I have thought about our trip quite a bit. Mostly I think about being concerned for the treatment of the Palestinians and the full-blown apartheid we witnessed. I think about the sermon that last Sunday at St Georges about forgiveness and Bishop Desmond Tutu's Book of Forgiving which I ordered as soon as I got home. The priest said exactly what John had told us: that in Judaism and in Islam that forgiveness is not an important tenant in the same way it is for us as Christians. It makes me wonder if peace is even possible for Jerusalem, and it makes me grateful to be a Christian.
I'm also thinking about the recent death of Elie Weisel and his famous quote:
"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference."
How ironic it seems that this message to all the world came from a Jew who survived the Holocaust, and how those words now seem applicable to the situation of the Palestinians in Israel.
I also think about Joel celebrating the Eucharist in the desert, the beautiful stream at the head of the Jordan River, and the First Century house below the Sisters of Nazareth convent with the rolling stone tomb.
I also think of the beautiful Garden in Gethsemane with the ancient (17-18 hundred year old) olive trees grafted to even older roots and John's question of us, asking us to what our lives are grafted?
I remember the massive size of the Western wall and how small I felt, and the intimate Chapel of Adam in the Holy Sepluchre with the tiny crosses carved into the walls. And so many times I've thought of the tremendous determination of Constantine's mother, Helena, and what she contributed to the history of Christianity. I love powerful women because I sometimes feel powerless.
I remember my awe at the coolness in the cave at Tekoa, and the blistering sun at Sephoris, imagining the Tectons building the city in that heat and the archeologists working, in the same heat, in their five foot square areas, gently brushing the dust away to reveal mysteries of the 1st century.
I remember the dust that coated my sandals and feet each day. And how that same dust coated the back of my throat. Now it makes sense that the washing of feet is so often mentioned in the Bible.
I appreciate so many "Ah-ha moments" as the trip, so well planned, unfolded numerous new insights and a better appreciation of the scriptures.
I think about leaving St George's guest house before sunrise to experience the stations of the Cross and how vulnerable I felt that morning as I carried the cross, through the trash strewn streets, hoping the Jews wouldn't spit on us .... and I remember the beautiful prayers we prayed from John's book, and that Simon of Cyrene was from Africa, and that no where in the Bible does it talk about the color of anyone's skin. I was reading John's book on a plane recently. Beside me was this very dark skinned African American young man in hip-hop clothing with his back-side showing. I'd seen him in the terminal and thought he looked a little frightening.... Then after I was seated on the plane, he came walking down the aisle and stopped at my row, waiting for me to get out of the way so he could sit down right beside me. Inspired by John's book, I tried to reach out to him. I jokingly asked him if he ever worried about his pants completely falling off and giggled. He laughed and said he needed a new belt! During the flight, we exchanged our travel plans and a few smiles. Sadly it was hard to understand him because of his accent and the background noise on the plane. But I was glad I reached out to him, and grateful that he was gracious in return .
Back to Israel:
I can still see Iyad standing at the front of the bus, drilling the important periods of Israel's history into our minds. I imagine him as a boy at the St Georges school learning those same periods. And I remember John's ebullient enthusiasm, teaching us about rolling stone tombs (No, we discovered, they are not shaped like giant round snowballs!...but large rolling discs...! And ultimately, I remember audibly gasping as I came down the bottom flight of stairs in the excavation at Sisters of Nazareth, and recognized the perfectly preserved rolling stone tomb right there in front of me! And I remember John explaining the significance of finally uncovering the third step of First century entryway.
I remember the anxiety I felt walking around the Dome of the Rock, being told it was the first day of Ramadan. And I remember the tension I felt as we drove through the Israeli military camps near the Jordan Valley, and the strange white concrete circles, below the overlook, where the bus stopped for pictures. I can still see that huge rotating antenna on the precipice above us to the West, and Jordan in the distance to the East. Something seemed strange there, and made me uncomfortable.
And I still remember the sadness I experienced standing in Jericho staring up at the graffiti covered wall, and Iyad pointing out where someone had painted "Made in America" near the bottom of the wall.
I can still hear the peaceful lapping of the water on the sides of of our boat as we cruised across the surface of the Sea of Galilee. I tried to imagine it in the morning mist with Jesus emerging as he walked across the water... ..Later, I was totally fascinated by the 1st century boat so beautifully displayed in the museum there.
I still think about the marvelous architecture and rich mosaics and wall murals of so many churches we saw, and the acres of terraced stone tombs, baking in the bright sun, with the view of Jerusalem in the background.
I remember my own visit to the Rockefeller Museum and the ancient terra cotta coffins with the curious smiles. And I remember the deep carving and rich iconography of the original stone lintels from the Holy Sepulcher. I was drawn to the First Century ossuaries.... and the lovely Roman-style mosaic remnants there.
Finally, I remember the generosity of those kind individuals who loaned me the shirts(etc) off their backs when my bag was late, and the cross Father Rob gave me which had been blessed in so many locations of our trip. I make sure I wear it when I need courage, wisdom or peace.
How fortunate I feel to have shared these experiences with Pilgrims from our own St James (and the Diocese of Louisiana). And I feel so blessed to have these extraordinary memories.