A Land with Many Angles
December 13, 2022
One of the most impactful experiences in the Holy Land for me has been an unexpected one. We have been able to see some beautiful and historically significant sites such as the Nativity, Annunciation, and the Tombs of the Patriarchs in the past three weeks. These places have all provided me much content for prayerful reflection, but something that has impacted me deeply and in an unexpected way is the landscape itself.
From my coursework at seminary, I knew the general topography of the Holy Land: fertile mountains, hills, and plains to the north and west of Jerusalem and dry, arid mountains and desert to the East and South. Being here and experiencing it firsthand, however, has brought new depth and life to many of the biblical stories. One place that gave me new insight into the scriptures, particularly Psalms and Exodus, was our visit to Mar Saba.
Mar Saba is an ancient hermitage and monastery situated in the Kidron Valley southeast of Jerusalem in a very arid region. Kidron in Aramaic means “darkness” and I can only imagine this place is what David was envisioning when he wrote Psalm 23: “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, even then I do not fear.” The surrounding environment is so hostile to life. There’s large, rocky mountains with no water or greenery. To be led by green pastures and waters of repose truly would be a longing of the heart in this place! Here, one has little choice but to trust in the Lord and His ability to provide. It’s amazing how the landscape and one’s interaction and reflection on it can shape our spirituality and orient us to the Lord. I’m certain this is why so many holy men have sought to become hermits in this place.
Unlike the monks we visited who will live at Mar Saba until they die, our group wandered back into civilization after our brief excursion into the desert cliffs. Upon our return, we engaged in a friendly volleyball game with college students at a local university. Quite the contrast from the Monastery!
Whether encountering monks who have decided to renounce the world in a radical way, or young people seeking to better their lives through studies and recreation, the landscape here provides a tangible reminder that in this life, we are all wanderers looking for a path to the Promise Land. Fortunately, we are not left alone in our wandering, our Incarnate Lord, Jesus Christ, is with us every step of the way.
As we approach Christmas, let us remember “Emmanuel,” God is truly with us. He is Way, the Truth, and the Life. Only through Him are we led out of Egypt, through the desert, and into the Promised Land. For He is the Good Shepherd alongside whom we have nothing to fear.
By: Jeff Filipski, Diocese of Rockford, IL.