I have been thinking, for days now, of how to describe our magical adventure, our family trip to Jerusalem, a week full of delights and overwhelm and memories none of the four of us will ever forget. We experienced things, individually and collectively, that moved us all deeply.
This is the photograph I keep returning to. Not any of the more glorious ones, of famous sites, of gold domes and flags waving in the cornflower blue sky and 12th century churches, of childrens’ smiles. It took me a while, but gradually I realized that this photograph asserted itself for a reason: it fits perfectly with my reflections on 2011 and hopes for 2012.
For me, Jerusalem was about faith. It is a place where the extraordinary power of religion – to render both egregious harm and outrageous beauty – is undeniable, unavoidable, written indelibly on every cobblestone, every mosaic tile, every crying face. We saw the silver star on the floor marking where Jesus was born and the rock where he was crucified. We saw people weeping at the Western Wall and the stunning gold dome where Mohammed ascended for the first time. I stood outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, listening simultaneously to a ghostly choir singing from somewhere inside (above us?) and to the haunting Muslim call to prayer, the two sounds floating on the same incense-scented air, colliding and, improbably, weaving together into nothing less than the sound of faith.
Faith is something I’ve written about a lot. It’s something I think about in the middle of the dark night, something I lunge for, awkwardly, clapping my hands together, trying to grasp it even as it floats away, something I look for above me, in the clouds, in the patterns of bare branches against winter’s sky. It is impossible not to be moved by the tangible faith all over Jerusalem, in the relics but most of all in the way faith itself is animate in the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims moving through the streets.
Above all, there was one moment. On Christmas Eve, we made our way to Bethlehem (for the second day in a row: on the 23rd we’d gone, seen Jesus’ birthplace, walked around the Church of the Nativity). We walked across the intense checkpoint between Israel and the West Bank, and after a slow taxi ride made the final half mile ascent into Manger Square on foot. The sun was setting, and the streets were packed with a crowd whose mood seemed to skitter between ebullient and emotional. I had a child holding each of my hands. And then I looked up. And I saw the end-of-day light on the wall of the Church of the Nativity. And my heart thudded and my eyes filled with tears.
That was my moment of faith in Jerusalem. Not the big scenes, the places where pilgrims threw themselves to the floor and wept, the places where I imagined I might feel the presence of a sense sublime … of something far more deeply interfused. No. Instead, it was the setting sun on a wall that had been there for many, many years. A wall that has mutely witnessed tragedies and glories, that has been watered by the tears of the faithful and been subtly shaped by the over-centuries erosion of their handprints. It was the light.
Last year I chose a word of the year for the first time. Trust served me well. The truth is, I’m not sure – for me at least – there’s a whole lot of difference between trust and faith. At least there isn’t in how I think of them. I spent a lot of time thinking about trust last year, and while I still struggle with the effort to let go and to believe that everything is unfolding exactly as it should, I feel enriched and calmed by having focused on the word for 12 months. I wasn’t going to pick a word for 2012, though. Nothing really came to me. But then in Jerusalem I kept thinking of this same word, and this picture, out of so, so many, kept pushing itself into my consciousness. So here it is. For 2012.
Light as in less-heavy: I want to laugh more, to remind people – maybe even all of you, and certainly myself – that there are many aspects of my personality that are not stiflingly serious.
Light as in light on trees, on stone walls, on the faces of my children. Light from inside and light from outside. The light of sunrise and sunset, whose source I cannot fully understand; this is the light that makes me feel trust, makes me feel faith. I am already fairly attuned to this light, photographing it all the time and writing about it even more incessantly.
May the light from the Church of the Nativity, which tremendously moved me, stay with me in 2012. May I never forget that the power in light resides, somehow, in its relationship to darkness. Shadows exist at the edge where light meets dark, and they are where I have always found the most meaning. There is no reason to be afraid of the dark.
15 thoughts on “Light”
Yes, this is why I found Jerusalem so stunning — here is quite literally the crux of religion and faith : that on a regular Friday, in the space of a few contested miles, you could witness Christian pilgrims carrying a huge wooden cross between the final stations, move among the throngs on Mulsim worshippers leaving their weekly service, and witness the joy of Friday at the Western Wall. So much beauty, so much conflict, all over the same worn cobblestone streets, over which perhaps Jesus himself walked. You can’t describe it, really.
I might have to steal your word because I too am hoping for a year of light. Light in all of its various meanings. But the year will not, and cannot, be without dark because can light truly exist or be understood without reference to its opposite? Your trip sounds like it was wonderful and meaningful. I look forward to hearing more and to blogging alongside you for another year. Maybe we will be able to keep each other on the light side? 🙂
Once again, Lindsey, you’ve articulated emotions and thoughts I didn’t even know I had. You are a gem. As is this photo. (Although I would also love to see more!) Sending much love…
I was listening to someone speak on light recently; it was on a show or recording – I might be able to figure it out if you find this intriguing – He was talking about light, and how you can’t actually see light, but you need light to see anything else. One of his goals was to try to be a light so that others could shine and be seen. Or let others be light….. or something like that. I was really only half way listening but as I read your words wish I was listening more intently…. happy new year.
I love your new word for the year. I also have enjoyed reading your blog throughout 2011.
To help you quick off being “light”… we should definitely plan on grabbing a glass of wine one evening. Would love to hear about all your adventures. Happy 2012.
Beautiful post (and picture)! I’d seen on Twitter that you were going and was eager to hear your impressions. I’ve been four times. Jerusalem never loses its touch.
What a wonderful post. I have been waiting anxiously to read what you had to say about your trip as I knew it would be incredible and wise and I was right. Interstingly, trust was my word too last year and I am still searching for this year’s…
Sigh. This is gorgeous Lindsey. I too wasn’t going to choose a word this year. It’s funny how they come, unbidden. I’m glad your time away was so full. Welcome home and Happy new year.
Light. I could use a little. But I think if I read your words right, there is always light – I just need to see it, to believe in it.
I’m sorry I missed so much of your writing. I had no idea how bad October was for you. Here’s hoping to an injury and illness-free 2012. Happy New Year.
Oh my friend. I wish you could’ve seen my face as I read this. I was concentrating so intently, wanting to read slowly to savor these glorious words, but having to read quickly because I wanted more.
This is exquisite. xo
I love your description of faith, and the search for faith. The clapping hands. The chase.
I think I need trust to be my word of the year, though it scares the shivers out of me. I’m so glad to count myself as one of your readers. Happy New Year, Lindsey.
When I capture an image and it stays with me to savor over and over my photographer friend says I am learning to distill the light. He is a fabulous photographer who knows far more about light than I.
He has spent more time thinking about it than I.
You are a distiller.
You meditate on the Light.
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