Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday, March 14: Wailing Wall, St. Anne's, St. George's

I'll have to post pictures after I get home.  Sorry.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Continuing to tell about yesterday.  We entered the Old City by the Lion's Gate.  Lot's of military presence.  It was a shopping day for Muslim women who poured out of the city in their long robes and headdresses, many carrying packages on their heads.  We walked through the narrow streets, hearing the bargaining of the shopkeepers.  I heard a crash, and saw that some school children who had just finished their day in school had broken apart a cement block.  They each picked up pieces and looked like kids looking for trouble.  A few seconds later, a young Jewish man walked passed them, and one of the boys (probably 8 years old) tossed a small rock at his back (he did throw it slowly, as to insult, not to hurt).  The man turned and the chase was on.  The other children yelled for their friend to escape, and as far as I could tell, he did.  But the animosity remained. 

As we got further in, there was more tourist focused marketing. We entered the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, traditionally identified as the path Jesus took on the way to the cross.  We stopped at a chapel at the second station, when Jesus is sentenced and schourged.  We went to a church with a crown of thorns in the dome ceiling. A group came to the station while we were there, let by a young man carrying a large wooden cross.

We entered the L along the Via Doloroso, where there are blocks that came from the Antonia Fortress.  On the blocks are markings for a game that the Roman soldiers played with their prisoners.  The Game of Kings was like a life-size game board with large rocks on the floor representing various squares.  The soldiers would roll the dice and send the prisoner to different squares.  On each square was a consequence – a beating, spitting, whipping, or such, and one allowed a prisoner to be king for the day, and then be executed tomorrow. 

We had lunch near stations 3 and 4.  Wonderful to watch the passing crowd.

Then we went to the Church of the Holy Scpulchre, also the Church of the Ressurection or in Orthodox tradition, the Church of the Anastasias.  There is only one door.  As we enter, in front of us is a slab of brown stone, smooth and gleaming.  It is said to be the stone on which the women prepared the body of Jesus for burial.  People are kneeling, kissing the stone, rubbing their hands on it and then rubbing themselves and their children with their hands.  When I knelt to touch the rock, I could feel that it had been covered with scented oils, suitable for blessing.  It was a place of such intense devotion, I felt very moved.

We then climbed the stairs to Golgotha, the place of Jesus' crucifixion.  The area has been remembered from earliest days because it was a quarry, so things were not built on it.  And Emperor Hadrian built a Temple here to desecrate the Christian holy site, thus preserving it and its association with the cross.

As we were nearing the altar above the spot where tradition says Jesus died, there was a loud noise and some vested attendants moved us to the side.  Vested ministers approached with incense, candles were extinguished, a presider in a cope (priest or bishop) came to say prayers.  we realized that it was 3:00 p.m., the hour of Christ's death.  In a few minutes a single thurifer in a gold dalmatic also censed the altar.  When the liturgy was ended, I got to place my hand and arm into the hole under the altar, to touch the stone from the place where it is said Christ was crucified.  It was very moving.

We then went into the larger church area where the traditional location of Jesus' tomb is.  Because it was the hour of remembrance, we were not able to enter into the tomb shrine, although Suzanne did get a quick peek.  It is surrounded by a tall, wooden tower (there's bound to be a better name for that).  I spotted the gold deacon with his censer and heard chanting, so I followed to the rear of the shrine where several of us listened for quite a while to the prayers, chanting and incense of the liturgy of the Coptic Church.  An ancient Bishop went to the opening of the grotto, prayed, chanted and censed it, then made a procession around the entire shrine.  It was eternal and exquisite. 

Our guide apologized for the "perfect storm" that kept us from seeing what we thought we'd see.  The Episcopalians in the group were pretty delighted.  Though we missed a few things associated with the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, we participated in the living devotion of the holy place, and we felt deeply privileged.  It is a good thing to remember that this attention and prayer and devotion is happening here every day.

After we left the Church of the Resurrection, we went to St. Peter Gallicantu, a chapel commemorating Peter's three denials of Jesus.  It is located over some dungeons that are believed to be the basement of the High Priest Caiaphas, where Jesus was questioned under physical duress.  In one of the caves we could see two holes in the upper wall where a prisoner would be tied up, hanging in the opening.  There are two holes on the ground where two buckets were kept.  In one was water, in the other, hot olive oil.  The questioners would place the whip in the water to tighten it, and then beat the prisoner.  Then they would slap hot oil on the person's back, both to burn and to close the wounds so the prisoner would not bleed to death.  It allowed the torture to be perpetuated. 

From the balcony is a good view toward the West Bank.  Like a concrete scar across the hillside, the Wall stretches, dividing Jew from Gentile, carving up this land into pieces.  We will be visting the Wailing Wall tomorrow; we have been marking the various walls of the Temple Mount, of the Old City of David, the expansions of Solomon and Hezekiah, the breaking down of the wall by Assyrians and Romans, the building of a new Wall by today's government of Israel. 

There is a great deal of graffiti on the wall, most of it in English, addressed primarily from Palestinian residents to Americans, asking for us to use our influence to help their plight.  We're collecting pictures of the messages.  (I've already mentioned several in earlier posts.)  One I saw since the earlier posts tell us "A country is not only what it does; it is what it tolerates."

Some others: An Episcopal Shield with the Title: "Baptismal Covenant."  "I think God hates this Wall."  "Mr. Netanyahu.  Tear down this wall."  Images of bruised, beaten and bound humans.  A huge Christmas tree completely surrounded by the Wall.  "Issac's knife can cut away all the poisoned yesterdays."  "Teach Peace."  "Welcome to Soweto."  "Blessed are the peacemakers for they will inherit the kingdom."  "You must riot, you must protest, just to be heard by the world."  "Made in the USA."  "In everything of this earth are planted the seed of its undoing."  Pinnochio with an American flag and a long nose.  "Let the people dance, sing, hope."  "Forgive, it feels better."  "I want my ball back."  "Play like today is your last day; learn like you'll live forever."  "Ich bin Berliner."  "Mujeres artisans por la paz" with some beautiful painted images.  And many faces, presumably of Palestinian people. 

That's not a bad place for me to begin our narrative for today, Sunday, March 14.  As we left our Bethlehem hotel in the West Bank to head to Jerusalem we heard that there was a big shutdown imposed by the Israeli government today.  Maybe they were expecting a reaction to last week's announcement that there will be new illegal settlements built in Palestinian territory.  The government has shut down access to the Harames Sharif, the Muslim mosque on the Temple Square.  We will not be allowed to enter the Temple Square.  That is a great disappointment for any tourist. 

When we arrived at the Wall, everyone had to exit the bus, with our passports.  This is something that happens from time to time, we were told, whenever the Israeli government chooses to do so.  We went down a long corridor, and could imagine how this could accommodate a very long and slow line.  There was not much traffic today, so our line was short.  But it was very slow.  Everyone had to present a passport and pass through a metal detector.  Right outside the metal detector was a poster of Christian priests celebrating mass, with the caption, "Come and feel the Glory.  Israel." 

We are a tourist bus.  Everyone on our bus is an American tourist.  We watched a young woman who said she was a hospital worker.  She had not brought a passport.  It took a while, but finally they allowed her to go through the metal detector.  The alarm kept going off.  She kept trying show she had no metal.  Eventually the problem was discovered, in a rather embarrassing way, as she unzipped and unsnapped her pants in front of scores of strangers.  Nearby a robed Muslim woman was having to undress, her distress obvious, almost in tears in the modest country.  An older man went through repeatedly, finally finding a single shekel which set off the alarm. 

When I went through the detector, I set it off.  The young person running everything waved me on, as she did the rest of our tour group, as each of us buzzed the alarm.  I noticed that virtually all of the guards and administrators of the checkpoint were young, probably in their late teens, the soldiers among them armed with automatic weapons. 

Our guide told a story about one tour group who was told they must sign a document saying that the U.S. government disapproves of their staying in Bethlehem and the West Bank, and if they find themselves in trouble, the U.S. government will not rescue them.  All of the American tourists signed the documents in order to get through the checkpoint.  The claims were untrue, of course.  We also heard of another group of American tourists who had not been told to bring their passports and were blocked for a lengthy time at the checkpoint.  (I didn't hear whether they were let though.)

Our bus driver Mike has to stay nearby when he is driving a group like ours.  He can't go home.  There are two checkpoints between his home and our hotel.  He is Palestinian.  It is too likely that he might be delayed in the morning coming to pick us up, so he stays here rather than joining his family who lives just a few minutes away.

One of our group has made friends with Fadir, the bartender at the hotel lounge.  He is 23 and Palestinian.  He has finished his degree, but he says he can only go to work and home.  He cannot cross the Wall; he cannot travel or work outside the territory.  One of our guides said that many young Palestinian men are not allowed through the checkpoints.  And a sign on the Israeli side announces clearly that "No Israeli may cross" through the checkpoint into Palestinian territory. 

Walls have become a major theme of this trip. 

When we finally got back on the bus and headed into Jerusalem, we drove by the newly discovered location of the Pool of Siloam.  (Another location shows prominently on maps and models.)  We entered the City through the Dung Gate, the ancient passage for taking the garbage from Jerusalem.  We went to the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, maybe the most sacred place in Judaism.  It is the wall of the second Temple, built by Herod the Great, destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE. 

I watched the faithful at their prayers.  Many reading from the Hebrew scriptures (Psalms, I think).  Much passion and serious intensity.  There were prayer desks for some who sat as they read.  Others bowed before the wall in rhythmic intercession.  Some placed written intentions into the cracks.  It was an active and energetic place, the prayers undisturbed by the many photo takers behind them.

I went to a place, touched the wall, and entered into my own prayer.  I first found myself remembering all of those who are among my intercessions for their illnesses or approaching deaths.  Then I offered prayer and thanks for my family, friends and loved ones; for my church and our life and work.  I prayed for my own ministry, that God would guide and gift me in ways that bring healing and communion with God.  I prayed for our denomination and its complicated process of spiritual growth and reconciliation.  I began to feel a deep sense of connectedness with the spiritual heritage of this place – the ancient energies, the earnest prayers that have been focused here.  That sense of connectedness seemed then to expand toward all of the holy places on earth, and with all of the prayers and hopes of people, now and through time, who have sought to connect with the ultimate and to bring peace, union, and the spirit of love in all places and among all people.  Psalm 84 came to me.  We use it with our ministers and acolytes in the vesting room before our services at St. Paul's, so I know it by heart.  The words felt rich in this holy place. 

    How dear to me is your dwelling, O God of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for your courts;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.

The sparrow has found her a house
       and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young, *
by the side of your altars, O God of hosts,
my Ruler and my God.

    Happy are they who dwell in your house; *
they will always be praising you.

    Happy are the people whose strength is in you; *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

    Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.

    They will climb from height to height; *
the God of gods will be revealed in Zion.

    O God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.

    Behold our defender, O God, *
and look upon the face of your Anointed,

For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
    and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked;

    For God is both sun and shield *
and will give grace and glory.

    No good thing will God withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.

    __O God of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!

 It became very quiet for a while.  And I left, blessed, thankful and humbled to be within such a living stream of holiness and hope. 

Coming out of the Western Wall area, I saw Suzanne reading the Psalms on the Ipod.  Wonderful conjunction of ancient and new. 

When our group reassembled, we walked south to the Teaching Steps, a public area in the Temple where any Rabbi who wishes to teach may sit and do so, with access to te public, Jew and Gentile.  It is very likely that Jesus taught from these steps.  It is easy to imagine his speaking words like those in Matthew 23 where he speaks woes to those who like to dress up and pray long prayers and place burdens on others, but not carry them themselves.  Just down from the Teaching Steps were the headquarters of the Pharisees, and in ready view across the Kidron Valley are the vaulted tombs of the ancient cemetery.  I could almost hear Jesus saying, "Woe to you Pharisees; you are like whitewashed tombs..."

It is very possible that Peter's sermon in Acts 2 was from the Teaching Steps.  Wonderful place.

One of the "woes" Jesus speaks is to those who wear fancy vestments and religious appointments.  He spoke of the Jewish prayer shawl, the tallit.  The tassels of the tallit are a holy sign.  The holiness and intimacy of the tallit is protected under Jewish law.  Only a family member may touch the tassels of the tallit; the punishment for another to touch is death by stoning.

There is a story of a woman who had been living for years with a hemorrhage.  In addition to the health problems, such an issue of blood would make her ritually unclean, perpetually.  As Jesus walks through a crowd, she says to herself, "If I can only touch the hem of his garment, I will be healed."  Secretly she makes her way, and touches, we presume, his tallit.  Jesus feels power go from him and asks, "Who touched me?"  If her identity is known, she is subject to stoning.  When she reveals herself, Jesus immediately addresses her, "My daughter."  He identifies her as his own family, saves and heals her.

We went to look for a new discovery – a portion of the city wall that dates from Solomon's reign.  Then it was time to leave, but the bus was blocked and couldn't pick us up.  (We learned later, after we had returned to the hotel, that the Israelis had arrested an Hamas leader, and that probably accounted for the stepped up security.)  So we walked again through the Old City section.  We stopped to do some shopping.  I found a coin that was minted during the era when the first Jewish coins were made.  It dates from the time of Alexander Jannaeus, 103-76 BCE, and may be the kind of coin used by the widow whom Jesus complemented.

We went to the Pools of Bethsada where Jesus healed a man who was crippled for 38 years.  The pool was not a Jewish place, but a Roman pool, associated with the god Asclepius, the god of healing.  The ill and lame would lie by the pool, and when a snake was thrown into the pool (the snake is the symbol of Asclipius, seen on the snake-staff which symbolizes medicine), the first person into the pool was supposed to be healed.  Jesus asks the man "Do you want to be healed?", a good question for someone who has been sustained for 38 years.  When the man says he wants to walk, Jesus tells him to take up his mat and walk.  The healing is problematic because it happens on the Sabbath, when Jews are not supposed to carry things like mats.  It is also interesting that Jesus was in a pagan, unclean site on the Sabbath. 

While we waited for the bus to find an alternative way to us, one of our guides told a story about Middle Eastern hospitality.  Andy had been stranded at the airport, with no ride or luggage.  He needed someone to pick him up, and to arrange for a van so he could get some people and luggage transported.  He hit the button on his phone to call his friend and colleague Bushara.  But Andy didn't realize he had two Busharas on his phone, a second person whom he had met at a conference in the states and exchanged contact cards.  When the answer came on the phone, Andy told Bushara that he needed him to pick him up and arrange for a van to get his friends.  He would settle up with him later.  A befuddled sounding Bushara said, "Yes.  Of course.  Now who are you again, and what do you want me to do for you?"  Andy repeated.  And when Bushara showed up at the appointed time with a rented van, Andy had no recollection of who he was, and only then put it together that he had hit the wrong button on his phone and called the wrong Bushara.  Yet the stranger gave him everything he asked for and needed. 

While we were in St. Anne's Church, the traditional birthplace of Mary, a group started singing in the stone chapel.  The acoustics are remarkable.  We all joined singing in harmony, "How Great Thou Art," and other familiar hymns.  The music continued spontaneously as different pilgrims entered the space.  As I walked out of the church, the echoing harmonies followed outside, where the Muslim call to prayer sounded from at least three proximate minarets, and as if to add their voices to the prayers, the birds in the church garden erupted in wonderful chirps and songs.  So many voices praising God in so many different ways.  It was utterly beautiful.

Finally we got word that the bus was able to get near enough to us that we could meet it.  We walked through many soldiers, including two young women, one of whom was braiding the other's hair. 

On the way back to Bethlehem we stopped at the Anglican Cathedral of St. George's.  What a great treat to see our own church in this holy place.  It is a lovely church.  Our Good Friday offering always goes to support the Anglican Church in the holy land.  The church serves Anglicans from around the world who are in and around Jerusalem.  It also serves an indigenous Arab Christian congregation.  (It is important to remember that the Christians who live in Israel are almost all Palestinian Arabs.)  I was struck that the church has a traditional font given by Queen Victoria and an immersion font built along the lines of a Jewish Miqvah added in 1905. 

We'll pack tonight to leave Bethlehem tomorrow.  Later this evening, I'm joining others, as we've been invited to view a world premier movie documentary about the current political/religious situation in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.  Tomorrow we'll head south to Qumran, the Dead Sea, and Masada.



At 8:44 PM, Blogger Sage said...

You are such an amazing writer. Your words can bring tears. You're so descriptive and chose so thoughtfully what to put into words for us to see, hear, feel, reflect. What a gift you are providing your parishioners this year at Easter. An education on our Holy HISTORY... in sort, along with your eliguent thoughts, words and deeds You are truly a treasure to St. Paul's and our community and to me personally. I have grown so much... my path brought me home. Peace be with all of you on each day of this journey for I am sure we are all to hear about it for many homilies to come. :)

At 9:09 PM, Anonymous janetlgraige said...

What a sacred and precious moment in prayerful union you've shared with us. These are the moments that change us utterly. You can't step out of that back into the world without a new heart and renewed hope. And how perfect that it was right in the middle of all that muddle that is Jerusalem. Thanks be to God.

Looking forward to the rest of the trip diary and history lesson. We had a beautiful, quiet compline service tonight at the church.

Peace, Janet

At 1:06 AM, Blogger Tarun Kumar said...

nice blog on health problems


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