Archives for posts with tag: pilgrims

Today we visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. It was like going through a tunnel. Ahead you could see the light of the exit, though there is not direct route through. Instead the path is a zig-zag, left and right through displays, listening to audio-visual presentations, and the voices of guides taking groups. There were many people visiting, including Israeli soldiers who have to come here as part of their military service. The atmosphere was often quite claustrophobic, which is, I guess part of the design of the place. I was full of questions, as I tried to absorb and respond to what I was seeing and hearing. How would I resist persecution? Would I have the courage to? ”.. still there is beauty” – is a quote that strikes me hard. How could there be under such horrendous times? How can there be forgiveness alongside what needs to be remembered? The Hall of Names has pictures of faces in the ceiling, above a deep dark well which reflects the faces. The Children’s Memorial is a building in darkness, with pinpricks of light reflected in mirrors around. As we walk through, there is a continuous narration speaking the names of children who died – their ages and where they were from. There are about one and half million names. It takes 18 months to read all the names.

Next we go to the old city of Jerusalem to visit the Western Wall. As we approach we see joyous bar mitzvah celebrations. I approach the wall a bit apprehensively – joining the women who are separate from the men. I watch other women engrossed in their prayers, aloud or silent. They take their time, and I wait rather impatiently for my turn.  I do not know how I am going to respond in prayer, or if I want to. When I reach the wall I touch it cautiously and it seems to me I feel a kind of energy coming out of the stones. Words fail me and I touch with my hands, place my forehead, my cheeks on the well-worn stones, and kiss them, before backing out and making room for someone else.

We have some free time to wander. Into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is another experience of prayer with the body, as I kneel down under the altar and reach down to touch the base of a hole where it is said the base of the cross was. Again no words, but a powerful experience.

After lunch at one of the street cafés in the market, we do a bit of shopping. I cannot bring myself to haggle, so probably pay over the odds for a scarf (keffiyeh) and bracelet – but I am very pleased with my purchases, and the seller is very persuasive!

Continuing exploring the city with our Palestinian guide, who has grown up here, he proudly tells us: ‘these stones know me.’

After supper back at the guest house, we meet a couple who tell us of their life in the West Bank. They share the ‘simple difficulties that they and their children live with daily – of interrupted water supply and power supply, of obstructions to travel and work. They are grateful to share their story with us, for our listening and questions, and ask us to pray for them.

Even if I know not

what to say

or do:

Let my body teach me the way.

Let the stones themselves

cry out

for peace with justice.  Amen

 

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We had much travelling to fit into this day, so I was grateful for a slightly better night’s sleep. In the morning we joined a local congregation for Sunday worship. It was a Roman Catholic congregation who made us welcome and we arrived to the musical sound of the rosary being prayed. Also a young couple was standing before the priest with a very young baby, prayers and blessings being received (we assumed). Before long an invitation came to the (male) priest in our group to take quite an active part in the service. Though the majority of the worship was in Arabic (often illustrated on the overhead screen with very white depictions of Jesus) there was much in the pattern of worship that was familiar. A lovely mix of ages took active part – including many young acolytes and servers. Anointing was offered to all in commemoration of Our Lady of Lourdes. It felt very special share this experience and that of communion together. After church we joined in a quick cup of coffee and met a retired woman priest from Bristol who was working in Bethlehem. Our guide was in the meantime champing at the bit to be away because we had a long journey ahead. Our destination was north to the fortress at Masada, at least an hour and a half’s drive away. The drive takes us on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho and beyond. This is the silk road. We saw some amazing views of the Dead Sea, and such a variety of landscape – wilderness dotted with rock, scrubland, tall cliffs of layered rock and caves and huge plantations of date palms. Flocks of sheep and cattle wander, sometimes accompanied by herdspeople. At the fortress we take the cable car to the top and then have a rather speedy tour of the main part of the ruins. This is the place where, after the Romans conquered Jerusalem in 70CE, almost a thousand Jews (men, women and children) made a desperate last stand. When their blockade was finally breached, Masada’s defenders chose suicide rather than to live in slavery. Our guide hurries us along – ‘Let’s go!’ When we return down to the car park, we have a very late lunch and feed the birds with our left-overs. Then back to the guest house. Over supper the talk turned to consideration of what is central to our faith – heady stuff – and I felt slightly guilty that I am more concerned with whether my supply of cough sweets and tissues will be sufficient!

In the rock

a dark cave offers:

hiding place, shelter, darkness, escape, viewpoint …

Where is the God who believes in me?

Listen to the sound of silence.

Amen

 

After a bad night coughing, I felt pretty rough for the next day of being a pilgrim in the Holy Land. Today we went to the Mount of Olives and walked down the way Jesus would have entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The way was very steep. It was hard not to keep stopping to take more and more photos of amazing views over the city. At the Church of the Pater Noster, we stood in a circle, holding hands as we said the Lord’s Prayer. Afterwards our guide said the prayer in Arabic. It was a powerful moment. Then to the Garden of Gethsemane, to wonder at the twisted beauty aged olive trees. The Church of All Nations was an amazing space. In part of the garden overlooking the city we shared communion and sung ‘Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom’ during the intercessions. We were let loose without our guide to wander in Jerusalem and find somewhere for lunch. I loved our meander, walking the streets, seeing spreads of fresh produce laid out for sale – chamomile, spinach, strawberries, cauliflower, and baskets of fresh spices. I felt my heart and mood lifted! In the Garden Tomb we had a different guide who rather movingly told us his faith story as part of the tour. En route back to our guest house, we got off the coach and walked through the checkpoint and turnstiles and narrow corridor that some of us saw part of yesterday. It was quiet and rather eery. We could see no soldiers, but knew they were watching. On the barrier wall words were written by someone presumably queuing up to pass through: ‘have compassion’. Later we had a walking tour through Bethlehem on the search for gifts and souvenirs. I find the walking a lovely intimate way of being introduced to this complex place, step by step, and speaking a little to individuals living and working here.

In this place,

I can remember who I am

and where I belong …

among friend and stranger

may I recognise Christ

in me and beside me. Amen

We were told today would be hard work – and it was. For some of us it began very early, in the dark, as we walked to the nearest crossing point of the separation wall and witnessed workers passing through the turnstiles on their way to work. It was a quiet beginning to the day, and many of the people (mostly men) gave us a tired smile and said ‘Good morning’. After breakfast we joined people from Embrace’s partner the Joint Advocacy Initiative in the planting of olive trees. People from all over the world worked together under blue skies and hot sunshine, surrounded by

almond blossom in full bloom. We sat together and shared a picnic lunch in the fields. ‘Today the land is happy’ said one of the farmers.

Later we were overwhelmed with facts and figures in a presentation from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) – giving the hard realities of life in the occupied territories.

Along the way we visited Shepherd’s Fields and sang some carols in the wonderful acoustics of the church there. Unseasonal but beautiful and moving.

Into the rich red earth

we place the young olive trees.

Will their roots find a way around the rocks

to the water they need to flourish and bear fruit?

Today may each find what they need to flourish –

may each find a way through this day.

Amen

 

 

In Bethlehem visiting the separation barrier and some of the people affected by it, then the Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation’s hospital, and sites in and around Manger square.

A wall rises.

The gate closes.

Open my mind and my heart, brother Jesus,

as I walk this place.

Help me to know my need and recognise the need of others.

Amen

 

 

Still trying to follow the way of the pilgrim, in February 2018 I took the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land, on a tour organised by Embrace the Middle East. A group from north Oxfordshire joined a group from Hertfordshire to make up this group of pilgrims. I am going to share prayers that I wrote each day, as I continue to reflect and wonder about this multi-layered, multi-faceted adventure.

Day one, we arrive into Tel Aviv and travel to Bethlehem.

For what I am about to receive,

may I be open and thankful and blessed and real.

Amen