Breathe deeply and step forward

David Landis

Shabbat, the Hebrew word for the Sabbath, begins at sundown on Friday. During this time many religious Jews in the Jerusalem area migrate to the Western Wall to offer prayers, commencing the holy day of rest and celebration.

In August I was walking through the Old City streets towards the wall among Orthodox Jews, as well as a group of young Mennonites from the United States. As we approached the Wall, we stepped back to gather our observations and hesitations. The mass of men and women clothed in black and white closer to the Wall were swirling, praying, praising and dancing in ways that looked foreign to us, yet beckoned as genuine and holy. Some wanted to approach but wondered, “What will they think of us if we go there to pray if we’re not Jewish?”

After some conversation, we imagined a young Jesus in our same situation, and it seemed obvious that he would have stepped forward. Tim and I decided to put on paper kippot and move closer. Soon we were swept up in a circle of young Jewish men, singing boisterously and dancing in a circle with arms around each others’ shoulders. There was a spiritual energy that I haven’t felt in a long time. Our hesitations were absorbed by the movement of the community.

As we walked back toward where the rest of our group had been curiously watching, an older Orthodox Jewish man approached us and said with a warm smile, “I just want you to know that you are welcome here and that God is not Jewish. And I know this because you are breathing; you are alive here with us.”

The words stuck with me. In Jewish tradition, breath is the spirit of God signified by the Hebrew word ruach, which also has linguistic connections to the wind, soul and spirit. Ancient Hebrew has no vowels, as these sounds represent the breath of God articulating language through the reader’s recitation. As a result, the communicated message is an inspired interaction with God, sculpting the meaning of scripture to speak to the context of the community.

The Holy Spirit invites us to see God moving through each other, whether expressed through our inspired words, the breath that sustains us, or the effects of the wind that fill our sails and drive us to new horizons. As Anglican Bishop John V. Taylor states, this is the “Go-Between God,” the invisible “current of communication” that streams between us when we truly recognize the presence of the other.

Over the past few years, I have felt the wind pulling me across the Atlantic and Mediterranean back to the Middle East, a place that has had significant spiritual influence on the whole of humanity as well as my personal journey. Returning has never been a matter of if, but a matter of when. And now the time has come to make the move.

Next week I will shift my location of residence to Israel to experiment with new models for how God communicates through all of us. This initiative of Franconia Conference, via Jerusalem, will seek to develop new ways to build a culture of engagement and connectivity through networking, communication and movement within the global Anabaptist community. I will be writing and adding photos regularly to, so keep checking to interact as the initiative develops.

Let us all take a deep breath and invite the Spirit of God to inspire our lives with new understandings of each other whether on the way to Jerusalem or simply on the way.