My mom, who you may remember was visiting us, went home this week, which means that now I won’t be out every day from the crack of dawn until sundown climbing city walls, pointing my laser pointer at ancient things, bartering with taxi drivers, dropping my camera in the Jordan River (I know. Not my finest moment.) and dragging my poor mother to everything (and more!) that Jesus took 33 years to see… in the space of only 3 weeks. She was a great sport, and we had a great time with her.
The Jewish holiday season is almost over. There is about a month of holiday after holiday after holiday that includes Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), the Days of Awe, Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), Sukkot (a week-long holiday where everyone builds a shack and eats in it every day), Shmini Atzaret (The Eighth Day of Assembly) and Simchat Torah (today, the day that marks the beginning of a new cycle of Torah readings for the year). Some people remark that just Thanksgiving and Christmas is enough to do them in each year. Can you imagine having this many holidays right in a row? Not to mention that a number of these holidays are what is known as a “Yom Tov,” or a holiday that is like a Shabbat in that you can’t drive, cook, or do any other creative work. So next time you think you’re feeling holiday stress, think about that.
On the subject of Shabbat, a few months back, one of the visiting Argentineans, Santiago, asked me an interesting question. ”Why are there so many twins here?” he asked in Spanish. “Twins? Are there a lot of twins here?” I told him I hadn’t noticed that many twins. “Sure,” he said. “Pretty much every family has a double stroller.” Ohh. It’s not twins, per se. It’s what in the U.S. we might call “stairstep kids,” “Irish twins,” (which, in retrospect, might actually be a slur against Catholics, now that I think about it), or “two under two” (or, in many cases, “five under five” or more), and it’s very common here, especially among religious Jewish families. My mom also observed that Jerusalem would be a great place to cast a movie that followed one girl or boy over a number of years, because sometimes seeing a whole family walking in a line does sort of feel like looking at a living time-lapse photo. Not to mention that, in religious families, which often have up to eight kids and limited wardrobe options because of modesty rules, the kids are sometimes dressed alike. (This is actually a money-and-headache-saving technique, so that, in that family, every kid of the same gender has the exact same wardrobe as they grow up.)
Here’s my theory: setting aside the long and involved discussion of what different types of Judaism actually allow (and what different types of Jews actually observe) in terms of birth control and family planning, I’ll just say this. In the U.S., we often joke that nine months after a blackout, the birth rate spikes. What if, thanks to the Jewish custom of Shabbat, your country essentially has a planned 25-hour blackout EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND? Think about it.
Again, on the subject of Shabbat… The adorable Amy of Lost But Holding Hands recently struck up an email friendship with me, and I am very happy to know her! It turns out she has really enjoyed my tales of surviving Jewish Sabbaths and my suggestions to adapt some of this observance into Christian life. She talks a little about her family’s adventures with this concept in some recent posts: ”Holy Sunday,” ”Unaffected,” and ”If At First You Don’t Succeed.” Go check out Amy (and her adorable family) at Lost But Holding Hands!
Next week, I am off to the Bethlehem Icon School to take a second crack at “writing” an icon. This was my first, from last year; the face of Jesus. (Read more about that here.)
This time, with the help and constant supervision of my fearless teacher, Ian, I will be attempting a full-body figure of St. Luke the Evangelist, the patron saint of iconographers. I spend a lot of time in prayer while painting, so please email me any prayer requests you may have and I will remember you in Bethlehem.
On the subject of Bethlehem… This week, Mandi of Messy Wife, Blessed Life wrote on “Nursing in Church: Yay or Nay?” It is an interesting topic, but I’m going to sidestep it for a moment and talk about a particular piece of the “Maria Lactans” art she featured. Did you see this one? She’s my neighbor, so to speak! Since Mandi simply labeled her, “Anonymous,” I wanted to tell you a little more about her.
She is Our Lady of the Milk Grotto, a church in Bethlehem. There is a cave under the church and a very old tradition stating that during the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, they stopped for a moment in this cave so Mary could feed baby Jesus. Some of her milk fell on the rock and turned the cave white. Since then, couples with fertility issues have eaten the cave’s “milk dust” while praying every day for children, and they have been blessed with miracle babies as a result of the devotion! There are also cancer and blindness cures associated with the Milk Grotto devotion. Brother Lawrence, the kind and level-voiced Franciscan who runs the gift shop, is more than pleased to show you binder after binder of miracle testimonies sent through the mail; they receive, on average, one every two days, he says. That’s a lot of miracles! That’s amazing! The humble walls covered in photos of overjoyed families from all over the world, with their adorable miracle babies in their arms, is one of the most hopeful and beautiful corners of the entire Holy Land. The Milk Grotto is very close to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and I love taking people there after the Basilica, because it is always so quiet and peaceful, and the sisters there are in Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It is a beautiful church, and a nice place to unwind after the chaos of Manger Square. Since we have been living here, we have sent numerous packets of the dust and instructions for the devotion to a number of friends looking for supernatural help with fertility issues and/or the adoption process. If you or anyone you know might be interested in learning more or participating in this devotion, please email me and we’d love to hook you up (and pray for you, too).
Recently, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain visited Jerusalem for his CNN travel and food series “Parts Unknown.” Even the trailers and teasers have some really cool footage of our town and, of course, the local food. Check it out on CNN’s website. Also, be sure to read the teaser article, “Ten Things to Know Before Visiting Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.” I love how Bourdain says in the trailer, ”Whatever you may think, and whatever baggage you may bring to this place… You should see this.” Yep. That’s it exactly.
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