Today I attended worship at the Evangelical Church (Lutheran) in Beit Jala, a small town across a slight valley from Bethlehem. I was greeted graciously and invited for coffee following. Though worship was in Arabic, I could follow the basic structure of it and enjoyed at least humming the songs that I knew. Moving forward to receive communion reiterated the steps we take to move toward Christ, in vulnerability and servanthood. In my case walking a few miles uphill to get there, hoping I was on the right road and approach to Christ’s presence.
Above the old city of Beit Jala was the view of one of the Jewish-only roads, a protected web of communication between settlements and Jerusalem. They ease the settlers drive to work in the capital, allowing them to avoid and protect them from Palestinians, while limiting Palestinians from local travel, access to farmlands and transforming what once was a 5” walk into a 1’ 35” walk to school.
As I walked, I noticed that there was little shade throughout, I was walking east to west and back. Bethlehem and subsequent villages attached, were built over the millennia on an east/west spine of a long descending hill. These east/west configurations were geologically formed as rains coming from the west eroded deep valleys flowing to the Jordan river valley. As villages settled on these ridges, their homes and community were naturally oriented downhill, to the east. Of the 4 directions, “east” is mentioned in scripture far more than the others. This was in part because Israel approached the land from the east, their conflicts with other peoples often came from the east, people could escape to cities of refuge in the east and the “wise men” came from the east. There was something mystical, unexpected and unsettling about the east. Perhaps the scriptures reflected the view that most folks had, literally facing east, a view that anticipated danger, challenge, hope and redemption. Just as the star rose in the east, so too did the people’s vision of God’s promise to re-establish justice and right relationships, as faithful as the rising of the sun, moon and stars.