A lesson from Israel: ‘Swayeh, Swayeh’

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“Shwayeh, shwayeh” he said softly, yet with confidence. Our Israeli tour guide Uri was particularly gifted at telling history’s story in the right moments and framed in the right episodes. One group member tried to prematurely share history about the location we were in, but Uri politely interjected, “Shwayeh, shwayeh.”

“Slowly, slowly.” Uri, like most in Jewish and Middle Eastern culture, believed that slowing down is important, not just to get things right, but to also feel things more deeply. And with depth often come stability, strength, meaning and longevity.

Consider the two biblical men whose stories are told in Matthew: one built his house on the sand, and the other built his on a rock. The difference manifested itself in the homes’ endurance and effectiveness. Not only did the house built on the rock not fall after the severe storm, but it was still able to serve its purpose of providing refuge and respite for the man and his family.

If anything has inspired me about most of my “cousins” from Israel, it is their commitment to letting things sit and sink in. Growing up, I heard it said to me this way: “Dale valor a tus palabras, mijo!” Every word is like a treasure. Every breath is precious. Every thought is handled carefully.

My journey through Israel encouraged me to be more intentional about the way I navigate life. And here’s why:

Moving slowly makes room for the things I experience to settle deeply within me.

Anything that takes root in you will demand time from you. Children’s Village Coordinator Batia, an Ethiopian Jew, understood that in order to see reform in her kids, she needed to educate them, counsel them and instruct them very slowly. We often underestimate the level of commitment that reform and influence demand. Relationships and compassion precede influence.

Some of us have grown frustrated. Frustrated because we’ve not seen the fruit we desire, but that unfulfillment is due to our own lack of commitment.

Moving slowly influences us to move off the beaten path.

In our journey through Israel, our mild-mannered and street-savvy bus driver Nathan drove us to the most ancient city in the world – Lod. This city doesn’t get much attention in the States or in Israel. But Lod is doing something that deserves affirmation: It is one of three major Israeli cities that have worked tirelessly to embed justice, care and understanding among a diverse population (Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, Orthodox Jews and secular Jews). As my wife recently tweeted, “The Middle East can be reduced to checkpoints, rockets and war. But no one is telling the stories of places like Lod and Haifa.”

Lod and Haifa are tremendously inspiring cities in Israel. But they are also locations that are not talked about in the news. Western media is far more concerned with highlighting wars, conflicts and political unrest than on focusing on efforts of unity, diversity and community development.

Yet if we moved off the beaten path of western media, we could discover stories buried below agenda-driven storytelling. As Beit Hagefen from the Arab Jewish Cultural Center in Haifa said, “Know your history, save your future.”

This life principle of traveling off the beaten path is particularly challenging for me as a New Yorker. I live in an area that is packed in and stacked high. New York is often known as the city that never sleeps, perhaps because it is the city that never feels finished. Everyone is always moving and working. And in all of that movement, we seldom make time for what is most meaningful. Our tour guide, our bus driver and the kind residents of Lod and Haifa may not have known it, but shwayeh, shwayeh was a reminder for me to slow down and enjoy the truth of God for us in Jesus.

Shwayeh, Shwayeh: Rest in Jesus’ work on our behalf. Drift off the beaten path and discover (or rediscover) the gifts, promises and power of trusting in Jesus. Make the most of meaningful moments. Remember that our lives are lived moment by moment. Each moment is an opportunity to encounter God afresh through His Spirit. Pause and see what busyness is often blind to: injustice, inequality and bitterness. When we move through life intentionally and slowly, we’re offered the opportunity to catch and act against those things that can oppress, malign and devastate the world around us – those who often don’t have the strength to take up their own defense.

During moments like the ones described in Mark 1:35 (in which the Savior had spent days healing and speaking to the masses), Jesus embodied the heart of Shwayeh, Shwayeh by intentionally pulling away, slowing down, praying and reminding himself of the reason for his coming.

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.”

Shwayeh, Shwayeh may be exactly what the sons of Korah said to themselves as they sang the last few words of Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” And then took a breath. Selah.

This article originally appeared on Philos Project, December 1, 2016, and reposted with permission.

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After studying film in the City College of New York and Biblical Theology at Elim Bible Institute, Rich has committed to discovering the faithful marriage between those two passions. Through a variety of speaking experiences, Rich has grown into a unique storyteller and thought-leader in faith, family, the arts and the Hispanic-American experience. In 2012, Rich and his family led a team of friends into his hometown and started a church that would embrace the very values they lived with. Rich is the lead pastor of Christ Crucified Fellowship in NYC, where he lives with his wife and kids.