A weekend a month ago, I visited Jerusalem for the first time as arrangements for Bethlehem at Christmas had to be made in person. I had intended to make my pilgrimage to Jerusalem at Christmas for the first time and in the spring for an extended time. My desire was to live in Israel, but hold off any visit to Jerusalem. I felt by waiting, I might long more for the experience, to savor Jerusalem’s magic for a time prepared with great anticipation.
As it turned out, I could have gone at anytime; waiting added nothing. She was waiting for me. It is she, not I that dictates her way. Despite torrential rain and numbing cold of that first weekend visit, her charm enthralled me as she led me through her streets, the two of us, whirling and spinning, laughing and shouting, I with her in an ecstatic dance, the golden city, city of magical enchantment.
Jerusalem needs no pampering, no sentimental deference from me. She lives to herself as any true city. In name she may be the New City and the Old City but she is not her blocks of stone and cobbled streets. She is herself, a shining presence, the centre of the world it was said, the ancient matriarch of the soul of the world. We think she wears a crown, the many-sided walled city. We know so little of her. The walls, erected by Suleiman the Magnificent, are but 500 years old, not even a day of her life. Walls are made for a divided humanity, a single wall that that encloses great division in competing belief and dress and claim upon those narrow passageways. With much noise do humans make that claim of Jerusalem and much blood did humanity spill in the streets, believing she could be wooed, human blood of every civilization and empire claiming her spirit, but she herself is unassailable, independent of her interlopers and residents alike, indifferent to their presumptive ways, like a great matron who sweeps aside the children with her skirts.
The nations come and go, for a while to ply their trade in her streets, to live in her enclosures, to eat her bread, assuming in their bravado that she is theirs for the taking, but for a time only, as other mighty claimants assault her precinct. My time with her was but a brief fling, yet on a cold and rainy night, she had slipped around the corner, beckoned me, seduced me by her mystique, disappeared in the dark recesses of narrow streets, soon to forget I even existed, but from that first glimpse I longed for her, for the rest of my life, enchanted as I was, as so many, so many, having brushed her stones with our feet. And she does not care for she knows our ways to be foolish, in her ancient wisdom knows better, always has been what she is, not stones, the glimmer that would lead one to a merry dance, if we could but have faith.
I think the true city is a Jerusalem of the soul. Another person had come to this place before me. Making his way to Jerusalem for the last time before his death, as he came into its view from the Mount of Olives, with palm-waving throngs all around him, singing his glory, Jesus gazed over Jerusalem and cried, it is told us, cried bitterly. Now I, too, have looked upon the longing deep within, the Jerusalem of my soul, and cried, cried bitterly. There are no entrances through the walls but many gates. There are no street signs but one broad avenue and many dark alleys. It would be easy to tell the avenue from the alleys but I am blind and foolish, stupid man.
And so I stand where I am. Naked. Blind. Deaf. Mute. My toe follows the contour of the stone I stand on. Only the stone appears alive. I know of nothing more to exist.
At times I hear voices draw near from somewhere and together we laugh and cry and say, ‘how do you do’, ‘how good for you’. And maybe I feel a touch from somewhere, in a moment, but the shuffling of the retreating feet that fill my imagination, my desire, fades away into silence. And the silence persists. And I wonder if the voices ever did exist. Funny, the meetings and the goodbyes. What chance they are.
I do not call after the voices, nor send them away. I question it not, nor seek for meaning. It is enough to have imagined, dreamt for a while. I cry for the memory is all I have. I cry in empty streets. Who can know my solitary soul? Whose soul can I know? Weak-kneed I collapse, fall prostrate on the hard ground. Ahh, but Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the Holy, the city is light. I am here, in the centre of the city. I was here all the time. Its glow warms my body. Its breath whispers, so softly in my ear, love, you are loved. Even the stones lift me up. I am home. I begin to dance.