I love the Middle East.
I love the colorful souk (outdoor market), the sounds of raised voices bartering, mingled with the distant sound of chickens around the corner, and the call of prayer sounding overhead.
I love the aroma of spices: cumin, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves.
I love the crowds and the exotic clothing. Don't hate me for this, but the hijabs and abiyahs are beautiful to me. I wouldn't want to be forced to wear them, but many are made of rich fabrics, exotically decorated with sequins and beads. In the windy valley, they're more practical than you might think. (I'm not talking about niqabs.)
I love that the people (both men and women) still wear their native dress. A long, loose cotton "dress" is much cooler in hot weather than American jeans and t-shirt. I haven't tried wearing a keffiyeh, but I believe it would be a nice protection from the sun.
I love the hospitality. Mississippi calls itself "The Hospitality State." Admittedly, we're a social people, but in comparison to the Arabs, we have a way to go.
Middle Easterners have honed hospitality to a fine art. "Come have tea with me," is an invitation many made and all meant sincerely. When I dropped by their homes for tea, they stopped whatever they were doing and welcomed me. The hostess gave me the seat of honor, and served hot tea and some sort of sweet. Homemade cake, pastries from the bakery, cookies straight from the box. They always offered something, and I always ate whatever I was given.
Their welcome can't be beat. I was greeted (by women) with hugs and three kisses, one on my right cheek and two on my left. When I returned home, it felt odd to greet my friends with a distant "hi," even when the distance was only two or three feet.
In case you can't imagine this, when you hug your visitor and kiss her three times (and she does the same), you instantly slow down and settle in.
I'm in favor of the three-kiss greeting.
Today, I finally came to 2 Corinthians 13:12 in my study. "Greet one another with a holy kiss," Paul wrote. The three-kiss greetings came to mind and I realized something wonderful. Paul was a Middle Easterner. The kisses I received were something that was practiced even in Paul's time.
How beautiful is that?
Why don't we continue this lovely practice of greeting with holy kisses?
Why don't we have tea and a little sweet and visit for a few minutes with our neighbors on a more regular basis? Why don't we welcome drop-in visitors and stop what we're doing when they come by without inwardly rehearsing all we have left to do?
We're too busy. That's why. But to what point?
Jesus was a Middle Easterner, and His ministry was one of relationships. That's how He trained His disciples. Jesus spent time with his followers. He ate with them, walked with them, and talked as they traveled. They probably drank tea together. He built relationships and, in the process, those disciples became a little more like Him.
What would happen if we built relationships in the same way, including with unlikely people? If we acted like Jesus, might they become a little more like Him? Might they learn of Him from spending time with us? And we from them? Of course, we'd probably all be more like Jesus.
As we enter the holiday season and the mad dash to those few moments under the tree when tape is torn and wrapping paper tossed aside to reveal gifts we don't need, let's stop to reconsider our relationships, our greetings, our busyness.
Let's stop, and do something wonderfully different instead.
Take a few moments for a visit with our neighbors. Greet each other warmly. Offer a holy kiss on the cheek. Make a pot of tea and drink a cup together. Eat a cookie from a package or a piece of homemade something. Talk. Visit. Pray.
Spend time together. Build relationships, not our stash of stuff.
"Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss." 2 Corinthians 13:11-12 nasb
In case you missed it, here's the link to yesterday's post: The Thanksgiving I Almost Missed