Wednesday, January 9, 2008

More general thoughts...

So many times while in Egypt, we have seen the old and new sandwiched together: a neon sign of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the entrance to St. Sergius church, where the holy family supposedly hid while in exile in Egypt; our guide Amr pointing out places to eat in Luxor, saying "If you look through the columns of the temple, you can see the McDonald's sign."; the ancient monuments of Memphis amidst shops and homes of a modern day working town. It really speaks to the layers of history that this country has, but does it in any way dilute the power or integrity of any one layer?

While at Karnak Temple, we saw a statue of a scarab beetle, thought to be a sacred and symbolic creator because it is hermaphroditic and can create out of itself. This made me think of our own creation myth. God creates out of God's self and needs nothing else, yet surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) makes human beings male and female. In doing so, God makes us intrinsically relational, not just to God, but to each other.

When Alexander dispelled the Persians from Egypt, he legitimized his rule by creating a story that he was from the semen of the god Amun-Ra (which we saw a vivid depiction of). It struck me that the manipulation and perversion of religions or belief systems to legitimate the power of the state has been going on for millenia. From Alexander, all the way to modern political candidates espousing their "family values" or "Christian beliefs" to get more votes, this is an age old fact. To me, this speaks all the more strongly to the importance of the radical separation of church and state, for the sake and integrity of both.

On the way to Dendara Temple, we rode in a convoy of other tour buses and vans with a police escort. I never felt unsafe, yet I was quite unsettled. As we drove through these small country towns, surrounded by cane fields filled with workers, and donkey carts being driving along the canals, everyone stared at us as we passed. Traffic was stopped to let us go through. We completely disrupted the daily life of these people, just so we could go see another ancient Temple. While I loved what we saw at the temple itself, the trip there and back was slightly disconcerting.

The story of the gods Osiris, Seth, and Horus is an interesting tale, but I cannot spell it out here. What I can say is that in avenging his father Osiris, Horus chases Seth around the country, finally stabbing him 14 times but not killing him. Horus is the representation of good, while Seth is the representation of evil. Thus, evil cannot be eliminated, yet whenever the two are depicted, Horus is always over or above Seth. I thought about the hope that Christians have that ultimately good will overcome evil, that God will restore all things at the eschaton. Yet we cannot deny the existence of evil, for it is everpresent with us. We recognize its reality, yet we hope for the healing and fulfillment that is to come.

The line that has stuck with me most this trip came from our tour guide Amr. Many folks have already mentioned the dialogue between Amr and Father Cedroc (which apparently none ofus know how to spell, myself included). After this, on the bus, Amr told us that too many people are too dogmatic in their beliefs and views. He said that there are "Only question marks, no comments." Indeed, this trip has left me with many more questions than it has answers.


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