First Reflections Upon Returning Home

After a very long flight from Tel Aviv to Newark, re-entry through customs and security was longer and more convoluted than in Tel Aviv. We said goodbye to Margaret and Terry, who flew home to Maine. Then, the rest of us  journeyed on to Seattle,  where the temperature is distinctly NOT in the 70’s. Just a few hours ago, several of us walked on the ramparts of the Old City Jerusalem, overlooking the roofs and getting a little too much sun.

At our final gathering in the Gloria Hotel in Jerusalem, we read aloud Luke 24:13-35 – the road to Emmaus story. Originally, we had planned to go to one of the “traditional” sites that Christians have imagined to be one of the places this story might have occurred. But, because everyone wanted a little more free time on our last day, we dropped that one last church and stayed a few hours longer in Jerusalem. A side room off the lobby of the hotel became our Emmaus. Cynthia read this poem from by Macrina Wiederkehr.

Tourist or Pilgrim by Macrina Wiederkehr, from Seasons of the Heart

I stand on the edge of myself and wonder,
Where is home?
Oh, where is the place
where beauty will last?
When will I be safe?
And where?

My tourist heart is wearing me out
I am so tired of seeking
for treasures that tarnish.
How much longer, Lord?
Oh, which way is home?
My luggage is heavy
It is weighing me down.
I am hungry for the holy ground of home.

Then suddenly, overpowering me
with the truth, a voice within me
gentles me, and says:

There is a power in you, a truth in you
that has not yet been tapped.
You are blinded
with a blindness that is deep
for you’ve not loved the pilgrim in you yet.

There is a road
that runs straight through your heart.
Walk on it.

To be a pilgrim means
to be on the move, slowly
to notice your luggage becoming lighter
to be seeking for treasures that do not rust

to be comfortable with your heart’s questions
to be moving toward the holy ground of home
with empty hands and bare feet.

And yet, you cannot reach that home
until you’ve loved the pilgrim in you
One must be comfortable
with pilgrimhood
before one’s feet can touch the homeland.

Do you want to go home?
There’s a road that runs
straight through your heart.
Walk on it.

Then, we read the passage from Luke and I asked the group to consider where they may have found Jesus long the way.  Our answers were wide-ranging … some in moments of worship, others in the meetings with the Parents Circle or the orphanage in Bethlehem. I found Jesus in the midst of this fabulous group: in their moments of awe when they recognized that they were walking in a place that Jesus might have walked; in their prayers, laughter, and occasional tears; and in their deep joy in traveling this road together.

Lord Jesus, stay with us, for evening is at hand and the day is past; be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope, that we may know you as you are revealed in Scripture and the breaking of bread. Grant this for the sake of your love. Amen.


Farewell to the Holy Land



We are waiting to board our flight home from Tel Aviv. We had a full morning at the Israeli Antiquities Museum, followed by lunch at a restaurant near our hotel. Nafoura (fabulous food in a garden courtyard). Then we had a free afternoon. Some shopped in the souk. Others walked the ramparts of the city (hot in the sun, but a great view of Jerusalem ). After a time of reflecting upon our trip together, we headed to the airport. More when we get home.

Chris Jillard

Ah, Holy Jesus




Early on Tuesday morning, Cynthia and I went to the Western Wall then back through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for a brief time of prayer and soaking in the sounds, aromas, and feel of these places.

After breakfast, we met with an Israeli Jew from Green Olive tours who talked with us about settlements in Palestinian territory. His style of conversation was like a rabbi … he’s ask what we knew about settlements, then through question and answer, he explained what he (who doesn’t like settlements) understood about them. After we talked for an hour, we got on our bus and went to the settlement at Tekoa, which was started with the Israeli government’s support in the 1978. The political situation of Israel and Palestine has such a complicated history with no clear solutions. We’ve learned a lot, have more questions, and may all have a shift in the perspective with which we came to this holy and troubled land.

After lunch, we returned to the Old City and went to St Anne’s next to the Pools of Bethesda (Jesus heals a man beside these pools). Then

we had Holy Communion at the Ecce Homo Church (“behold the man”). Each pilgrim received a cross to hold as we began to walk the Stations of the Cross. We walked through the busy streets while reading passages of scripture and remembering the way of Jesus who was bearing his cross, then crucified and died. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we concluded our prayers.

After dinner, some of our group found a last burst of energy. We walked through the Old City to the Western Wall for some final prayers there. A group of young men preparing to join the army came dancing and singing across the Plaza and into the men’s section of the Wall. They finished singing and said their prayers … quite an experience.





From the Visitation to the Denial


The photo I really want to post is from my Fitbit; 16,626 steps and 84 flights of stairs today. To say that we’re tired, in a very good way, is an understatement. Lots of laughter at dinner tonight, interspersed with conversation about some serious  topics. We’ve  met some new people and learned about life in this part of the world that is making an impact on us. And, among the group, new friendships are forming, and others are deepening.

Early this morning, we went to Ein Karem “spring of the vineyard,” a hilly neighborhood on the edge of Jerusalem where Zechariah and Elizabeth are said to have lived. While the above sign is found on the Church of the Visitation, it seems appropriate for so many places that we have visited. One of my favorite stories from Luke’s gospel is the story of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary’s going to greet her to share her own news, and the birth of John the Baptist. Climbing from the church that commemorates John’s birth to the higher church honoring the Visitation, we enjoyed warm breezes and birdsong.

Near Ein Karem is the Holocaust Museum – Yad Vashem. Our group spent about 2 hours at the museum, experiencing the historical stories and faces of the Holocaust (much like the similar museums in Washington, DC, and New York City). Many of us went to the Children’s Memorial, which is part of the museum. We entered into a dark space full of tiny flickering lights, reflected in mirrors … so the glittering stars in a vast heaven … all while male and female voices named children who died in Shoah.

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Tony our guide took us to a fabulous restaurant for lunch, then we walked from our hotel in the Old City to Mount Zion, where we began at a room that is commemorated as the site of the Last Supper. Then, we went to St. Peter in Gallicantu (cock’s crow), where archaeological evidence makes it the likely place of Jesus’ imprisonment after his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. It would have been the site where Caiaphas the High Priest resided. Jesus would have been lowered into a dungeon, probably having been treated quite brutally by those who arrested him. We had Holy Communion in the chapel immediately above the dungeon … quite moving for Cynthia and me to celebrate in that space. Then, we returned to our hotel, tired, ready for a rest and dinner.

Jerusalem the Golden…

After a drive through the checkpoint between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, we worshipped at St. George’s Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East. The familiar Anglican liturgy moves from English to Arabic, and the hymns were from the old English hymnal. (Look up “Jerusalem the golden” on Youtube and hear some English choir sing it…that’s were we are now…Jerusalem, the golden city.) The excellent sermon by Dean Hosam Naoum (first in English and then in Arabic) was just the message we needed to hear at this point in our journey … about our merciful God who gives second (and third and more…) chances. One of our group found the service so moving that he was in tears. Another called it “Pentecost.” Bishop Suheil Dawani celebrated the Eucharist, and in good Anglican fashion, we had coffee hour (with fabulous Turkish coffee) in the garden afterward. It’s such a small world … we met a priest from England who has a sister-in-law who lives on Bainbridge Island. Four of our group are from Bainbridge, so it was delightful to connect them.

Before lunch at the Notre Dame Institute, we went to the Western Wall. This is a portion of the remains of the Second Temple (so there during the time of Jesus but destroyed by Rome within a few years of his death). From one perspective, the remains of the old steps leading into the Temple are visible. At the Western Wall, Jews in particular, but also Christians, come to pray. The cracks in the wall are filled with written petitions to God. We joined the many who came to pray, the men going to the men’s section and the women to the (much smaller) women’s section.  The men’s section is regarded as the closest point to where the Holy of Holies would have been before the destruction of the Temple (70 CE).

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After lunch, we went to the Mount of Olives, where we prayed, sang, and walked from the top to the base … a very steep downhill. On Palm Sunday, when we tell the story of Jesus mounting the colt (or donkey or both…depending upon our gospel), this is where we believe that event would have occurred. On the Mount of Olives is the Garden of Gethsemane, a true garden with flowers between the rows of olive trees. None of the trees we saw were from the time of Jesus, but they might be “descendants.” At Gethsemane is the Church of All Nations, dark inside as if it were midnight, since Jesus was there at one of his darkest hours.

We checked into our hotel, The Gloria, just inside the Jaffa Gate. Cynthia and I took a quick walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, for our own time in that holy place. Later, we’ll be there with our pilgrim group, so it felt good to have a time for our own prayer. Returning to the hotel, we gathered our group to meet two men from The Parents’ Circle, an Israeli and a Palestinian, each of whom lost a daughter in the violence that continues to occur in this holy, yet, fragile region. They told their stories, described their friendship, and encouraged us to open our eyes to the violence that occurs when peoples hate each other. That they are together is a witness in and of itself … they spoke about forgiveness … which starts with each of us in our hearts and then becomes the most powerful weapon against injustice and hatred. A very Christian message from this Israeli Jew and Palestinian Muslim. Our group was both devastated to hear these stories but also very inspired. The American Friends of the Parents Circle may be an organization to which we want to connect.

Our group is absorbing so many sights, new cultural experiences, new flavors of food, and new insights in our hearts that we’re feeling rather full to the brim. It a tired group that headed to bed around 8 pm. And we’ve only begun to experience Jerusalem.


We began our day with a visit to a portion of the wall that divides Jerusalem from the West Bank. The Israelis built the wall to protect themselves from extremists, but the Palestinians who are walled in have little ways to support themselves and often act out of desperation. We have learned a lot from our guide Tony (an Israeli Christian whose family came from Italy during the Crusades) about the plight of the dwindling Christian population in Israel and the West Bank. Bethlehem used to be a Christian town, but today less than 25% is Christian; the rest are Muslim (many are extremists now, too … “looks like Afghanistan here now,” we heard.). The population of Israel is about 8% Christian, and the extreme forms of Judaism on one hand and extreme Islam on the other make life very hard for Christians.

We went to a shop which supports 9 families of Palestinian Christians to purchase olive wood products, jewelry, and some other locally produced products. These families rely on the tourist trade to support themselves, and our group was happy to participate.

Mid-morning we arrived at the Shepherds Field, where a garden surrounds a small church, a cave-like area that seems like a stable might have been in Jesus’ time, and a number of small outside chapels overlooking the rocky hills surrounding Bethlehem. In one of these chapels, we celebrated Holy Comunion, before going nearby to a restaurant called The Tent. It’s designed like a big bedoin tent in which are many tables to accomodate groups of tourists. The food was very good, starting with an array of appetizers including many vegetable dishes, hummus, and something a little like hummus but called “garlic sauce” by our waiter. Fabulous on bread and the potatoes that came later … we shared mints afterward and were grateful to return to our hotel (and toothbrushes) briefly after lunch.

After a brisk walk through the Bethlehem souk (market) – trying not to lose anyone in a crowded street of shops, cars and people – we visted Dar El Kalima University (a Lutheran progam for arts education) that works to change the culture of the people of the West Bank. Then, we visited the St. Vincent de Paul Orphanage called La Creche. In Muslim sharia law, a girl or woman who is pregnant out of wedlock is to be killed by her family to preserve the honor of her family. It doesn’t matter if the girl is raped by a family member; the girl is punished while the man is unharmed.  The orphanage takes in abandoned babies and tries to help young women who give at 24 weeks, leaving their children behind. The infants often have birth defects and injuries, cannot be adopted (again by sharia law), and are cared for until age 6 by the Sisters of St. Vincent de Paul until the children can be fostered with families or moved to other orphanages. This was a disturbing visit for our group, but it continued to help us learn more about the complexity of life in this holy and complicated land.

We returned to our hotel for our last night in Bethlehem. Tomorrow…Jerusalem.


Baptism and Salt


We were all sorry to leave behind the Pilgerhaus at Tabgha – such a peaceful, restorative place. Several kind Franciscan nuns from the Philippines staff the gift shop, and they bid us farewell with prayers this morning. We traveled along the Jordan River to the site believed to be the likely place for Jesus’ baptism by John. Renewing our Baptismal promises while standing in the murky water of the Jordan was a powerful experience for our group. This spot on the Jordan is about 15 feet wide, with the country of Jordan just a few feet away from us. Pilgrims were coming down the  the steps to the river on the opposite bank. Several groups were singing. As we sang “Shall We Gather at the River,” some other folks came and joined in.

After drying off, we rode to the ancient city of Jericho, where we had a chance to purchase hand blown Hebron glass and Medjool dates (some treats will accompany us home). Lunch in a garden restaurant was lovely; the day was warm and dry (in February, all of you in Seattle!). Then we went to Qumran, to see the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls. We’ll see the replicas of the scrolls later at the Israeli Museum of Antiquities, so for now, we could see the caves from a distance and get a sense of the desert conditions in which the community lived which created and stored scrolls of the books of the Old Testament as well as of their own community’s life (and rather extreme religious practices).

For the rest of the afternoon, most of the group swam (or tried to swim) in the Dead Sea. Cynthia and I, along with others, waded or merely enjoyed the breezes. Our guide Tony told us how to enjoy the mud of the Dead Sea, how it would make us 40 years younger. Who knew that this pilgrimage would also be a spa adventure! Then, on the road to Bethlehem, we stopped to ride camels. One camel was well-behaved but another thought that he might take George back to the Dead Sea.

Now, we’ve gone through the wall to the Casa Nova hotel on Manger Square in Bethelem. No birdsong surrounding us in this city. Now we hear the Muslim call to prayer and traffic out our windows.