mistakes are made, he'll pick up the pieces: if you make a mistake when cooking/sewing etc. that's your problem. He'll help put things right. But he won't stop you. When you think about it, all three religions in Jerusalem start with him: it's the followers who made the wrong choices and one day (whenever) it will be GOD who decides to round them all together. Until then..... that's up to us. My philosophy: hope it's helped you and your readers. Envy you your experience: Isobel

Frankie said...

Oh Jane, you always pry apart the ribs and stroke the bloody heart of the matter, don't you?

I'm disinclined toward belief, an atheist in the deepest sense, and religion is intricate and exotic and fascinating to me.

I think in the end, it doesn't come down to God or religion. Like anything else, it comes down to people. Sometimes magnificent, sometimes corrupt. Many great and beautiful things have been done in the name of religion, as have many evil and immoral things.

Some days I think love is nearly as great and terrible as religion; I would be happy if we would all just be kind to each other.

Jackie said...

This post is heartfelt true and reveals the real tragedy of the human race. When I fill in a form that asks for my religion I write 'none' because I don't follow any one faith yet my spirituality is the most important part of my life and that answer doesn't reflect that. I guess what I'd like to say is 'all' because at the heart of the teachings of every faith I've learnt about is divine love and oneness. Somehow though by creating different frameworks for spirituality and calling them religion we lose that divine oneness. I'm just as likely to experience divine love listening to a Sufi remembrance, honouring the earth in a Pagan way, practicing meditation at our local Buddhist centre or seeing Jesus beside me when I do healing. I wonder if this makes me a dreadful tart or if my heart is simply open to divine oneness in whatever way it comes?

Michele Brenton/aka banana_the_poet said...

I can't choose a religion. My grandparents on my Mum's side were Methodist missionaries in India all their working lives with my grandfather a minister. My father was a (when I knew him) non practising Jew who lived for a while in Israel in a kibbutz after the war finished. He always insisted he didn't believe in God or life after death - I'm hoping he got a nice surprise. My husband is a lapsed Catholic and one of my best friends is a Hindu.
I've gone to Methodist Sunday school, been to a Catholic infants school, was a member of a Jewish student community and even attended schule for a while. I live in hope and the real world. I try to see the best but I'm rarely surprised by the worst any more. Your blog post was interesting. Certainly got me thinking. Strangely I've never had the slightest inclination to visit Israel. But I like reading about it and especially your impressions of the place. XXX

Hannah said...

The power of the post, the power in the heart of the lady who wrote the post.
I was brought up by an atheist father who sent out his fencing friends to strip churches in Belgium of their many antiques that he subsequently bought from the local antique dealer for a nickle and a dime to embellish his (our) house. He also wrote a mock homoerotic version of the New Testament.
Full of trepidation I set foot in the local Roman Catholic church at the age of 40 and had a similar experience as Jane describes. I am a Roman Catholic now, although despising much in our Church and also loving and embracing all the good from Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Celts, Runes, New Age, etc. There is only one LOVE that binds us all.

Eliza said...

What a wonderful post. I feel the same, why would God be so petty? It must've been amazing in Jerusalem. I'd love to go some time. I consider myself spiritual, but don't identify with any religion.

Michael said...

Well said. This middle aged Dutch Canadian educated-in-th- UK atheist could not agree more! I must go back to Jerusalem soon.. Been twice. Life is complicated!

Anonymous said...

Dear Exmoor Woman... I read your thoughts, and believe me, I share them, not only for the reasons you mention but also for the way he has treated "his" people, the Jews. No doubt you understand, throghtout history, especially German history, just not to go in any further details or further back in history. And yet I don't think you have understood the nature of the god we inherited from the Bible (what non-Jews consider the "Old" Testament). The god from the OT is nothing by way of what we'd like to think as being a god of love and mercy. Far from that. It was a god of revenge who imposed his discipline with blood and fire. Read the "OT" again. His commands were there to be kept or else, and that included the way you dressed, you ate, you thought, you worshipped, you loved... Remember: "You shall not have any other gods near me"? Read the OT again and try to understand. OK?

Anonymous said...

G-d is Infinite. That means He is not only very big, but also very small. There is value in detail - a comma at the end of a url that is missing will not allow the user to access the desired website. The minutae of a cell's composition is the very backbone of life. The same G-d that created the world in all its detail and ever so tiny parts of atoms and their even tinier parts, and who created an ever so complicated human being in a very delicately interdependent world is going to be interested in details. He told Jews what to eat to preserve their religion and their souls, and to teach some very powerful lessons. For example: a cow feeds her baby milk. Is it not a terrible thing to slaughter the calf and cook it in it's mother's milk, something that was meant to give it life? That is insensitive at the least. We are enjoined not to do it. It will help us become more sensitive. But even more, it will teach us a very important lesson: We have to know when to use our sense of compassion and when to use our trait of harshness. Which criminal acts are to go unpunished, and which are to be punished. Nations fall and rise on distinctions such as these. The Bible has very important lessons for people to know, but it is hard to access them when we have not been exposed to a readable translation or we have not learned it in the original Hebrew from an Orthodox rabbi, who uses traditional commentaries that have been passed down through the generations from the time of Moses. There is a book entitled "The Bible Unauthorized" which is a must-read. It gives a better, more faithful translation from the original Hebrew and makes the Bible a fascinating and relevant read.

Anonymous said...

It is unfair to say that religion is the cause of all the world's wars and fighting. It is not so. It is the idea that one religion wants to capture another's land or people that causes the wars. Many peoples have captured other peoples and others' land even without religion. Religion is not a thing to be hated. It is a thing to be corrected. G-d gave the Jews a mandate to teach the peoples of the world Seven Laws that all mankind should do to make the world a place that is just. Those are: to believe in One G-d, not to blaspheme Him, not to murder, not to steal or kidnap, not to do adultery, not to eat the limb of a living animal (animal cruelty), and to set up effective courts of justice. These laws of course have much more to them than what is stated here, so must be studied to be implemented. But once people will start doing them, the world will become a just and humane society.

Judith van Praag said...

From your lips ...

bennettonbooks said...

What a beautiful post. My pastor preaches on this subject often: Christianity is about your relationship with Jesus. Those people who debate about the merits of different liturgies and the type of music to be played and which "God" is better are practicing 'religiosity.' I hope to someday visit the same sites.

bennettonbooks said...

Beautifully said. My pastor preaches on this topic often. He decries the practice of what he calls "religiosity" and reminds us that it's about our own relationship with Jesus.

bennettonbooks said...

Beautifully said. My pastor preaches on this topic often. He decries the practice of what he calls "religiosity" and reminds us that it's about our own relationship with Jesus.