It was not the vision of the Risen Lord that nearly blinded me on the road to Damascus. It was the searing light and clouds of dust thrown up by the unusually hot October, and the fact that my driver believed in natural air conditioning: windows wide open.
While it was romantic to imagine I was on the route traveled by Saul two thousand years ago, I was actually coming, not from Jerusalem, but Beirut. As soon as the border is crossed—in fact, while still at the border crossing—the ubiquitous face of Bashar al-Assad appears everywhere. Sometimes his smiling face beams from the billboards; elsewhere, he’s seen in sunglasses and military uniform. As you drive along, there are still pictures of his father, Hafez al-Assad, along with joint portraits of Bashar and the Iranian leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
There are many checkpoints along the road to Damascus and as you enter the city. I was heading for the Bab Touma, or the Gate of Thomas, and the Christian quarter of the Old City. I did, at this stage, begin to feel some companionship with Saul (soon to become Paul) as I was taken in an unknown direction. The roads and alleyways of the Old City can barely take a car, especially when all the schoolchildren are spilling onto the streets, laughing and shouting and dressed in what could easily be parochial school uniforms. My little hotel was one street away from the street called Straight, where Ananias was instructed by Christ to go to the “house of a certain Judas” where Saul would be awaiting him.
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