Monday, December 21, 2015

Tuesday -- Bethlehem, the Shepherd's Field and the Old City of Jerusalem

A 5:15 am breakfast and 6:15 am trip on the bus to Bethlehem -- Bethlehem which means House of Bread. We were heading to the checkpoint to cross over when a van cut the bus off -- Omar our driver missed hitting the van. Iyad got the number of the company from the van and Omar called that number to complain -- the owner was going to find out who the driver was and call Omar back. I thought to myself in the US road rage would more than likely have taken over! A beautiful sunrise made us smile after the near-accident.

We passed by a monastery which was beautiful in the early morning light. We crossed the checkpoint without incident. We arrived  in time to celebrate the Eucharist at 7:30 am with the Italian Franciscans. Or so we thought -- we actually started around 8 due to a Festive Russian Orthodox Service that was scheduled ahead of us.

It was beautiful out, and I remembered how small the doorway was that we pass through to enter. You have to bow to enter it is that low. Somehow that sense of reverent bowing is so appropriate as you enter the oldest church in Christendom! We stood outside and heard about the fact that the current entrance, designed to keep people on horseback out, was made by the crusaders. The entrance that Helena had constructed is above it -- a layer above. You can see Todd -- the entrance is past him -- not the door to his left. I thought to myself, while it is good to keep out those who would destroy the church, is it/was it a way to block out others? How do we keep people from coming into our churches? How do we block them?

We went in and Iyad showed us the mosaic floor from the Byzantine period, which was original to the church Helena built. I keep wondering if people just viewed these beautiful floors as an alternative to an ornate rug? Did they appreciate them? I sure appreciated looking at them in each place we visited.

We then passed to the Catholic side of the building -- the Russian Orthodox were chanting, holding a service in the Manger area which we could hear. We were lead into a chapel downstairs on the other side of the wall from the Manger area. We could hear the Russians chanting -- which was beautiful. Iyad explained that this chapel is important for two reasons -- they found bones of many children down there (slaughter of the innocents??) and it is also believed to be the cave area where St. Jerome translated the bible.  KC read the story of the birth of Jesus to us there, through her tears. She was moved -- being in that place, reading that gospel. We were all moved. 

Afterwards we sang O Little Town of Bethlehem together. That's when I lost it too, but not for the same reasons KC did -- although I was very moved -- moved to tears -- then too. It was the word and the context we were in: Yet in thy dark streets shine th the everlasting Light -- I couldn't help but think about that enormous wall surrounding this city and the checkpoint we just had to pass through -- I so desperately wanted ..... The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight -- the hopes and fears of the people living here -- to be met and melt away today. So much to pray and work for -- so many lives.....

We maintained silence for about 40 minutes after that as we had to wait for the service to start. It didn't feel as though it was 40 minutes, and none of the pilgrims were uncomfortable with the silence -- I think it was a welcome balm for the journey. Many stayed in prayer there, others moved to explore the caves and walk as they prayed. I walked and prayed, taking in each twist and turn, nook and cranny -- who used these rooms? Were they friends of Jesus, Mary or Joseph? How many people's lives were changed because they visited here? I'm feeling my life change -- at least it is still off-kilter, which is where it needs to be right now. Feeling centered in prayer, but off-kilter -- shifting.

I walked through the caves down there and found the area that is dedicated to St. Jerome -- where it is believed that he translated the Bible. You could feel the energy there -- calm, peaceful, tranquil -- conducive to prolonged concentration and study. I didn't want to leave.

The caves were beautiful, and you could feel the holiness there. Here Alina is standing outside a chapel -- you can't help but feel all emotions here, including incredible, almost indescribable joy.

I was most intrigued by this window out of St. Jerome's Cave Chapel. Allowing the light and the air in -- I began to imagine incense rising out of the window. Love and light mixing together and drifting heavenward via the sweet smell of the smoke of incense.

We waited for our turn to go into the manger area for mass, but we hadn't been told that the Russian Orthodox Church was celebrating a special feast day. There was beautiful chanting emanating from the manger area, which I recorded and posted on Facebook. 

Here's the man holding the icon ready to go down the steps. It was then our time to go down. We had our time in the Manger crypt -- just a few minutes -- to offer reverence. Roman Catholic nuns and Franciscan Monks scrambled to set up chairs and other items, including the bringing down of the icon to hang over the manger before the service. I remember this from last time. 

I sat next to a nun from St. Brigid's convent here in Bethlehem. She is from Mexico.There was a portable Ambo in front of me, and when it was moved during the hour long sung Latin Mass, I took this picture of the manger. That was more view, sitting where I was seated, for this Mass. I couldn't sing along as I kept on feeling overwhelmed and wanting to cry.

After the service we headed back to the bus and went to a local merchandise co-op to do some shopping. I bought one cross and Steve bought a small dish, both out of olive wood. We saw some icons that are over 200 years old, but they were too expensive for me to buy. 

We then walked to the wall -- which was very sobering. We saw the house that was featured on 60 minutes, which you can see in this picture on the right.

It was humbling to be there and see this wall. Here you can see a gate that is only opened on Christian Holidays such as Christmas for easier access to the Church of the Nativity. We will be passing through this wall/gate on Christmas Eve. On the other side of the wall/gate is Rachel's Well. It will be pointed out to us when we pass by it.

We continued our walk to the bus, and stopped to listen to scripture and to offer a prayer. It's been eye opening for the young adults to be here and to hear what is happening, to meet people and speak to them, and SEE with their own eyes where and how people live.

On the way to the Shepherd's Field Iyad pointed out that on many of the houses there is an image of St. George, the Patron Saint of Jerusalem. We saw some, and Omar our wonderful bus driver stopped the bus so we could capture the image. There are lots of references to St. George around Jerusalem. 

We then headed over to the Shepherd's field. It had been closed (the caves where people lived) for a while, but opened again last week. We were able to see via the first hand/close up look at the geography how the shepherd's field was laid out and use our imaginations to view the route of the 3 Kings from their visit to Herod to this place. Once again, we had the appropriate piece of scripture read to us by one of the pilgrims.

We then headed over to the Church, which is small but beautiful. 

We read scripture. Actually, I was the one reading this time (for the first time). 

We were asked to sing. The acoustics here are wonderful (I posted a short clip of the hymn we sang on Facebook). The young pilgrims in our group were all very moved by the experience. While I had been here before, I felt as though I was here for the first time again. 

It was a beautiful, moving, emotional experience. Iyad is an incredible guide, opening up scripture and the history of the Land of the First and Second Testaments in a way that is inspiring and life-giving.

We went from there to lunch at a place called Ruth's which is within walking distance to the Shepherd's Field. I had the best falafel I've ever had in my life! The salads were also extremely fresh. The fellowship in this group and the bonding among the pilgrims is deep and loving. They all get along so well, are respectful of one another, and are fully engaged in being pilgrims. It is beautiful to watch them and to be with them.

There was a group of high school freshmen that were off for their Christmas vacation eating at the restaurant. They wanted their picture taken with us, and I went over and did a "selfie" with them. Two of our group, Leyah and Allonah went over and sat with the group of young people. They were singing songs together, and the Sean and Wendy started in the same songs from our table so we all went over to the young people. How incredibly fun!

Back on the bus and we headed back to Jerusalem -- again through a checkpoint.

A few of us got off the bus at the Jaffa gate and headed toward the Aremnian quarter. Kelli Grace and I had to head to Vic's ceramic shop on a top secret mission -- which will be revealed later in the trip.

I love walking through this section of Jerusalem-- the little alleyways and streets are wonderful, and it is always so humbling to walk the streets with fellow Christians, Muslims and Jews. So many people living and working in a tightly packed area. 

Steve found an opportunity to show off his Laundry Love T-Shirt! We love walking through this part of the world, in this come of area.

We were on a hunt to find Sami's Tailor Shop, highly recommended by John Taylor -- we did find it. Here I am with Sami. He was so very kind to us -- in fact the stole that I'm holding was from a fabric that came from Syria -- he can't get this anymore because the shop was destroyed in the fighting. It is a beautiful gold fabric.

Sami is Syriac Orthodox. He speaks Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Sami's friend, a monk, was visiting with him when we got there. The monk had written out the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic and had it printed on a post card, which Sami gave us -- but before he gave it to us, he read it out loud to us in Aramaic, which I captured on video and posted on Facebook. The monk in this picture is the one who was visiting Sami, and who created the post card of the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic. It was beautiful to listen to -- I could hear Jesus using those words to teach his disciples to pray as it is written in the Gospel according to Matthew. 

We then ended up at the pastry stall and coffee stall that Kelli Grace and Todd go to every morning at 6 am after the trip to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Here is a picture of the coffee maker -- it was delicious Arabic/Turkish coffee! You know, the people in the shops are so friendly and kind -- it reminded me of the shop owners in the old section of Lucknow, India. 

A trip to Ibrahim's shop near St. George's was our last stop of the day. He is such a kind man, and he knows his icons!

When I'm in Jerusalem, I feel as though every step I take I'm walking in the steps of pilgrims, residents, saints and sinners. It is an overwhelming feeling at times, one that makes me wish I had more time to explore every alleyway and meet more shop keepers such as the coffee vendor. It is a prayerful time every time I leave my room -- in fact, my ROOM is filled with prayer all the time as well. It can't be helped -- this is a land that fills you with prayer and pulls it out of you at the same time. 

The rest of the evening will be for dinner, devotions and sharing. There's lots to share and talk about. I'm filled by joy yet there is a sadness that I feel as well -- you can't be here and not feel it, I don't think. The overarching feeling that comes in prayer is HOPE. Hope, just that. I'll have to work on unpacking that.

More pictures from the Church of the Nativity:

More pictures from looking at the Wall

More pictures from the Shepherd's Field

More pictures from lunch:

Here is a picture with Ruth:

More photos from our time in the Old City this afternoon:

1 comment:

  1. The "Apartheid Avenue" sign seems fitting for the Wall...