"In that day Israel will be the third, along with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing on the earth. The Lord Almighty will bless them, saying, 'Blessed be Egypt my people, Assyria my handiwork, and Israel my inheritance.'" Isaiah 19:24-25
This might sound crazy to those more versed in practical things, but I'm going to say it anyway. I'm a spiritual being, and I want more and more of me to be in touch with the spiritual - to be one with God. Of course, I have certain ideas about God, and I first heard about these things in the Bible. The Bible - in some ways a difficult subject because of some of the negative passages, but it's the wisest, most profound book I've ever found. And my Christian ideas have to do with why I'm in Egypt again. I just love this country, and I want to bless it. I don't mind too much if the people rip me off a little - they all need my money. I want so much for Muslims and Christians to be able to live in peace and to listen to each other from the heart. Ever since my last trip, I've been praying for Egypt. I hope and pray with all my heart that this country can become a democracy based on justice and equal rights for all.
Every day so far, even when I'm in an uncomfortable situation, I pray about it and ask for God's blessing and protection. So I walk into my third massage, expecting blessing, as I bless these people with my personality and my money.
I really like our hotel, and I really like the spa. By now, I'm starting to feel really relaxed, especially during and after the massages.
I lie down on the massage bed and listen - again - to the strains of Kenny G., paying attention to what he does musically. Could I do that on the piano? I smile when I hear the Christmas carol "Silent Night" for the third time running - in February. I mentally sing along with all three verses, paying attention to how Kenny G. varies each verse. I realize, lying on this massage bed, I am worshipping Jesus, and that these Muslim masseuses and cosmetologists are providing the atmosphere for me to do this. I try making up my own lyrics in my head to other pieces as the massage continues. I begin praying for people. Mahmoud has told me his mother has cancer. I pray for her, sad for their situation, also praying for a friend of mine who has cancer. I feel one with them. I pray for a wife for Mahmoud. I'm mellow, happy, blessed.
I've already decided that on this day I will try the steam bath. I ask the manager about it. I've already told her about the lovely saunas in Germany, where they pour water infused with essential oils over the coals, and how the aroma fills the sauna. She tells me that the only way Egyptians use these oils is in the steam bath. I ask to try it today. "Oh, that's only with a peeling. That comes extra." A few minutes after my massage, when I'm trying to get the hot water to work in the showers and it just won't get hot, she comes and tells me that I can use the steam bath. I think I'm going to just sit there naked in a steamy lavender-scented room, but then comes a surprise. In walks one of the cosmetologists with a big bowl of soapy water. She takes a black pumice stone and proceeds to scrub my feet and hands. She takes a loofa and scrubs in similar motions as the massage, really going at my skin - over and over again. She washes my hair in the same way. I am scrubbed raw! Everything but my face and my genitals is washed. I find I don't mind being washed by another woman. It's a strange sensation, but nice. I am reminded of Queen Esther, being prepared for the king, who was to become her husband. I ask if women do this frequently. Not so frequently, I hear. Brides do this before the wedding. And now and again women do this. Now the shower is ready with hot water, so I wash it all off. I have never been so clean. My peeling was a gift from the spa manager.
I dress and rush off to our room, where my money is, and bring tips back for all the women who have been treating my body. I thank them and bless them. It's easy to bless someone in Arabic. It's what they say anyway when they say good-bye - ma'a salama. Salam is the Arabic word for shalom in Hebrew - peace. I wish you peace. Yes, I am praying for the peace of Egypt.
I start wondering what I mean when I pray for peace. I've already received an email from a friend who tells me she doesn't believe there will ever be peace in Egypt. I don't think it's that kind of peace I mean when I pray for peace, but what is it?
After lunch I walk into the bookstore. Peter has told me about the salesman, who is a Copt - a member of the earliest Christian church in existence. Peter has told him that I am praying for Egypt, and the salesman is thrilled. He wants to meet me. Gabriel offers me a seat and makes tea for us. I am amazed by the conversation. We talk for at least an hour about Jesus as well as other things. He is completely comfortable talking to a stranger about his faith in Jesus. And he tells me how very happy he is that I pray for Egypt. I ask him what I should pray for. He says that a great thing to pray for would be peace for Egypt.
I'm starting to see what this kind of peace means for me. It's really a process that I want to encourage to take place. It's enough if it starts with only one person. I want to see a peace that means Egyptians start wanting the best for each other, commit themselves to the well-being of each other, that they recognize that this is the kind of lifestyle they are meant to lead. I want to see them as committed to the well-being of other people as their own. I want more and more people to realize that all is well because they are loved and embraced by God. It's like the candles that shine in church in Germany on Good Friday. First one candle gets lit, then another, then another, and so on. Of course, I would love for everyone to understand Jesus as the one who died for all their weaknesses, who gave his entire life for each Egyptian. I want them all to be able to accept what he has done for themselves. That they can experience a cleansing of their souls like I have just received of my body. I want them to feel the river of peace flowing through them because they are committed to following the ways of God - that they commit to God's justice, God's kindness, God's compassion, God's truthfulness. That they trust God in all the needs of their lives. That they can love God and love each other from the heart. I may not find this mindset in everyone I meet, but I can wish this for each person I encounter.
I want the Egyptians I've met to prosper financially. Mohammed should get more tourists. I want Mahmoud and Gabriel to prosper financially. So I'm praying now for customers for Gabriel. That's part of praying for peace for Egypt. I also want both Mahmoud and Gabriel to find good wives and become fathers of lovely children.
Gabriel, a Copt, 38 years old, has essentially the same story as Mahmoud, a Muslim. Gabriel's mother died several years ago, and now Gabriel has to support his father. He has nowhere near enough money to marry, he says. In Egypt, you have to have plenty of money before you can get married. It's taking him so long to save up, he says, that by now he's too old for most women. So this is a legitimate prayer request for both men. It's a shame that these men, both in their prime, can't get married - just for financial reasons!
Praying for peace means praying that Egyptians will be able to trust, maybe for the first time, cooperating for the good of their country. Praying that Egyptians will want good things for Israel and that they stop cursing their neighbor land. That tourists come back in droves to Egypt so that people can have enough to eat again, so that many can fall in love with Egypt. That people will stop oppressing one another, but seek truly the best for those who are beneath them socially. For a country of people who trusts God for their needs, rather than grabbing for themselves whatever they can get.
Today I feel my love for Egypt. What I love about this country is their tremendous hospitality and their gentle smiles. Their open laughter, their jokes. I love the openness of these people, their readiness to talk about personal things without the least bit of shame or embarrassment. I love the fire that smoulders just underneath their smiles. These people have a lot of fire - a lot of energy. There is passion in their muezzin - the call to worship, also in the Coptic cantor's singing. I hear passion in this country, and I feel their obsession with God. All those prayer times. Yesterday when the call started, and we were on the falouka, I announced, "Time for prayer. Time to pray." The men started to pray out loud. What a country, where people pray so openly, so often, where they get bruises or scabs on their foreheads from praying so much! Oh, that they understand the connection between their prayers and a love of justice, mercy, and truthfulness. That love becomes the basis for their prayers. And for mine.
Some of these longings are what Gabriel and I talk about. He tells me about how good it is to belong to Jesus, how important it is to have Jesus in our lives, to know that Jesus loves us, and to live for God. I tell him that he's different from the other shop keepers - he isn't greedy or pushy. He, like other men, has no problem talking to me, a woman, about real things. About longings. About how things are here in Egypt.
I realize that one of the ways I am blessed is that I seem to have a way to get these people to talk. It is a gift. Gabriel urges me to come back every day and visit him. "You don't have to buy anything," he says. "I just want to talk to you." I promise to do so.