The God-trodden Mount Sinai
John and I made a pilgrimage to the summit of Mount Sinai in 2005. We were in Egypt to scuba dive and snorkel in the exquisite Red Sea when the opportunity came up. The year before we had visited New York and again, by chance, seen an exhibition about the Holy Monastery of Saint Catherine at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It was extraordinary and fascinating and made us wish that we might see it and Mount Sinai one day.
Let my people go
The prophet, Moses, adopted as a baby by Pharaoh’s daughter, escaped into the Sinai Desert for 40 years. After God appeared to him in a Burning Bush, he returned to Egypt to lead the Jews across the Red Sea and home to the Promised Land through the desert. It was on Mount Sinai that God gave Moses the Ten Commandments. Saint Catherine’s Greek Orthodox Monastery is an ancient and remote fortress, dating from the third century. where pilgrims stop on their way to the mountain of Moses. It is isolated in the desert, reached by dirt roads and dependent on the local Bedouin people.
Sacred to all monotheistic religions
The prophet Moses and Mount Sinai are equally sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam and at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, all three religions are honoured, and from there pilgrims of all faiths start to climb the holy mountain. Mount Sinai is of immense significance to me because my family includes spiritual people of all faiths, Christian prayer warriors, Jews, a Muslim who was a hadji, who had made many pilgrimages, as well as myself, an agnostic who needs to pray. I hope for peace between these religions one day. Searching for poetry about light I found this poem by Rabbi Lewis Eron that reminds me of what we are.
We are made of forgotten stars
The light of the beginning
Or the next generation
Once bright, then dark
And for our moment
John and I set off from Sharm El Sheik in a minibus late at night. We arrived after midnight and started the long hard climb by torchlight. Quite near the top I succumbed to mountain sickness and had to climb onto a camel. Fortunately It was too dark for me to see how precipitous the route was, as I had so much further to fall from the camel’s back! It was also very cold at the summit as we hunkered down to wait for the sunrise.
The light of the world
First the sky softened and glowed, then there was a focus of red fire just above the mountains to the east. At last we were flooded with daylight and life and all the pilgrims began variously to praise God. The ordinary daily miracle on Mount Sinai became a transcendent and perfect wonder. Here is another poem by Rabbi Lewis Eron written about his own remembered visit in 1975 to Mount Sinai. With it comes my best wishes to you all for Peace in 2019.
Since we cannot abide your light
Give us a good set of sunglasses
Or better, better night vision
To find our way in the darkness.
I, too, once climbed Mt. Sinai
Starting in the dark before dawn
And made it up safely to view
The red golden sunrise above the dry desert mountains
(To tell the truth, I stubbed my toe,
Tripped on a rock
And bruised my bottom a bit.)
I wrote a ten page letter home later
But then I got hungry
And I really enjoyed sitting in the shade of a rock
Drinking Turkish coffee – sweet, thick, and dark.
Not a terrible metaphor.
You once invited Moses and the elders for lunch
And I received an invite for brunch,
It was on the tour program.
I bought a pita as well as the coffee,
Put on my sunglasses,
Filled my water bottle
And went to visit
The Orthodox monks
Didn’t seem to mind the weather.
(October 20, 2012)