TITLE: Mercy Tea 3-13-18
By Jude Harris
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"Let's visit the Jewish Quarter this morning," my husband suggested. Our group tour of Israel had ended and now we were on our own. How excited we were to explore the Old City of Jerusalem during the Christmas season!
The city's four quarters: Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Muslim, were not well-defined. Cobblestone alleys seemed to lead to more U-turns than destinations; even with a map, it was difficult to know our location. A group of muslin women shouted and gestured, barring us from one alley leading to a mosque. Local men wearing turbans and steely stares kept us from entering another. Added to the confusion, middle-eastern garb all looked the same, and mindful of Jewish-Palestinian tensions, we said little, hoping to avoid conflict.
Yet, Israel's culture enchanted us. We loved the food, shopping, and local customs, with one exception: the Muslim muezzin call to prayer. Five times a day, the muezzin (criers) competed to be heard throughout the city over minaret-mounted speakers. These human sirens interrupted normal activity at noise decibels that made even conversation difficult. At holy sites, I silently empathized with worshiping Jewish men and women enduring these intrusive cries.
As planned, we headed out for the Jewish Quarter. I hoped to find a bronze pepper grinder I'd seen at a local café. Outside one shop we lingered, admiring a silver tea set. The amiable shopkeeper invited us in to see his shelves of copper, brass, and bronzeware. "It's here!" I called to my husband, holding up a little pepper grinder I'd found on display.
"How much?" I asked the owner.
"You have good taste," He replied. "It's from…"
"What?" I asked, trying to speak over a loud interruption; the muezzin's call to prayer had begun.
"…from Turkey," I heard him repeat.
I sighed. My compassion for the Jewish shopkeeper surged, and I heard myself mutter rashly: "Oh! how irritating!"
Without a pause, he looked at me gently, and tutored me, "That is prayer. I like it." He leaned his head back, closed his eyes, and savored the noise, "It's so beautiful," he whispered. I shrunk back, frozen with the realization that I'd misspoken and insulted a Muslim shopkeeper!
Benevolently, he paid no mind to my shame. Picking up his copper tea kettle, he leisurely poured two cups of tea, sprinkled in some fresh sage leaves and beckoned us to drink. "Here," he said, "Have some tea." With head lowered, I accepted a mercy I did not deserve.
"So, this is grace," I thought, "immediate forgiveness for such an insult." The December wind blew cold in the alley behind us, but our hearts were warmed by a Muslim's mercy and grace, tenderly poured into little cups of fresh, sage tea.
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