Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: CHECKING IN OR OUT (hotel/motel on vacation) (08/27/15)
TITLE: A Question From Left-Field…
By Noel Mitaxa
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Cruise ships are total-package hotels; with plenty of food, entertainment and time to relax with other guests who often become long-term friends. Cruise ships also take you places; so even experienced passengers have questions; making the check-in line a steadily-moving collection of inquiries that the Front Office staff are handling with unabated, cheerful courtesy.
Most guests have basic questions â€•about laundry facilities or personal dietary requirements. With cruise ship meals declaring open warfare on any thought of losing weight; menus are so varied that if a waiter asks about reservations, you just canâ€™t say, â€śYes, but Iâ€™ll eat here despite my reservations.â€ť
With almost three weeks of father-son bonding ahead, Simon and I are checking into the question stream: getting to know about other guestsâ€™ home towns and families; their work and sports; their wider travel plans or experiences; or their faith.
But one question comes right out of left field, and itâ€™s headed my way...
â€śOh, your big weekend is coming, isnâ€™t it?â€ť
I look across into two friendly smilesâ€•worn by a little old lady and a thickly-bearded man of similar vintage. She reaches up towards my chaplainâ€™s badge. â€śIâ€™m Helen,â€ť she says, â€śand this is my husband Leo. He is the rabbi on board.â€ť
Though Good Friday is only two days away, Iâ€™ve never ever considered Easter as â€śOur Big Weekend,â€ť but I reckon Helen has summed it up so well. Leo chuckles, stretches out his hand and extends his personal invitation to come to the Seder meal to celebrate Passover with them.
We readily accept.
For Passover night, a section of the dining room was refurbished to accommodate the Seder meal, and Rabbi Leo sensitively introduced the occasion as a Jewish invitation to dine â€śon behalf of oppressed peoples world-wide.â€ť Seated with him and Helen, Simon and I enjoyed a memorable experience of delicious food, hospitality and hope.
Small plates of symbolic foods were central to each table. These included maror and chazereâ€•bitter herbs to symbolise the bitterness and harshness of Egyptian slavery, and charosetâ€•a brown mixture of chopped nuts, grated apples, cinnamon, and sweet red wine to represent the mortar used to build Egyptian storehouses or pyramids. There was karpaâ€”a vegetable other than bitter herbs, dipped in salt water to begin the meal; and beitzahâ€”a roasted hard-boiled egg, depicted the korban chagigah (festival sacrifice) that was offered in the Temple in Jerusalem and roasted and eaten as part of the meal. The z'roaâ€”or zeroahâ€•was the only element of meat among these symbols.
Each table also had booklets that outlined the proceedings. I found mine hard to followâ€•until I recalled how Hebrew books open from the back!!! From there it was easy: glancing at the Hebrew text and following the English translation.
At one point Rabbi Leo departed from the script with a big grin: â€śThese next four questions are usually asked by the youngest person present, but that describes the son of the Baptist pastor among us, so we may excuse him this duty...â€ť
Afterwards, as we left the dining room, several couples introduced themselves to affirm our welcome. Simonâ€™s understated summary of the evening has also stayed with me: â€śWe believe all that, donâ€™t we Dad. But we have a sequel...â€ť
Having served as a Protestant cruise chaplain three times before, Iâ€™d been praying to be ready for any sudden ministry opportunities among non-Jewish, non-Catholic guests, whose faith may roam between religious and reluctant.
But even before Iâ€™d checked in, God was adding an unexpected bonus via Helenâ€™s left-field question. And through attending the Seder meal, I was welcomed into lots of casual and deeper conversations that included prayer requests with several Jewish folks during the cruiseâ€•over other meals and during shore excursions. Several of these folks attended services I led during our days at sea; and my ministry has now morphed into receiving their family news and prayer requests by email.
How big is this God who stretches our prayers and who is never taken by surprise????
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