Let there be light

Ruth HartleyPoetry, Religion2 Comments

The God-trodden Mount Sinai

A group of pilgrims stare out over the montains of the Sinai desert

On the top of 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 outer fortifications of the ST Catherine's Monastery are on a rise behind a group of Bedouin and their camelsn

St Catherine’s Monastery with Bedouin and their camels in the foreground

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

Pilgrims stand underneath the church tower and the minaret of the mosque

Church tower and mosque

A group of pilgrims stand in front of the green bush that is known as the Burning Bush

Pilgrims gather under the Burning Bush








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
We are
Star dust
Once bright, then dark
And for our moment
A spark
To light
A star.

September 12,2018

Our pilgrimage

A group of pilgrims make their way down a steep rocky path into a gorge from the summit of Mount Sinai

The steep climb back down from Mount Sinai

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

Sunrise on Mount Sinai

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.

Dear God
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)

2 Comments on “Let there be light”

    1. Ruth Hartley

      Thanks, Marie-Edith – I came across these two poems by chance – they are a happy coincidence with our trip to Mt Sinai and they are also lovely.

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