Sunday, June 17, 2018

2018:3 - Received

An image of the Holy Family along the Nile
Matthew 2.13-18 tells the story of Mary, Joseph and their child, Jesus, who become political refugees from a tyrannical ruler named Herod, who announces a plan to kill all boys in the vicinity of Bethlehem under the age of two. Matthew tells us the family escapes into Egypt where they stay until the death of Herod.
The site of the crpyt

This Bible story is not one that is well-known to many Americans, but for Egyptians, regardless of faith, this story of the refuge that the Holy Family sought and found in their land, is a profound story that shapes their understanding of what it means to provide hospitality and care to guests. For centuries, monasteries, convents, and churches have claimed to be built in places where the Holy Family rested along their journey. At a Metro station just a few stops north of the seminary, you can visit a church built over a crypt where the Holy Family is said to have stayed. (I like to call these sites part of the "Jesus Slept Here" tour!)

This year marks the start of a year celebrating the sites that welcomed the Holy Family throughout their journey. On Sunday evening (June 17) at the seminary we welcomed bishops (Coptic Orthodox, Coptic Catholic, and Roman Catholic), the pope's ambassador to Egypt, the Patriarch of the Coptic Catholic Church, numerous priests, and some 50 Italian tourists who have traveled to Egypt to journey to the traditional stops along the Holy Family's journey.

We prayed together and then we ate together. In true Egyptian fashion every comfort and need of the guests was considered. When your country has provided shelter and care to Jesus, the Savior of the world, you carry a special awareness of the hidden nature of Christ, who is in all people.

Each time I come to Egypt, I see new examples of what it means to be received by God's love. In part it means to see the other not as a problem to be solved, or a danger to be averted, but as a hidden Christ to be welcomed. My own faith has been deepened by considering how I embody the welcome that I receive whenever I come to this land, the first to welcome Jesus.

Monday, June 11, 2018

2018:2 - Bounty

A table of bounty had been set before us ... chicken, Egyptian mulukhiya, kofta, dolmas, cucumber and lettuce salad, fresh bread. That's what happens when you travel to an Egyptian home for a meal. Every specialty of the house is placed before you. Not eating is considered an insult and so you taste ... everything. It is not a burden because the food is delicious.

Sunday we were invited to Amir's home for the midday meal. Amir was a student in past years and will visit America with another seminarian in July and August. He lives about 45 minutes from seminary by taxi, subway and foot, and so we made our way.

We sat with Amir's tiny mother in her ornate, air conditioned sitting room in an ancient structure built by previous generations of family. The flat-screen TV was on the wall and her son and grandsons attended to their various smart phones from time to time throughout the afternoon.

Through those gathered, she told us about her 73 years of life. She showed us a wedding picture from the mid-60s. She told us about her youth in Upper Egypt and then her early years of marriage in Cairo when she would go to a nearby source to carry water from the common spigot for the family's needs.

As I listened, I thought about the changes that this woman and others of her generation in Egypt, have seen in the course of their lifetimes. From animal transport and no electricity or water in homes to all of the modern conveniences of life today. In the course of her lifetime, she has experienced changes that spanned multiple generations in my family.

Faced with all that she has seen and the pace of change that she has witnessed, she could be bitter or simply tired. Instead, she sat with a smile on her face and warmth emanating from her being. "It is a blessing for me that you have come to my home. You are welcome anytime."

I'm certain that THIS is what being received by God's love looks like. I only hope to provide her son with such a reception when he travels to our home later this summer.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

2018:1 - Changes

The first few days of each year I spend in Egypt inevitably bring about a tabulation of the changes I notice at seminary, on the nearby business streets, and among the people I work with. I noticed myself tracking the changes from the moment I exited the airport terminal. The benefit of being here for a month and then being away for 11, or this year 23 months, means that the day-to-day changes that are often invisible when we are living through them get put into sharp focus. After two years away, the changes, whether mundane or monumental, are hard to ignore.

The monumental includes completely refurbished guest rooms at the seminary, including air conditioners in each guest room! Considering that the daytime temps are hovering around 100 and don't show any signs of breaking anytime soon, this is a most welcome addition that has already greatly increase our comfort and our ability to sleep at night ... once the jet lag subsides.

The more mundane include tracking the change in status of students and priests. Some who have left and have come back. Others who we expected to be present, but are preparing for studies elsewhere in the coming year.

Perhaps most significant are the changes that mark the passing of time ... 11 years since my first trip to Egypt and teaching in the summer course at St. Leo's. Abuna Joseph who met me at the airport, was a first year student that first summer in 2007. He is now an experienced priest who has returned to seminary to work with seminarians in their formation. Other students, from recent years are scheduled to be ordained in the coming weeks and months.

In 2007 the thought that I might be returning to Egypt 11 years later, seemed like a distant dream. But changes, both the monumental and mundane, come day by day. The gift is having been able to engage in the work I do here long enough to note the changes when they come.

For this I am grateful today.