So, I have been off line for a number of days. Once we moved to our hotel in the Old City of Jerusalem my wifi would not allow me the service to keep blogging, so I am going to time delay and combine some days in the hopes of sharing with you a bit of what has been a truly wonderful, inspiring, and deeply challenging trip too.
I pick this up on Monday, January 19th, but I am going to jump around a bit. We stayed in the Old City, just inside the Jaffa Gate at the Christian run Gloria Hotel. It is a truly perfect location. On this morning we traveled first to Bethphage which is on top of the Mt. of Olives. Here we met a wonderful monk who agreed to a selfie!
It is a short walk from here to the descent down the Mt. Of Olives. Before we leave however, right across from the church is the site of a house demolition. These are most often punitive and had decreased of late, but since the recent Gaza War these have been resumed. Basically, not just the homes of those who have perpetrated crimes, but the homes of the families of these people are destroyed. I was blessed to offer this prayer at this site.
Gracious and loving God, the ministry of Jesus occurs in many different homes. Therefore to hallow the home as an environment for nurture and renewal, is a deeply felt need of many faithful households. It is in the home that the first experience of love occurs; it is there that love is nurtured and grows to maturity. A home is also the ground for much of a people’s spiritual growth. A house is a building, a structure with walls and a roof. Before life is lived in it it is nothing more. But once life is lived in such a structure it becomes something else. Our prayer, our hope, is that the life lived within those walls will turn it into a home So to tear it down is far more than the destruction of a structure, it is, in many ways, the destruction of who we are, of some part of us. We pray for those affected by such demolitions here and everywhere and we pray that this mode of human torture and degradation will come to an end. In the name of Jesus, our brother. Amen
We then made our way down the Mt. of Olives to the our first stop, the Church of Dominus Flevit, which translated from the Latin means, “the Lord wept” it is a teardrop design by architect Antonio Barluzzi.
It is a beautiful spot looking back toward the Temple Mount. Just to the left of the church is a small area where I love to sit. And it is here you get the rather strange and haunting shot below.
This is also a great spot to take a group photo
Then to the Garden of Gethsemene which for me is always a very moving site. Some of the Olive trees there are said to be over 2000 years old, there in the time of Jesus
After another great lunch, we were off to Mt. Zion, first to the supposed site (probably not) of the Upper Room, and then to the Church of the Dormition, where we were personally greeted by the Abbot, Gregory, which though a German order is Irish! He was a wonderful man. We met him at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee where the order also oversees the Church of the Multiplication or the Loaves and Fishes. He met us there and invited us to the Church of the Dormition. He spoke to us for about an hour and then toured us through this beautiful church.
After that we traveled the short distance to the Church of Peter in Galicantu which means “cock-crow” marking the denial of Jesus by Peter. We celebrated Eucharist there. It is a beautiful church, and a moving place, its icons being expressly riveting.
From there many of us walked through the old city, to our hotel. That evening our guide and friend the Rev. Dominic Barrington led those who wanted on a night walk around the old city. This is the second time I have done it and it is always a delight.
The next morning we came to one of the most moving parts of this pilgrimage, the Via Dolorosa, the way of grief, the way of tears, the way of the cross.
We walked these stations through the old city, much as it would have been when Jesus dragged his cross there, the shops open, life going on, commerce unceasing. We end at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the foot of the cross and the site of the resurrection.
After lunch in the city, we went back to our hotel and met up with the guide for our next tour, back to the West Bank, but this time to two Jewish settlements. We were hosted by a Jewish settler. It should be known they do not like the word settlement preferring to call them neighborhoods or even suburbs, which of course, are words the Arabs do not like. We headed south, between Hebron and Bethlehem to the settlements of Tekoa (338 acres, and 1808 people, established in 1977) and Efrata (568 acres, 7454 settlers, established in 1980) We were welcomed into a home by a settler who moved from Texas, our guide was from New York, and one other from California. Some things we learned. While local Arabs build the homes, keep the yards, do much of the labor, none of them can enter the settlement without an armed escort. In fact, our hosts were armed. Our driver and guide for our entire tour were both Christian Arabs and they would not have been allowed into the settlement without our Jewish guide being armed.
While our hosts were gracious and courageous to have us there, the conversation led many of us to see the racism that we know so well from our own country. In fact, I challenged our pilgrims to be careful to not go through the pilgrimage looking at everything as through a window, but also a mirror. How do we see ourselves, in our context in these people and their stories. We heard them say such things as “The Local Arabs love that we are here as we provide them with jobs” Of course, the local Arabs building the house next door were not asked, and quite frankly I am not sure what they would say. The power differential being what it is. We heard our Ph.D. house host say, “I believe people should be able to live wherever they want.” Again, I wondered if “everyone” included the Arabs.
We moved to Efrata, where we met up with an attorney from Colorado. He went into some long legal justifications for the settlements. When asked by one in our group, “How do you see peace coming to this situation?” He pondered for a moment and then said, “I can’t think of one thing.” We pushed a bit more and he told us he believed the Arabs should leave the state of Israel, that the Jordan River should be the border, that they should all go back where they came from. He and our host stated that none of them were here when the Jews arrived, that this was uninhabitable land, and that all one had to do was read Mark Twain to know this. Our host then passed out two articles he had written on his ideas for bringing peace to the region. They basically revolved around the same premise, moving all Arabs to Iraq being one.
Again this year we had a First Nations pilgrim on our tour, this was almost impossible for her to bear as she listened to what sounded all too familiar. Our bus driver and guide were traumatized and angered by the encounter not being able to speak to some of the blatant racism and insult. But, all of us on board had to also look in the mirror and wonder about how we are “settlers” as well. We can rationalize all we want, but the similarities are profound.
As a leader we wondered about offering this part on our tour, but after it I can say I am glad we did. If we were going to enter into the struggle of this land currently on this trip, we wanted to try to bring balance to it. You will see, in our travels to come, that I believe we succeeded at that.
To say this was a “hard” day would be an understatement, but it is day we needed and learned from I believe. Many of us came back to Jerusalem, and headed straight for the tomb, the site of the resurrection. We needed that.
By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, when we remembered you, O Zion
As for our harps, we hung them up on the trees in the midst of that land.
For those who led us away captive asked us for a song, and our oppressors called for mirth: “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
How shall we sing our Lord’s song upon an alien soil?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.
Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do note remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy. Psalm 137: 1-6