IT’S ALWAYS a joy when scanning one’s bookshelves to happen unintentionally upon an old favourite. The late Donald Nicholl was Rector of Tantur, the Ecumenical Institute for Theological Studies founded by Pope Paul VI in Jerusalem. It would be no exaggeration to suggest that one of the chief motivations behind my spending a mini-sabbatical there in July 2000 was one of his diary entries from 1981:
30th August, 1981. Tantur (Letter to the Tablet)
Yesterday sunrise was more splendid than ever. Usually these days, when the sun rises beyond the mountains of Moab east of us, it instantly appears like a clean disk, clearly outlined over the sharp horizon of the mountains. It can be quite literally breathtaking. You hold your breath as you see the sun slowly rise – first the brilliant tip of light and then the rest of that golden ball. Some days ago, when only half of it was visible, yet all golden, it seemed for a moment as though the very Dome of the Rock had been lifted by the hand of God from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem five miles north of us and gently set down upon that mountain range in Moab, just beyond the Dead Sea. But then the rest of the sun’s globe ascended and you realised that the Dome of the Rock on the mountain was just a mirage. Except that for a moment, yet enduring still in one’s memory, it was not just a mirage. In such moments one begins to understand how in this land people can believe that everything is possible.
Donald Nicholl, Rector
The Testing of Hearts, A Pilgrim’s Journal, page 35