I sleep deeply for a few hours, not hearing the sounds of those who waken at 1:30 to set out to watch the sunrise on Mount Sinai. Sometime around three I am awake, awash in old fears and darkness. I call out for help, hardly knowing to whom I cry. I sleep again, waken in time to watch the sunrise from the window of my cabin. As I gaze at the glowing light in the eastern sky above the mountains, some peace, some joy trickles back into my soul.
sunrise from Mount Sinai
I recall a moment from yesterday’s visit to the Monastery of St. Catharine. Tiredness had emptied me of joy, and I found myself looking at the radiance of others, sensing I lacked some essential quality of openness, of wonder. Walking away from the monastery towards our bus, I fell in step with one of the men in our group, Arthur. “I see a glow about you… I just wanted to tell you that.” In that moment of inner darkness, his words were like a cup of cool white wine to me. In this dawn moment, I wonder now what prompted him to say that. I feel graced, knowing that some loving presence saw my need, reached out to me through Arthur.
My companions slowly drift back from their odyssey, arriving at breakfast with stories of the stunning views of the sunrise, and many adventures on camels, on foot. Suzanne is glowing with the experience, rode a camel part way up the mountain. At least my coat got to ride a camel! She has brought me a stone from Mount Sinai which I treasure.
It is two hours before everyone has finally returned, and a further wait as the last arrivals hurry to shower, to pack up, to prepare for our departure. Michael, the young doctor in our group, is suddenly standing near me, just outside the dining lodge. His face is a mask of regret, disappointment, something even darker.
“I wanted to go,” he says. “I really wanted to climb Mount Sinai. But I didn’t get a wake-up call, and missed the whole thing.”
I feel his deep distress, reach for something that might ease it. “Maybe you just needed some extra sleep,” I offer.
“No,” he says, angrily. “The Hebrew God really has it in for me. I know it.”
I am appalled at this. “Michael, we are held in love. I can see how tired you are, that you need rest. Why wouldn’t God see it too, and give you what you needed most?”
I can see that my words are not enough to overturn a lifetime of such thinking.
When at last the bus pulls away, Jean tells us we have an option : those who’d like to return to the Monastery to see the icons will be dropped off first, while the others will go on to a market where the Bedouins sell their handicrafts. I picture glorious woven shawls, rare carvings, the chance to meet these strange and elusive people. Then I think about the sacred icons that Jean has spoken about.
I feel unable to make a choice. I am sitting with Rosemary, and tell her my dilemma.
With her usual practical wisdom, Rosemary asks, “Do you plan to do any more shopping?”
Of course not. I have my Isis bracelet, gifts for my family and a few friends. “No,” I say, suddenly relieved and clear.
In the morning light, as we stand in the courtyard of the Monastery before the flowering bush with its flame-coloured flowers, my heart softens. I am open to the possibility that this is a descendant or relative of the Burning Bush that Moses encountered. The Holy One has chosen stranger places from which to speak…
Jean stands with our small group, invites us into a time of quiet meditation, suggests that we pray for healing for ourselves and for our world. For myself, I pray for the healing that has been the recurring theme of this journey, a healing of the wound which opens whenever I am drawn to love someone deeply. For the earth, I pray for the rising of feminine energy everywhere to heal and renew life. This morning the Monastery has a sacred feel to it.
Inside the Monastery we are allowed to enter the chapel to see the icons. I remember the heart-stopping beauty of a small collection of Greek icons I’d seen at Ottawa’s Museum of Civilization. There’d been one of the Madonna and Child that had captivated me there. I begin searching the walls aware that the icons here are dark, have a grimy appearance, as though the dust of centuries has been allowed to settle on them. But the piercing awareness of the eyes that look back at me from each painting soon makes me forget dust. And everything else. I feel drawn to an icon of Jesus, but as I look more closely what is emanating from the eyes is not love but fierceness, a force.
Two of Mary are compelling. One is the icon that I’ve known since childhood under the title, “Mother of Perpetual Help”. In another, Mary is holding out her arms as though embracing a child, but there is no child. I spend a long time standing before this image, wanting to be the one for whom her arms are reaching.
Icon of Mary, with arms open
Today, November 21st, is a feast of Mary, recalling her Presentation in the Temple when she was a child.