Another beautiful dawn inside the Jaffa Gate as several of us went back to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
After breakfast, we put all our luggage into the bus and went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial Institute. Lazarus took us around the main buildings and monuments then gave us time to experience the place on our own.
The memorial to those who were murdered by the Nazis is a reminder of how dangerous we humans can be when we commit the sin of believing that only the people who seem to be exactly like us should be permitted to live. Instead, this pilgrimage has helped remind me that the complexity of cultures, values, and faith of people in this part of the world are more complicated and deeply rooted than I can understand, let alone judge. One of my friends in grad school had a cultural and racial background different than mine. She admonished me, as a woman of privilege, that “I don’t know what I don’t know.” She helped me start to understand that my background and culture gave me blinders, along with a tendency to judge based upon my limited world view. I can hear her whisper in my ear, “You don’t know what you don’t know….”
I can, however, begin to appreciate our differences and similarities, and I can pray for the peace of Jerusalem and all of this land and region. I can have an attitude of readiness to learn and grow in relationship with people I meet, and I can continue to support the work of those organizations who care for the orphans and educate the children to be leaders in a complex multicultural world.
Our last Holy Eucharist was at Abu Gosh, one of the sites that commorates the Emmaus resurrection story from Luke’s gospel. Dennis was our celebrant, and we blessed all of the gifts the pilgrims are taking home. This crusader church is in a beautiful garden, and being together in this beautiful place was a blessing.
After dinner in Jaffa, we headed to the airport, said farewell to our new friends, and began very long overnight flights home.
“Let all mortal flesh keep silence…” in Arabic and English simultaneously is the way I will remember the First Sunday of Advent. The 9:30 service is primarily in Arabic at St George’s Cathedral of the Diocese of Jerusalem. Our pilgrims worshipped and enjoyed coffee hour in a lovely garden with the local congregation and another group on a Lightline pilgrimage from the Diocese of Wyoming. After church, we walked through the Old City to the Western Wall, then on through the souq stopping for spices at a market stall. After lunch, we drove to Ein Karem, where the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth is commemorated. From the courtyard, the view of Jerusalem is so lovely. The Super moon rose over Jerusalem as we returned to our hotel for dinner. It has been too lovely a day (after a week of perfect weather … highs about 70 with sun) not to walk through the city once more tonight. My fitbit is registering 16,352 steps with 66 floors … ready to collapse before our last day and an overnight flight home.
Our day began with a walk into the Old City to the Pools of Bethesda and St Ann’s Church. From there, we celebrated Holy Eucharist at Ecce Homo (“behold the man”) Church.
Afterward, we walked (without cameras) through the streets of the Old City praying at the stations of the cross, with the last stations inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. This is a powerful experience in the midst of everyday foot traffic and an occasional truck or motorcycle (up narrow cobblestone streets crowded with pedestrians).
Off to the Dead Sea foe the afternoon, we skipped the Qumran site because the parking lot was so packed we could barely enter. Relaxing at the swimming area was a lovely way to enjoy the afternoon.
After dinner back in Jerusalem, some of the group joined Cynthia and me as we walked through the Old City to the Western Wall.
Early morning in the souq (the market), all was quiet as Cynthia and I walked to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Syrian Orthodox mass at an altar being the tomb of Jesus while a Roman Catholic mass was celebrated at the Golgotha site. The air was filled with chant and incense. After breakfast, our group went to the Israel Musem where the Shrine of the Book holds the Dead Sea scrolls. A large model of the city of Jerusalem at the time of the 2nd Temple. Our guide Lazarus gave us the clearest explanation of the history of the building of the city that I’ve heard yet. After lunch, we climbed to the height of Mount Zion, seeing the Dormition Abbey, then going to St Peter in Gallicantu for communion. The altar in our chapel is directly over the prison where it’s believed that Jesus was held before his trial. Then Lazarus took us all to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, now very crowded as compared to my early morning time there.
We started our day with a drive to Hebron, where we hoped to see the Tomb of the Patriarchs. (Genesis 23…Abraham bought a burial place at Machpelah for Sarah who had died. It became the family burial place and is revered by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.) This day is the birthday of the Prophet Mohammed, so we knew we might need to adjust our expectations. Our access point to the tomb was to be through a Jewish settlement, but because it is a feast day in Islam, the Israelis granted access to the tomb only to Muslims. We were able to see it from a short distance. So, having come there, we laughed with the young soldiers guarding the entrance when a cat swiped the plastic-wrapped sandwich of one of the guards and made off with it in its mouth, running like the wind. And we had our picture taken, just to show that we were there.
Then, we drove back to Bethlehem where we had an appointment at Bethlehem University, the only Christian University in Israel. 3000 students attend, with 78% women students, the majority of students are Muslim (about 30% Christian) and professors are mostly Palestinian. The acceptance rate is one in three, and it is a rigorous university. We met students who told us their professional goals and the challenges of getting to the campus if they must pass through checkpoints each day to come to class. Lovely students who are hopeful and motivated.
Their Chapel of the Divine Child is extraordinarily beautiful, with frescoes of child martyrs from around the world on the walls (even contemporary martyrs, including children of Uganda in the 60’s).
After lunch, we drove to Bethpage and walked the path of Jesus and his disciples into Jerusalem that we remember on Palm Sunday. On the way down the Mount of Olives, we reached the Garden of Gethsemene and the Church of All Nations.
We checked into the Gloria Hotel just inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City. In the evening, some of the group got pilgrim tattoos from the Coptic Christian tattoo artist whose family has been practicing this art for pilgrims for over 300 years.
The guesthouse where we are spending two nights shares a wall with the Church of the Nativity. From a door in the lobby, we can walk into the cloister of St Catherine’s Roman Catholic Church, then pass through another door into the Church of the Nativity, itself. The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Appostolate churches are the caretakers of the Nativity. Our guide is an Armenian, educated in Hebrew studies and his own tradition at St Vladimir’s Seminary in Queens, N.Y., we are learning much from him. These churches are open very early for prayer and worship each morning, so we have been able to slip in and experience their spaces, scents, and beauty, along with small groups of worshippers. The Church of the Nativity is undergoing painstaking renovation. The gold frescoes from the Crusader era are just being uncovered from under plaster. The older icons and wood carvings on pillars and capitals are cleaner and now visible. Our group went to the area called Shepherds Fields where the appearance of angels to the shepherds in Luke’s gospel are commemorated. After lunch, we visited an orphanage operated by the Sisters of Charity (a French Roman Catholic order) since the 1800s. Very young women who are victims of rape (primarily by family members) are brought here by their mothers when the girls are found to be pregnant. Most such girls don’t have the understanding of what has happened to them, so they are very surprised and horrified when a doctor diagnoses the cause of their intestinal distress. They stay overnight at the women’s delivery hospital next door, give birth by induction to premature babies, then quietly return home. Otherwise their families would kill them and their babies. The infants who survive are raised at the orphanage for six years, then go to caregivers for the rest of their childhood. At 18, they are on their own. The sisters (all 2 of them presently), a small paid staff, and a few volunteers do the good work of this ministry of love. We sat in the chapel to hear the story of this place, then had a chance to play with some of the toddlers before returning to the chapel for communion. I’ve come with pilgrims to this place on each of my pilgrimages, and each time I find it both heartbreaking yet hopeful. The sisters realized 150 years ago that there were young mothers and babies who needed compassion and quite literally salvation. With the help of people like us who pray for and with them, plus provide a little financial support, they are doing the work of the gospel in the very place that Jesus was born.
And we were off to the West Bank, leaving the serenity of the Pilgerhaus in Tabgha for a very bumpy ride to Nablus. Some of us a bit green around the lips, we arrived at a Greek Othodox church built over the site of Jacob’s well. The story of the Samaritan woman who asks Jesus for living water is set at this location. It’s a tiny well in the lower level of a beautiful church. An ancient iconographer presented his work in the small space.
Mass was being celebrated in the church above us, so our visit was accompanied by glorious chant by the priest and congregation.
Then we went to St Luke’s Hospital, a charity hospital that is a ministry of the Diocese of Jerusalem. Thanks to our United Thank Offering gifts at work, this very underfunded hospital has a comparatively modern labor and delivery wing. But imagine running a hospital that has no working autoclave! They have three old broken ones, so must send their medical implements to one of the other local hospitals for sterilization. We were amazed to hear of all the good they do with very limited resources.
We also went to the baptismal site of Jesus, where we renewed baptismal vows. Then drove on to Jericho for a late lunch. Finally, we drove through Jerusalem to get to Bethlehem where we’re stating for two nights.
A couple of our folks had a little fun fooling around at our rest stop. (The tank has been painted since my last visit.)
Our morning began on the shore of the Sea of Galilee at the Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish. After seeing the beautiful church that was rebuilt after being damaged by arson in 2015, we walked to the shore for communion. The birdsong in this region is beautiful and accompanied us throughout the day. Our final song was We are marching in the Light of God, with one of the verses “We are dancing in the Light of God.” It seemed to be the theme for the day, as we moved around the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee. By mid afternoon, as we sailed on the Sea to experience the water, our host taught us how to dance the Hava nagila, so we all danced our way across the waters. Near sunset, we climbed to the Church of the Beatitudes, where we were almost alone, giving us time to explore, pray, enjoy the birdsong (parrots flew among the eucalyptus trees).
Our guide Lazarus is an exegetical companion, interpreting for us the meaning of the places we visit and the scriptural references to each place. He’s an Armenian Christian with seminary education in his tradition and a graduate degree in Hebrew studies. We are fortunate.
After our overnight flights from Seattle or Denver to Tel Aviv, our bleary-eyed pilgrims met our guide Lazarus and driver Moses. Off we went in our new bus (10 days old … yes, it has a “new bus smell.” We drove to Kevar Tavor [the town of Tabor, at the foot of Mount Tabor, for a lovely lunch in a local restaurant. Then we went to a fascinating active archeological site that has so far uncovered a 1st Century synagogue, ritual baths, and a market place. The beautiful chapel that commemorates the woman who touches Jesus’ hem and is healed is very modern, with a stone floor reminiscent of the original market floor in this lovely place. By evening, we are all jet-lagged and exhausted, ready for a long sleep.
On Friday, a group of pilgrims from the Diocese of Olympia will join a group from the Diocese of Colorado for an Advent pilgrimage in the Holy Land. Pictures in my office are a constant reminder of the beauty of the Sea of Galilee. That’s where we will be next weekend, walking in the land where Jesus walked, and enjoying the hospitality of the people who live in Israel and Palestine today. As we travel, I’ll post updates and pictures or video of our experience (as WiFi bandwidth permits).
In this Thanksgiving week, I am grateful for all the people who will receive and accompany us along the way and for those who will help us learn. I continue to treasure the Collect for the Presence of Christ that gave me the name for this blog:
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.