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6/02/2011 (julian solo)– Deir Mar Musa Monastery

March 6, 2011

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Communal breakfast is served at 9 and I end up sitting next to a Swedish lady with whom I talk about Swedish landscapes, not that I’ve ever been, I drop an IKEA joke and drop it does, right back down all the steps I climbed yesterday.

After breakfast I help with the washing up, which involved a fairly drawn out process of washing the dishes and then rinsing them in 3 separate copper trays.  Keen to save water, the monastery promotes a sustainable living in all aspects re-using as much as possible and minimizing waste.  Which leads me to the next task of the day – grating old goat’s cheese for lunch.  It’s sunny so we stand on the terrace chatting and grating.

I make periodic dips into the library which is very well stocked, social science, philosophy and Middle Eastern literature sits alongside religious texts and interpretation.  What’s interesting about the monastery is that they promote an integrated religion which prides itself on its good relations with other religions, namely Islam.  Therefore you find all sorts of cross over texts in the rabbit warren of a library.

After a lunch of Syrian spaghetti and tomato sauce served with the goats cheese we grated, tastes decent but no patch on dads bolognaise from home, a few of us go on a bit of a walk up to the agricultural area they are developing further up the hill.  We pass some of the ‘retreat’ caves they have and even get to crouch inside one, its v.simple – a mattress and an oil burner.  People come here for  alone time to think about God, but I find it a bit funny that they come back to the monastery for meals.

The sunset at the top of the hill was phenomenal, the mist was descending at the same time and created a magical setting for the walk.  Back at the monastery everyone is chilling out in the library reading and keeping warm around the oil heater they have there.  I pick up a copy of Robert Fisks “The Great War for Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East “ and read the first chapter where he meets Bin Laden.  I wish I had space for a book this size, will certainly be picking up a copy when I return to the UK and I recommend you do the same.  The monastery has been interesting not only to find out more about this form of Syrain Orthodox and their relations with the Islamic community and their openness to atheists like myself but also that there are a lot of switched on people here engaging in debate and discussion on political issues of the middle east.

I tear away from the book to go to meditation and then for Sunday Mass conducted by the charismatic Father Paulo – He has a booming voice and enormous hands.  Mass is interesting and it’s helpfully translated into English by the multi-lingual Paulo, im offered the bread and wine but decide to decline instead observing the phenomenon.

Dinner is spent meeting new arrivals – people come and go on a daily basis but I can certainly see how people end up staying for a long time, it’s a very peaceful place, I myself stayed a day and night more than I had expected.

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