Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Herodyan and Yad Vashem and Discussion on Islam

Our theme for today is moving from Law to Grace. 

We listened to the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer this morning in his book Christmas. We heard a part of his writing in the Manger to the Cross
There, where our understanding is outraged,
Where our nature rebels,
Where our piety fearfully 
Keeps its distance --
There, precisely there, is where God loves to be.
For those who are great
And powerful in this world,
There are two places
Where their courage fails them,
Which terrify them to the very depth of their souls,
And which they dearly avoid.
These are the anger and the cross
Of Jesus Christ.

As we drove through the checkpoint -- on the other side we saw a shepherd on the hillside with his sheep. Can you see them up on the hillside? The shepherd is sitting over to the left on the same level as the sheep. After I took this picture he must have called them because they all started running towards him. It reminded me of the verses about the Good Shepherd. Christ the Good Shepherd calls us to follow him -- in this land -- this world -- marked by turmoil, when will we heed the call of the Shepherd?

We also saw a sign which we had seen before that was just as jarring today as it was when we saw a similar one yesterday.

We heard about Herod the Great -- who built many palaces around the area to protect his land. Josephus talks about the fact that Herod died at his palace in Jericho and buried at his palace at Herodyan (as it says on the sign). 

We arrived at Herodyn and went into the visitor center to watch a movie to introduce us to the history and to the site. I recent years Herod's tomb was discovered, which was built in what was once a 400 person ampitheater.

We first climbed up to the fortress/palace. The view from the way up was amazing, and it just kept getting better.

We arrived at the base of the palace/fortress. It was pretty amazing to see the footprint of the palace.

There was a full Roman bath there, with the hot, cold and tepid areas and changing rooms. 

We then went down to the cistern.

We then went back up to the fortress/palace -- when I emerged from the stairwell the group sang Eye of the Tiger for me -- such a supportive group! I will say that I was a little worried with my knee -- we did the equivalent of 45 flights of stairs and I got through it with no problem. Even the uneven, very steep or very shallow steps. I wasn't going to miss a minute of this day, and I'm glad I didn't.

In what was probably the great hall a synagogue was built at one point. Here Steve is in there.

We walked to the top of the fortress/palace and the view was, again, spectacular. No wonder Herod wanted to build a palace there! As I stood up there I kept thinking about the 3 Wise Men -- did they come up this hill to this palace? Is this where they met with Herod before they continued their quest to find the child? Is it from here that they continued to follow the star to Bethlehem where we were yesterday? When they went home the other way -- which way was that -- I keep getting turned around here.

We then walked down and around to what was part of the ampitheater that was turned into the burial place for Herod. It had an amazing view of the countryside, but apparently it didn't last very long before it was ransacked.

When we were walking there was a rock that one of the ladies tried to move. Part of the group, including Steve, decided to form a "rock band".

I was glad that I went up to Herod's palace and saw the perspective from which he could look out on his "kingdom". It helped me understand better the geography of this part of the Holy Land, and the paths that different groups of people may have taken. This trip has been different from the trip I was on in 2009 -- I loved that trip too, don't get me wrong. But this trip has helped me piece together more squares on the quilt that I have been putting together in my head over the years. If you have never been to the Holy Land, please do come -- Iyad is a great tour guide, and he knows so many people here -- so often people are calling out to him or he to them when we are traveling around. 

The quilt that I have been piecing together in my head is coming together during this trip. I know some of the details of the quilt will have to be added later as I continue to process all of this after I return home. There has been so much to absorb, and laying it out in this blog as it is happening has been a great gift to me. As the days after this trip continue to unfold, I may go back and add in details or feelings as they come to me. So. Much. To. Absorb!

After the trek up the hill to Herod's Palace I was grateful to be back in the bus again heading to our next stop, which was lunch.

This was a very different kind of lunch. There is a Christian family living near the Shepherd's Field who has a home business making lunch for pilgrims or other guests. They cook a very specific meal, which includes roasted potatoes, onions, carrots and chicken in a special oven.

He builds a big fire.

Gets the coals even on the bottom. Throws salt on the coals.

He takes chicken and puts it on a tray for the oven.

The chicken goes on top of the coals. The salt prevents the coals from sticking to the chicken (or the other way around).

The vegetables go on a rack above the chicken.

A heavy stone is placed in front of the opening of the oven. Below you can see our own KC getting the mud to pack around the opening of the oven.
KC is helping over the opening -- so that no smoke gets out.

The food is left to cook in the oven for 45 minutes. In the mean time we go into a room and there are various salads there for us, along with bread that has been baked in another oven. 

Alina got the mud off the edges to open the oven back up again -- I took a video of that and put it on Facebook.

When it's done it looks like this:

A more delicious chicken meal I haven't had in a long time! They also served fresh squeezed lemonade that they made with fresh mint added to it. Yum!

We had a wonderful lunch!

We then went over to Yad Vashem - you are not allowed to take pictures inside -- only outside. I thought the light shining in this picture was interesting -- it is a hard place to be in, with all the stories and images of persecution and death. 

I am reminded of the Holocaust Museum in Los Angeles, which I have been in a number of times. It is always difficult to see suffering, pain and death inflicted on anyone, let alone targeting a specific group of people. As we left Yad Vashem today we saw there was black smoke coming from over near the Old City. Chris Tumilty got on his cellphone and saw that two men had stabbed 3 people near the Jaffa gate of the Old City. The two who perpetrated this violence were killed, the 3 who were stabbed were in hospital expected to live. We asked the pilgrims as they got off the bus not to go near the Old City today.

Yesterday afternoon I passed through the Jaffa gate with 3 other pilgrims. Today we are told not to go near there -- just for today.

This is a poignant reminder that all human life is precious, and no one has the right to take the life of another -- no one, for no reason. 

Today we are on the eve of the eve of the birth of our Lord and Savior, and in the land of his birth 2 people have died and 3 were injured. All around the world people are dying at the hand of others. When will this violence stop? When can we learn to make room for each other and truly live in peace -- all together?

After we returned to St. George's Cathedral we had time to rest before our guest speaker arrived. 

Our guest speaker was Firas Ahmad. He is an Arab Palestinian Muslim who was born in the Muslim section of the Old City, and who went to High School and College in North Carolina. He attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and finished with a BA in International Studies and Economics. He currently works as a speaker and specialized guide on the Palestine Territories and provides talks and presentations on Paliestinians today, Islam and modern politics. He has travelled in the Middle East to Egypt, Morocco, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Sultanate of Oman. He has also lead groups from North America to these countries. He is married with two children. 

Firas talked with us about the five pillars of Islam. He also talked to us about why Muslims hold Jerusalem sacred. We had a wonderful history lesson on Islam and the region -- too much to write here, but it was helpful to hear this. The pilgrims had the opportunity to ask all the questions they wanted -- and they did, openly and frankly. Firas answered openly and honestly -- which was welcomed by the group. 

We had dinner and finished the night with devotions.

It has been a long day -- an emotional, spiritual and physical roller coaster. I will be processing this again for a while . . . 

More pictures from Herodyan:

We looked down and there was Omar, his shirt off washing the bus!

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