I remember the moment. I was standing in a tiny Cairo Hotel gift shop, one of those places not more than 7’ square chock full of exotic trinkets, statues and keepsakes. How ideal for the tourist who had waited a lifetime to see the pyramids and was now – somehow–trying to find the perfect symbol to impossibly memorialize the memory. For some reason I looked up, way up. And 15’ above the cashier’s head there it was– a calendar featuring a stunning drawing on its cover that called to me.
He kindly took it down and thus began my love affair with David Roberts. Long deceased, Roberts’ was a self-educated artist who traveled to the Holy Land shortly after Napoleon’s army re-opened it to Europeans. A Scotsman, Roberts sketched his way across Egypt, Jordan, Israel and Syria, opening to Europeans the Biblical locations they had only read about. His beautiful drawings must have been at least a part of the wave of wealthy Europeans who then traveled to those distant shores, fulfilling a dream to discover their Judeo-Christian roots.
Today drawings of Roberts’ trip grace the walls of my home and office, providing a glimpse of a Holy Land I would never see, long ago and far away, but probably much closer to the non-modern world of Biblical centuries.
Why is this helpful? Loving the Scriptures, digging into them deeply to understand their spiritual message, is also about grasping at least some of the land’s character, the geography and feel of the place. How important is that in the scale of grasping a spiritual truth that is life-transforming? Not much, except for me, the background is the door-opener in order to experience the Bible’s message. Here’s just one example.
When the Psalmist writes: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” (Ps. 121:1), somehow it is more meaningful realizing that Jerusalem was built on seven hills. And that pilgrim Jews throughout the ancient world would walk for days and weeks, on and up, singing as they went, this ancient song of praise. And then they would see their magnificent Temple and the City of David. Their journey would symbolize my mental passage to reach up, stay with the goal, seek the spiritual inspiration that would lift out of self-pity or pain or sadness, and to sing.
We are all pilgrims, walking and singing to the Jerusalem in our hearts, to the spiritual homeland that is the place of transformation and healing. David Roberts’ work catches the spirit of these holy sights where all pilgrims eventually walk and meet and sing.
I’m sure you have favorite Biblical locations, artists and paintings. Please share them in the comments section. Would love to see what you’ve discovered. And if you like this David Roberts’ painting, here’s a great link to discover more. http://www.davidsongalleries.com/artists/roberts/roberts-holyland.php