The Dead Sea and Me


Anyone who has ever made the pilgrimage knows pretty much how it goes. Not the last day, but towards the end, after Masada and Qumran and En Gedi, the bus stops somewhere along the Dead Sea. Tired pilgrims stumble out of the bus with swim suits and towels in hand, and they head for the changing rooms.

I would call it a “swim,” but no one swims in the Dead Sea, not really.

After wading out farther than you might think necessary – to about hip deep – the strategy is to sit down in the water and – well – float. The mineral-rich water of the Dead Sea does most of the work.

It’s best not to swallow the water – or get any of it in the eyes.

For all of that it’s fun. Floating, paddling, and of course finishing up with the mud treatment. Even though I just returned today from my fifth visit to what American Christians like to call the “holy land,” I went into the water again. I go in every chance I get. Why? Well, did I mention that it was fun? At the lowest point on the face of the earth, I get to do something that has no particular educational value and no intellectual payoff. My preaching has never been enriched by this experience, at least not in ways I’m conscious of. I’m not even sure why it shows up on just about every holy land itinerary.

But here’s the thing: I was struck by how much laughter there was that day at the beach – not just from our group, but from groups up and down the beach. There were hundreds of people, maybe more, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, and all of them were laughing, shouting, teasing, posing for pictures (see above), and playing. There were no children in sight, just a lot of adults acting like children, doing everything children do at the seashore.

And I loved it. Something seemed just right about it. After several days of lectures and presentations, learning about layer after layer of tradition (and dirt) in this part of the world, the bus stopped, we changed clothes, and the goal was nothing other than to have a good time. Other people might not have found the sights and sounds remarkable, but I did.

I don’t play much. And I need to do more of it. Play, though, is usually something I have to work at. What once came naturally to me, what I once spent hours and hours doing effortlessly, now requires a great deal of effort. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I’ve lost something precious.

I have friends who seem to know how to play, and over the years I have tended to gravitate to them, people who seem to do naturally what I have to put my mind to do.

Don’t get me wrong. My hard work over the years has paid off in some wonderful ways, but it has also hurt me in some ways too. And so, I would like to play again, like I did last Sunday afternoon. I would like to be able to play without thinking much about it, without having to fly 6000 miles and then take a bus ride to what feels like the end of the earth.

What a lesson to learn at the Dead Sea.

Tomorrow: A slightly more serious, less playful (of course), reflection on why people go the holy land. Hint: the Dead Sea doesn’t have much to do with it.

(Photo: I don’t know the guy on my left, but the two people on my right are members of my Fort Lauderdale church. Now that I’m 60, I’m more comfortable publishing swimsuit shots.)

About Doug

I have been a writer ever since fifth grade when I won second prize in a “prose and poetry” contest. I am also a Presbyterian pastor, and for several years toward the end of my career I lived and worked in Zürich, Switzerland. I am now retired and live just north of Holland, Michigan, along the lake.

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9 Responses to The Dead Sea and Me

  1. bob sadowski November 13, 2013 at 4:32 pm #

    I was advised to not go in because of high blood pressure, I think they were serious.

    • Georgia Hamilton November 13, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

      Picture is great–thanks for letting us share in the fun!

    • Doug November 29, 2013 at 1:16 pm #

      Interesting…we didn’t get any warnings at all. I think they didn’t want you out there splashing people.

  2. Mandana Sharifi November 13, 2013 at 9:08 pm #

    Ahhhh….life is but a dream! :0) be well my friend! …Mandana :0)

  3. Ruth Lundy November 13, 2013 at 9:35 pm #

    that is not for me. looks like you really enjoyed the experience.

  4. Dee and Juan November 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    Love the pic and blog Doug…funny, I was thinking the same thing as we were out there floating and slathering mud on each other about how we don’t let laugh enough, and what fun it was to do it!! Playing should never get old!! We’ll miss you and enjoy this next great adventure in your lives!!

    • Doug November 29, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

      Was a wonderful trip, wasn’t it? Just when I thought I had gone enough, this most recent trip turned out to be the best. Thanks for coming along and making it so meaningful (and so much fun).

  5. Julie Ehmke November 24, 2013 at 7:10 am #

    Doug, you look like Charles Heston in the movie Moses!…nice picture!.

    • Doug November 29, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

      Thanks, Julie. But I don’t think Heston took his shirt off in that movie!