October 10, 2013

Me and the Hassidic Rabbi of Ger

"The human being is called a 'walker,' having to go from one step to another. For habit makes things reflexive and this hides the inner light...Whoever stands still is not renewed..."

                                                                        Hassidic teaching, circa 1902

That's from Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger, a Polish rebbe who died in 1905. And, yep, that's what was in the Hebrew pages I had to decode for my text class the day after I returned home from hiking with E in Israel.

The hike was definitely about renewal. First, in hiking 10 to 12 miles daily over four days, I remembered with every muscle how trekking has fed my soul since I was a youngster in wilderness camp. Don't you think that which we love in childhood is that which our most authentic self loves? For me, its vanilla ice cream, pine forests, dogs, and the sound of my boots crunching on the trail.

So it was the happiest of reunions to find each other again. [Insert commercial for orthopedic surgeon and artificial knee prosthesis here.]

But it was also about the freshest of new experiences. The Greatest Hits.
Traversing cliff ridges gripping wires and descending via six inch metal rungs... walking alone in a banana grove to suck some shade while belting out the Chiquita Banana song at the top of my lungs...munching on fallen grapefruit in a citrus grove...falling asleep to the fireworks and gunfire that are how Arab villagers celebrate weddings, in a hostel made from the ruins of an Ottoman palace...Scanning every rock,bush and tree for that damned orange and white trail marker...touching the stone of the nook that held the Torah in the ruins of a second century synagogue. Fresh pomegrantes. Even fresher pita.

And our fellow hikers...well, those gentle souls from Australia, Denmark, Germany and the southern US will get their own post soon.

Jesus played no part in my choice to hike The Jesus Trail, but its geography will forever alter how I feel about what I read in the bible. Because this is geography you can feel. Even at its end, the Israeli summer is about sun that can eat you alive. When you feel a journey like this:

You truly understand the magic of this.
How a well was what a Food and Gas Ahead sign is on the long stretch of highway after midnight. How shade, just simple shade, could be the cornerstone of hospitality.

Our journey started in the ancient market in Nazareth and ended on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. I wished then--and feel it even more now--that I could have kept on going. To walk from point to point as determined by where there is water, listening to the crunch of my boots on the stones and clay shards of an ancient landscape.

But my life is also about Himself, who blew through 36 barbequed chicken thighs and then defrosted a banana bread instead of a turkey meatloaf for his supper (which apparently didn't cause any real change in his dinner plans, except that he didn't have to search for the ketchup).He only likes to hike if there is no other way to get to an intriguing destination.

So I find myself torn between Himself and the Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger. He wrote the quote at the beginning of this post. And here's how he ended it:

"The angels above can stand. But the person has to keep walking." 

Things could get serious between us.