Today was the start of summer school. It began with an early breakfast and a lecture by an Muslim professor from one of Jerusalem’s universities. He presented us with an Introduction to Islam. Some of what he shared was familiar from things I’ve read or studied before, but he certainly went more in-depth on some of the inner workings and schools of thought within Islam than I’d ever heard about before. As well, to state the obvious, an interactive dialogue with a devout and scholarly Muslim is certainly a different experience than any book on my shelf is capable of providing to me. I’m not convinced that it was it was the most profound lecture for my personal journey, but I’ve had much trouble connecting one idea to ten other ideas, so I’ll take what I was given and run with it somewhere, I’m sure.
The afternoon was free, and it was exploring time. Where to go in Jerusalem? My first vote went to the Old City. And so we did. I hope to visit and explore that place many times before we leave, so I was eager to learn the bus system as quickly as possible. Success! I was with two people who’d never been there before, so we agreed just to wander. I was content with that, and they were happy to get the lay of the land at something of a leisurely pace. Truthfully, I don’t know how much they got sorted out, as Old City Jerusalem is famously maze-like. Narrow alleys and winding paths challenge even the soundest senses of direction, and the first several visits can contain moments of “lostness”. The beauty of it though is that the Old City is hardly larger than a square mile, and the whole thing is surrounded by walls. So “lost”, even “really lost”, is a temporary state. “Found” is waiting for you if you’re willing to keep moving your feet. It’s certainly my favourite part of Jerusalem, and now that I’ve got some transit know-how, they’re going to need higher walls to keep me out!
Last night gave me some time to explore the building. Tantur was designed to be something of a retreat centre. Picture St. Michael’s in Lumsden. Only Tantur is larger. And it swaps the Qu’appelle Valley for the Temple Mount. Other than that, exactly the same! As well, Tantur is known for its library. I’d read rave reviews about it but hadn’t paid it much attention. I’m not sure that we’ll have a lot of time for the library, so it didn’t really matter. But last night, I had the time. So I wandered in. Wow! Picture a library some larger than the Central branch of Regina’s Public Library, all three levels of it. And every book, periodical, and journal is tied to the subject of religion! It’s enormous enough that one wonders where to begin. The library has gained a reputation as the sort of place where a visiting scholar might retreat to, in order to dive into their research or finish a thesis or write a book. I’m not sure I’ll ever qualify to fully appreciate this facility, but I can at least begin to acknowledge that this is an exceptional place.
The rest of the day was more mundane: A much-needed load of laundry, some quiet reading, a bit of emailing, and decent visit or two with group members. I’ve committed myself to some daily quiet time in the usually-silent-and-empty chapel here, and that has quickly become a piece of each day that I anticipate. I am feeling a fairly significant need for a reforming of my devotional habits, and “no time like the present” seems like the best motto.
Tomorrow’s morning is free time, until lunch when we’ll hit the road for an official tour of my beloved Old City. It will keep us out until the evening. More on that tomorrow…