Evening at the Monastery of Saint Catherine’s

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(Last Updated On: March 16, 2019)

It is nearly dusk when we arrive at the Monastery of Saint Catherine.

It is beautiful here. Solid stone buildings stand stiffly against the barren mountains, but blossoming fruit trees are just visible in the orchard behind the guesthouse. The fragile blossoms almost glow in the dimming light – an incongruous sight in this rugged setting.

cherry blossom

We wait in a courtyard as our luggage is unloaded and room keys distributed. It is cold and seems to get colder every moment as the sun sinks farther and farther from sight behind the mountains.

I am shivering from the cold, but I still wonder: Will I regret not making the trek up Mt. Sinai in the morning? Am I making a mistake?

Before leaving home, I decided that I would skip tomorrow’s pre-dawn excursion up Mount Sinai. Besides the fact that I’m not really much of a morning person (shocking, I’m sure :-), I couldn’t bear the thought of dragging a lot of extra warm clothes along for just one morning. It seemed ridiculous. I mean, it isn’t like Moses will be hanging around up there passing out copies of the Ten Commandments!

But now Nancy says she is going up, taking a camel, and if she gets to the end of the camel path and doesn’t want to continue, she’ll just turn around and take that camel right back down again. I could do that. Well, maybe I could. It is already pretty cold and I REALLY don’t have much warm clothes, but it would only be for a few hours – I could stand being miserable that long, couldn’t I? Wouldn’t it be worth it? Won’t I always regret it if I don’t go?

Perhaps it is fortunate that Lynda is waiting here with me. She points out that she has been to St. Catherine’s before, has never gone up the mountain, and does not feel the least bit bad about it. Her advice: If I am uncertain, don’t go. . . and don’t feel bad about it!

Yay! Thank you, Lynda.

Finally I am given keys and settle into my spartan, but comfortable, little room. It is bone cold when I walk in, but soon the small space heater makes the space warm and cozy.

Although I am hungry, dinner time still seems to come too soon. Back out into the cold.

It is dark now, so the light alone makes the cavernous dinning hall seem warmer than it is. The room has high ceilings with white washed walls that are dominated by several huge black and white photographs – one of which shows the interior of what must be the most beautiful church in the world. I wonder, is it the church we will see inside the monastery?

We are seated together at several long wooden tables, the food served family style. The food is simple, but good and filling. There is relatively little conversation at my table – it has been a long afternoon on the road and I think we are all tired. I eat quickly while the room’s cold damp air seeps into my bones. Brrr. . .

I wait, shivering, desperately wanting to return to my cozy room. However, I don’t want to miss anything interesting either. Larry has promised a brief lecture and evening prayer -something I have been looking forward to. . . but it is so cold in here!

At last Larry begins. It is great to hear him speak (he always was one of my favorite lecturers), but it is also weird. While I HEAR the professor I remember from 20-odd years ago, when I look up the speaker standing before me in this unfamiliar and foreign place doesn’t match my memory of the professor I remember from my small-town college. It makes the experience at once comforting, disquieting, and a little exhilarating. Life is such an interesting and surprising adventure.

Despite the cold, I listen intently. I wish I had a notebook with me. . . who was that he quoted? Did he say, “What’s interesting about people is not what is the same, but what is different.”?

What’s interesting is what is different?

Larry continues on – this is just the opening for the main point he is making, but I am stuck at this spot here. It is the difference between people that is interesting – this is what matters. Is this true? I EXPECT differences, it is the things that are the same across time and culture and how those similarities are expressed that has always interested me. Have I been missing what is significant about the world? Traveling blind, as it were?

I think this is wrong, but I really don’t know what to think.

I’m still pondering it as we recite a few verses to close the day.

I’m still pondering it now.

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