Saturday, 28 April 2012

A spot of shade and a cup of water

Hospitality is important in the Bible, especially in the pages of the First Testament. There's Rublev's famous icon; Abraham, entertaining three messengers of God at the trees of Mamre (the words for angel and messenger are interchangeable in the Bible, we have generally gone for the more mysterious option in interpretation, not always to our advantage)(Genesis 18). Rublev's icon depicts the three conferring whilst Abraham sees to his duties as host and prepares food and drink.

Hospitality was and still is important to the nomadic people of this region. Water and shelter are scarce, they can not be kept to oneself. If an enemy comes to your tent you are still obliged to offer hospitality, and if another comes to threaten him, the host is obliged to defend him with his life. I'm sure there were and are times when the niceties of these were rules we're set aside, yet what is more impressive is how often they are kept.

Even today, hiring a taxi to visit some remote site often involves and extended trip to the drivers home for coffee or mint tea and to be introduced to the family. And no, the meter is not running.

So why am I writing about this today? Well, let me describe to you where I am sitting right now. If you drive in Israel to the middle of nowhere, take a dirt track for an hour off the road, park your car at the end of the track and walk for a couple of hours, you can sit in the shade of a tamarisk tree (I think) cooled by a gentle breeze and watch the gazelle and onager (a small horse) wander over the most remote and undisturbed wilderness in the land; a stunning landscape of coloured rocks, stripped cliffs and blue skies. The only sound is silence, occasionally broken by birdsong or the stirrings of the breeze. I am here because of the hospitality of a Reserve Warden who responded to my request for information about any good walks with twenty minutes of their time, pulling maps from drawers, outlining walks and the best way to do them, letting me in on secret spots and detours from trails, all because they wanted to share the good they had.

Hospitality, a major and often missed theme in the Bible. One that I hope to return to tomorrow.

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