Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Eve: Western Wall, Robinson's Arch, St. Anne's Church, Israel Museum, Bethlehem and Jerusalem

It is Christmas Eve in Jerusalem -- I can't believe I'm here at this time of the year!  This is the Christmas Tree right outside of Manger Square in Jerusalem.

We started out early, heading to the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock. Unfortunately when we got off the bus and up to the security area (you have to go through a metal detector to get up there).we found out that the Dome of the Rock was closed due to the Prophet's Birthday yesterday.

We went to the Western Wall and noticed that there were two booths on the men's side. It turns out that there are Bar Mitzvah's being done today -- they happen on Mondays and Thursdays at the the Wall. I snapped a picture of the Bar Mitzvah's going on from atop a bench. 

spent time at the Wall praying. I prayed for my family, for the diocese, for the Church. I prayed for peace in this Holy Land in this Holy Season. I prayed for the people of Israel/Palestine. I put my hand on the Western Wall and could feel the prayers of others that have come before me: prayers of pain, joy, contrition, love, despair, thanksgiving, hope. It was overwhelming -- I felt I needed time apart, but that was not to be just then. At lunch I was quiet -- sitting working on my iPad. What I was really doing was processing the prayers I felt at the Western Wall -- the prayers I offered and the overwhelming feelings I had touching that Wall.

We backed out of the area where the women pray -- it is a something many of the women did. Here are some of our pilgrims at the Wall. 

There is a special faucet/fountain near the entrance to the area where people pray at the Western Wall -- an area to wash before going to the Wall to pray. It reminded me of the ritual baths we saw throughout this trip -- Baths to be purified before going to the Temple or Synagogue. As the Western Wall is revered because it is closest to where it is thought the Holy of Holies was located, I could just see in this small ritual the greater significance and ties to ancient rites. Ah, the joys of liturgy! The joy of tradition!

We all took a moment to take a group photo at the wall -- the only one missing was our Chris Tumilty who was back at the Guest House trying to fend off a cold. 

As we couldn't go to the Dome of the Rock today, we headed for Robinson's Arch -- As we entered there we heard special drums and music, and walked up to the top of the ramp to see a young man about to make his Bar Mitzvah being escorted with his family to the Western Wall. I took a video of this and posted it on Facebook. 

Later I saw a young man with a table outside the Robinson's Arch entryway with a sign that said "Go Inspire Welcomes (Name of Company) Bar Mitzvah Tours". Yep. I saw it with my own eyes. I thought about that -- did they bring their Rabbi with them? I thought in a way -- how cool to celebrate your Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall! 

We walked through looking at the various layers of building that occurred in the area. We walked along the Eastern Wall -- the other side of the Western Wall. It was amazing to see the Herodian level as well as other building there. Iyad is such a great guide -- he knows so much about the history of the area, the Bible, the people -- and he makes it all come alive for us. 

We walked and found the Huldah Gate. It was by some first century steps.

We also walked by the Golden Gate (I had to sing the song, but really it's very beautiful). In fact it was called the Beautiful Gate.

We looked across the valley and saw the Church of All Nations, 

Dominus Flevit, the Mount of Olives. It was a beautiful day, and I couldn't help but think about all the pilgrims here in Jerusalem -- young men for their  Bar Mitzvah, Christian pilgrims at Christmas time. There is a wonderful energy in the city today -- a prayerful energy. It belies the fact that people were injured yesterday at the Jaffa Gate and that the two young people who committed the acts of violence are dead. In this most Holy Land at times the most un-holy of acts are done. Why must people hate to the level that not only do they not trust the "other", but they wish the other ill -- even to death. O come, O come Emmanuel! 

We went through St. Stephen's gate (also known as Lion's gate) past St. Anne's to Iyad's cousin's little shop.

I was able to have another glass of pomegranate juice -- yum! Steve went with Mark to a little baker down the street, who made this ring shaped bread as they stood there. Steve spoke with some of the boys at the shop -- one admired his bracelet from Navajoland -- Steve gave it to him. Steve and Mark brought back the bread to us -- it was still warm. We opened up pieces of it, sprinkled zatar in it and ate it -- yum! 

While we were there was an older Swiss Roman Catholic Priest who came into the shop with his small group from Switzerland. He was speaking French. Mark welcomed him and spoke with him in French. He was told that I'm a bishop and came over and kissed my ring. My pilgrims found that quite amusing! He was very kind. We shared our bread with the Priest and his small group of pilgrims. They bought coffee to drink and took our places at the tables as we left.

We went back to St. Anne's and the Pools of Bethseda. It was here that Jesus healed a man who was ill. We had scripture read to us there, and then Todd and Kelli Grace offered anointing for healing. I took advantage of this moment -- Todd anointed me, and I truly felt blessed by the experience. It is humbling to ask for healing and the laying on of hands, but it is so needed by so many, me included. 

We then went inside St. Anne's Church -- this is where it is believed that Mary was born. Before we went to explore the grotto downstairs where Mary is believed to have been born, we stood upstairs and sang Seek Ye First in rounds. I was able to video it and put it on Facebook. It was wonderful to be able to do that together. 

I went downstairs and prayed in the grotto where the mother of our Lord was born. I'm looking forward to praying where our Lord was born tonight in Bethlehem!

I went back upstairs and lit a candle in this old Chruch -- built by the Crusaders -- I lit a candle in front of the statue of Anna teaching Mary. I thought about and prayed for my children. I gave thanks for them as we are getting ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus tonight. They have been and are such a joy for Steve and me -- and we couldn't be more proud of them. I thought about all the things I taught them, and things I could have or should have taught them -- I wonder if Anne had the same feelings I was feeling standing there in prayer. It is hard being a mother -- to balance being overbearing or protective and being too hands-off.

After we left St. Anne's we headed for lunch at Pasha's Restaurant. The usual salads, hummus, babaganoush, and this time a bit of falafel too. Then came our lunch -- chicken, peas and carrots and rice. The picture here is of the dessert - awamah. Steve loved it!

We then headed to the Israeli Museum, where there is a very large model of early Jerusalem. Iyad started out showing us on the mosaic wall map the different areas we visited and gave us perspective on the land, including the different configurations of the Old City over time.

Mark took over and gave an overview of the model of the city. I had seen this before, but Mark's explanation of where Jesus may have been marched from and to within the city was very helpful, and at the same time made me feel cold inside, anticipating our walk along the Via Dolorsa in a few days. I wanted to keep the joy of Christmas today in my heart, and not jump forward to the crucifixion. That was not to be, at least for this afternoon. Yet, it is hard to separate the two in a way, isn't it? I thought back to part of the poem that was read to us yesterday -- From the Manger to the Cross.

We went inside and saw the Dead Sea Scroll exhibit. No photos were allowed in there. I remember Brad Karelius telling me that it was his uncle(?) or Great-Uncle (?) who was the one the Bedouin brought the scrolls to. I said a prayer for Brad then.

Back to St. George's to rest up before we had our early dinner. We left the grounds of St. George's at 7:00 -- in a caravan behind Archbishop Dawani's car heading to Bethlehem for Lessons and Carols at the Church of the Nativity. 

We waited in the bus behind the police escort but then were waved forward -- we had to pick up some people at a designated spot on the way to Bethlehem. When we stopped the bus there was an police or army officer (I'm not sure which) with a gun who boarded the bus and told us that he was waiting for the Archbishop and that every year he wants a blessing. Omar told him I'm a bishop too, and he asked me to get off the bus and come over and wait for the Archbishop with him. When the Archbishop came, he got out of the car with the Dean of the Cathedral and greeted the young man but didn't give him a blessing. He turned to me and said, "he didn't bless me." I told him I'd be happy to bless him, which I did. I then asked for his blessing, which he was surprised and happy to give me. 

We then made our way through the gate that we walked by that is only opened once or twice a year during Christian Holy Days -- it is the gate by Rachel's Well. It was unnerving and exhilarating at the same time. We breezed through being aware that there were others who were sitting in long lines to get through.

As we drove closer and closer to Manger Square the traffic became more and more congested. All of a sudden cars were being directed off the main road, but we were allowed to move along. We finally got off the bus and RAN towards Manger Square. We were put in a queue with people heading to St. Catherine's, and saw the Archbishop arrive and gather in the square. We couldn't get to him as we were behind a barricade.

We made it through the barricade and then there were the metal detectors to go through. We ran up to  St. George's Chapel in the Church of the Nativity and sat in the first row. Everyone but me was moved back to make way for the protective services for the dignitaries who where coming, including the President of Palestine. 

After the opening welcome statement and the singing of a hymn the dignitaries left and those who were caught outside of the chapel were shuffled in and took what few chairs were vacated and sat on the floor or stood.

It was amazing to be there, singing a Capella and doing the lessons together. It was beautiful to hear carols I haven't heard before and lessons in different languages. 

When I rose to read the lesson I was assigned, I was moved to tears but held it back. I looked at the Archbishops and the people gathered, and took a deep breath and started. It is one of my favorite readings. I'm going to be processing this for a great while.

When the Archbishop of Jordan read in Greek, it was thrilling.

When we left from the service we discovered that one of our pilgrims was told that the couldn't bring his camera into the service because it was a security risk. When he went to retrieve it afterwards it was missing. We still don't have it but hopefully will have it back in the morning.

We noticed last night that there wasn't a hustle and bustle of activity decorating the Cathedral yesterday -- and the Christmas trees we've seen in sanctuaries have been decorated with lights and ornaments -- even Santa ornaments. When we went to the Cathedral for Midnight Mass but it was so cold Steve and I left soon after it started. We will be there for the 11 am service tomorrow, though.

It is late, we are tired but thrilled to be here.

A blessed Christmas to all!

More pictures from the Western Wall:

More pictures from Richardson's Arch and the walk towards the Lion's Gate/St. Stephen's Gate:

More pictures from St. Anne's and the pools of Bethseda:

Picture from outside of St. Anne's towards St. Stephen's Gate:

More from the Israel Museum:

More from Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity:

1 comment:

  1. Diane, that picture of you touching the Wall literally dissolved me in tears. Thank you for this post. love