July 21, 2013

Welcoming the Stranger

For Sunday worship a colleague and I returned to a site visited yesterday, Ratisbonne, which now serves as a seminary of the Salesian Brothers of France.  It was one of the very early structures (19th century) on a prominent hill in western Jerusalem, and it has provided education and refuge for many, including displaced Jewish persons when territorial lines were re-drawn. 
            In addition to its seminary work, the old monastery hosts various immigrant populations working in Jerusalem.  This morning I attended the service tailored to the many Filipinas who serve as caregivers in the city.  Readings and music and homily offered in both Tagalo and English made us welcome.  (My colleague had grown up in the Philippines, and so he needed the English less than I!)

            The primary lectionary texts for the service were Genesis 18:1-10, where Abraham and Sarah welcomed the messengers from God, and Luke 10:38-42, where the sisters of Bethany welcome Jesus. Hospitality was clearly the theme; listening to God and making space for the “other.”  And the congregation lived up to the essence of these passages.
            As Rob Nash and I sat in our pew, one of the members invited us to share in the presentation of the gifts of the people to the altar.  We were instructed how to carry the candles and where to place them. As strangers, we were given a place of honor as we participated in the liturgy.  We managed to bow at the right time as we processed, and our small contribution to the work of the people was warmly received.
            In a sense, I have experienced an extended Sabbath.  On Friday evening, the Shalom Hartman Institute hosted us for the Shabbat dinner on the stone patio between the buildings.  The coordinator of the Christian Leadership Initiative, Dr. Marcie Lenk, had spared no element of gracious hospitality.  The American Jewish Committee, the primary architect of this program, ensures the most constructive opportunities for CLI.  Cool weather, a bright moon, and good food and conversation made it a most enjoyable occasion.  Great kindness welcomed us Gentiles into the time-honored ritual of enjoying sacred time in spacious freedom.
            We return to the work (and joy) of the Beit Midrash (house of study) this afternoon as we join with rabbi colleagues to probe issues concerning Jewish peoplehood as it relates to the nation of Israel. Once again, our cohort will be the recipients of hospitality as our leaders share frankly—as if we were no longer strangers—their perspectives on matters of abiding significance.

            Molly T. Marshall

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