My Holy Land Pilgrimage ended at a low point. Literally, the lowest point on land – the shores of the Dead Sea. This stretch of the Great Rift Valley had sunk lower than sea level by more than 400 meters. Water from the Jordan River could find no way out of this catch basin save for evaporation, leaving behind tons of mineral runoff, primarily sodium, from the surrounding desert. That was how this hypersaline lake, ten times saltier than the ocean, could keep bathers buoyant on their backs – “funny bath,” as Mark Twain giddily put it 150 years ago.
Jo and I stopped by Mahagandhayon Monastery in Amarapura, former royal capital, to watch monks line up for lunch. The experience was strangely calming. At 10:30 AM, the novices were being served what would be their last meal of the day. Hundreds, if not a thousand, of young monks, some still children, bearing black bowls formed snaking lines under tall tamarind trees in utter silence. They were mostly oblivious to the handful of tourists like me at the sidewalk taking their photos.
We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
Even when I knew what to pray for. I had listed both thanksgiving and supplications on ripped paper prior to our visit to the Western Wall, Kotel in Hebrew, a place of prayer for both Jews and Christian pilgrims. Jewish people had always believed that divine presence resided at Mount Moriah upon which the Temple was built and eventually destroyed in 70 CE, the sole surviving section of which was this retaining wall. As God’s address, it had been considered the holiest site in Jerusalem.
Young people, I found, were not only the hope for the future but also of the past. Silay, home to some thirty ancestral houses accredited by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, could stand a chance against unbridled development because her sons had enough respect for the tangible legacies their forefathers had left behind. Their inheritance, in other words. The number of preserved heritage houses in Silay likely exceeded that of more famous “museum cities” in the country, such as Vigan and Taal.
As a third generation Aniano in my family, I had ancestral legacy for my name. But I didn’t always appreciate this heritage from my father and grandfather. Even in the 70s, it was an unusual and antiquated name compared with all the Michaels and Anthonys in grade school. It got me bullied from day one’s roll call. When I hit high school, I masked it with a cool yet common nickname – AJ. But the etymology of my name intrigued me for much of the 50 years of my life. Why did my great grandparents christen their son Aniano? Dad had no explanation either.