Heightened Meaning in the Middle East, Part One

by bria4123 on October 7, 2011

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Flying over the Holy Land is dramatic, even at 35,000 feet. You see long stretches of tan with no other colors. No vegetation or clouds, just pure desolation that threatens to engulf you, even at this soaring altitude.

 

The monotony is broken by jagged mountains that seem as hostile to life as the sands. This isn’t the Greek measured landscape, with clear distinctions between coastline and land, and between valleys and wild uplands. You’re entering a different world.

This landscape is overwhelming, and you respond to it with a sense of awe, and by venerating the creator of all things. There’s less Greek love of balance here. The logic of this land is more all-or-nothing. Many Ancient Greeks liked checks and balances in the universe. The Olympians bickered with each other, but nobody ever completely won. Zeus was king, but other gods did things behind his back.

But most of the Holy Land is not a place of abstract geometric shapes and clear lines. It’s under the infinite power of the sky and the earth. When the sun shines, it’s scorching. When the rain comes, it’s a dramatic break. When the crops grow, it’s a miracle. A change in weather reflects the glorious and overwhelming power behind it. A change in natural landscape from desert to fertile plain also highlights the infinitely magnificent. God is great!

This land spawned three great religions that stress the centrality of one god. Each religion is infinitely rich when you try to see it in its own terms. Many other cultures emphasize other ideas of divinity. Africans, Indians and Chinese have also conceived of a god who created all things, but He shares powers with many other gods. The three great Middle Eastern religions have concentrated on one god and his unity.

This is one of the most influential ideas humanity has embraced, and three beautiful varities emerged in this region. I explored the Middle East after traveling in India and Southeast Asia. From this perspective, the three great religions seemed more alike than different–brothers rather than adversaries. The immense history and creativity of this region filled me with as much awe as the land did. You can experience some of the Middle East’s soul in the next post.

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