How beautiful on the mountains, are the feet of the messenger announcing peace, of the messenger of good. Isaiah 52:7
So yesterday we heard a lot about war…the battles that wrecked destruction again and again on these stone villages layered among the olive trees and vineyards of white eating grapes on rocky hillsides: from the destruction of Troy after the abduction of Helen, through the back and forth triumphs and losses to Persia, the Peloponnesian War which ended in the fall of Athens to Sparta and then Alexander the Great declared himself King of the World; the crushing by Macedon, the sacking by Rome, the pillaging by Goths, the invading by Slavs and Normans, the occupying by Venetians and Ottoman Turks which included the blasting destruction of the Parthenon where the Turks were storing the explosions (the guide added that “the Italians should have known better”) and the final insult upon insult, the hauling away of everything still standing by Lord Elgin in order to decorate his summer home.
We couldn’t exactly understand our tour guide who kept drifting into French, but we could see the remaining shards of marble as we made our way through the new museum and climbed up the stone path leading to the Acropolis that has been used for defense for over 5000 years. That is a long time. War and rumor of wars have haunted mankind since the very beginning.
And as we stood in front of the stadium constructed for the first Olympics in 776 BC, we reheard the story of the defeat of Darius, the king of Persia, at Marathon, and how Pheideppides ran 42 kilometers kilometers to Athens to bring the good news, and then collapsed, dead.
Beautiful feet, indeed.
Yes, echo the hills, there is nothing new under the sun.
In the afternoon, after a quick meat pie and cappuccino coffee, we headed across town, weaving our way through narrow market streets filled with Byzantines icons, household plasticwares, and heaps of shoes in plastic bags from China, crossed the main road of Tsaldari Panagi carefully obeying traffic signals, strode past the archways that said “Open” overhead in green letters with little red lights outside each closed door in the hallway, to a place sort of pointed out on a carefully folded map. We found another door, with “Samaria: Jesus loves you” painted brightly on the wall, and pushed our way through the heaps of jackets and coats and to walk up the narrow stairs where we not only discovered rooms filled with small tables crowded with refugees from Syria and Afghanistan, but we also those beautiful hands and feet of peace bearers as well.
Samaria’s founder is a South Korean pastor and his wife and his three daughters. They smiled so broadly when Mary Anne explained her last name and its rich Korean heritage. There were lots of other folks, with aprons wrapped around and large spoons preparing the day’s meal. A low rumble of controlled chaos simmered underneath all of the weary smiles. We met a young strong German on the stair who is overseeing other German kids who come to volunteer for a few months at a time. We asked him what he did, and he answered, “Everything, Anything they need.” They serve food to between three and five hundred people a day. But they serve a lot more than food and clothes and medical services upstairs. They served goodness and hope in the midst of badness and hopelessness.
I mostly hung out with Abdullah and Hajar and their ten-month-old son. They left Afghanistan three or four months ago. They are both engineers, but now spend their time serving, both in teaching English, she to the women, he to the men, but mostly they serve by “giving advise.” Abdullah said that’s what people mostly need; they have no idea of what the future holds nor how to begin to walk in that direction. What direction? They do not know. Abdullah and Hajar do not know. Hajar trembles as she frets over her old mother and his old mother and her little sister whom they left behind. Did they do the right thing in leaving? Did they abandon their loved ones or are they building a future for their son? She is too anxious to stay in her tent camp so she comes here for courage, for the love and for the songs and for the bubble bottles that all the children have to play with. Bubbles fill the air.
We are now Facebook friends. And we have the pastor’s email address. What they need are books. I told her to send me a list. I slid twenty euros into her notebook that she pushed back, but I insisted. Things always come up, and sometime you will think, What I need is twenty euros. She said that they often did not have enough money for the grocery store. Could I find an organization to help? I said I would look around. I said that you may use my name as a sponsor, if anyone asks, you have my name.
And then we prayed.
For the LORD God is both sun and shield; He will give grace and glory. Psalm 84:10
May He be the sun who shines on your path, giving you clarity and wisdom and light for each day as you walk forward. And may He be the shield around your beloved family left behind, and around you, as you serve in kindness and strength. May He cover you in His grace, and may you see His glory.
I did not want to leave. I wanted to join the young Germans on their sleeping bags on the floor. If nothing else, I could listen to stories. That’s how Andres in Spain shares God’s love, by listening to stories. But we walked down the narrow staircase and out the door. Just a few blocks away there was another long, long feeding line, someone passing out small Styrofoam bowls of rice and a clump of brown something to people who then each sat alone in a small field of worn grass.
And now Mary Anne and I are off once more, across the dark turquoise Aegean Sea. I am still adjusting to this programmed, every-place-I-will-lay-my-head-tonight-has-a-name sort of travelling, but it was very nice to be picked up in the hotel lobby and transported to the ferry dock by a smiling Greek whose mother is an English teacher.
Mary Anne just reminded me that there are thousands of Greek islands. So many fairly bleak harsh brownish grey mountains with a few low shrubs and a few greenish grey olive trees, the gift from Athena. Sometimes there are a few low rock walls that speak of fertility and cultivation. But not so much.
It is difficult to not think of Paul and his travels through these very waters. Sometimes he stayed a year and a half, like in Corinth, and sometimes he did not. Now a cross-topped dome stands on each street corner.
And how does life come to pass? There are those who till deep down in the soil, removing the rocks to heft into protective terraces. And those who prepare the soil, sifting clay and sand and stirring in nutrients, ready for sowing. And those who pass through, tossing seed hither and thither; rather heedless of where it lands. That is not their responsibility. And still others follow, watering and weeding and pruning. At last, there are those come in with great baskets and harvest with celebration and song and dance late into the night. And yet, once again, the cycle begins again, chopping up the empty stalks and letting the land go fallow.
There is nothing new under the sun.
And I am reading Richard Rohr and thinking a lot about his idea of the transition between the first half and the second half of life, as we leave off forming and shaping the outside pot and consider deeply with what we are to fill it with, letting go of the small self and being overtaken by the freedom of the Great Mystery. And for what have I been made? What is to pour out with overflowing of this earthen vessel? What is my role in the great cycle? The great dance across the starry expanse of time?
And as I watch gulls skim the smooth waveless surface, I think of my photos. I tend towards the panoramic view…push the little button and an arrow moves swiftly across the scene. And then there are the Marco photos, the photos that made me fall in love with the children of Peru, the street-livers of Los Angeles, and the quiet souls of China. Up close. Watching. Listening. Eyes meeting eyes. Intentional noticing.
Last night, I determined to look into Hajar’s eyes. The whole time. Undistracted.
May I truly listen. And look.
Unlike a seagull scrabbling for scraps of leftovers on the sand or dipping down for a quick snap.
As Andres reminded me, I don’t even have to tell my story.
And as I sit overlooking the timeless sea, wondering how to walk with beautiful feet, Bing, I receive a message. Moments ago, from Andres. Andres who I was just now thanking in my heart wrote me a letter, "Hola,hoy hace dos años que te he conocido a ti y a tu hija."
It was two years ago today that I first knelt down and asked God to reveal His power and love by healing his leg. And then I stood up, walked down the stairs and rode off, up that great big, big mountain. And neither of our lives have ever been the same.
God only knows His place and His time.