Day Seven–Jerusalem!

It has been totally amazing to be here in Jerusalem today–I’m so glad we are finally here! I think I’m glad we did the trip in the order we did, though: I feel like we had some time in more isolated spots to get used to being in Israel just generally; and now we are in the crush of people, a buzzing city with a strong beating heart. I love it! I went running this morning: I asked the woman at the front desk last night where I could run that it would be safe, and she just looked at me and said, “Everywhere is safe.” And again, given the money that tourists bring to the city, it clearly is in everyone’s best interest for tourists to remain safe. [Have I mentioned that even though we are half-way around the world, everyplace we have been to so far takes American dollars? Doesn’t that make a pretty strong political statement right there?] So, the hotel we are in is in a nice spot: it was about a seven minute run to the Damascus Gate, the Old City; and I just ran along following the wall–which, I must say is not as self-evident as it sounds: there are LOTS of old walls in Jerusalem, and everything is built out of white limestone, so things look alike. I got mildly lost on the way home, but only for a few minutes: when I went out, the streets were deserts, and by the time I was on my way back, they were full–shops were open, children were walking to school, the streets were full, etc. It was a little disorienting and I missed my turn; but again, only for a minute or two! I can’t wait to go out running again tomorrow. A few people went out tonight, but I wanted to stay in. I find that the days are so rich and full, I like having the evening alone to process everything; and of course, write the blog! OK–so, to the events of the day! First, we drove up to the Mount of Olives [and let me just say that our driver, Walid, is certainly earning his money: it is no picnic driving a big bus through these narrow, busy streets! I appreciate the vigor with which he uses the horn–but then again, so does everyone. It makes for a noisy commute!]. The Mount of Olives is just east of the Old City, across the Kidron Valley. It is the tallest mountain around Jerusalem–roughly 3,000 feet. [We call that a hill in Colorado.] From the top, we had an amazing view of the city, and I must have taken a dozen pictures–all with the Dome of the Rock figuring prominently. It is far and away the most striking, breath-taking object in the city as a whole, and my eye was constantly drawn to it, no matter where we were. I can’t wait to see it more closely! [I also wanted to mention that we drove by Augusta Victory Hospital–a hospital supported by the Lutheran World Federation Churches, includes the ELCA. It both employees and serves primarily Palestinians. We didn’t have time to stop, but I hope to visit sometime on my own next week.] On the Mount of Olives, we started at the Church of the Pater Noster [“Our Father”], also called the “Eleona Church.” Constantine’s mother, Helena, ordered the church to be built in the 4th century–“eleona” is a corruption of the Greek word “elaion,” which means olives. That church was destroyed in 614; but after the Crusaders took Jerusalem in 1102, two marble slabs were found from the ruins that had the Lord’s Prayer written in Greek & Latin. It was assumed that the church commemorated the place where Jesus taught the disciples the Lord’s Prayer. So, today, the Lord’s Prayer is written on beautiful panels surrounding the church–inside and out–in many languages [I saw the number 62 in a book, and heard a number over 100 at the church itself. I didn’t count!]. From there, we walked down a steep road, where pilgrims do a Palm Sunday walk every year, and came to the Church of Dominus Flevit [“the Lord wept”]. This just is located just above the Garden of Gethsemane, and commemorates Jesus’ weeping over the city of Jerusalem. The church is new, built in 1954-55, and is meant to approximate a tear. On each of the four corners of the church is a large slender vase [a so-called “tear vase”], from Psalm 56:8, where it talks about God recording the tears one cries to God in lament. This is a lovely church, with a million dollar view from inside: the altar is set with its back toward the city, and in the large arched window behind the altar, which has some beautiful iron scrollwork, you can see the Dome of the Rock. So, if you sitting in just the right spot, you see the large cross in the ironwork, with the Dome behind it, and a large iron chalice and wafer over that. It’s pretty cool. The big disappointment here was that we didn’t get to the Mosque of the Ascension–my book says that there is the impression of a footprint in the stone, and the guides will try to tell unsuspecting [and apparently super-gullible] pilgrims that it was FROM THAT VERY SPOT that Jesus ascended into heaven! I can’t tell you how much I wanted a picture of that. I may go back next week. Oh, I also wanted to say how much I loved the mosaic of the hen gathering her chicks under her wings, which was on the front of the altar in the Dominus Flevit church. That is a beautiful metaphor for Christ, which is underused, in my opinion. From there, we went a little further down to the Garden of Gethsemane. There is a beautiful olive grove there, with the oldest olive trees I have ever seen. Apparently, they can live for 3,000 years, so it is widely assumed that some of them are witness trees. [It is a comforting thought to me somehow, that trees themselves can carry memories of important events, even if no person is around to write them down. They bear those events in their own being, their own bark, leaves and fruit; which is a record of another kind, but no less real.] Right next to the garden is the church, called the Church of All Nations [or the Basilica of Agony]. Again, the modern church is built on the site of two earlier churches [one Byzantine, built in 379 CE; and one Crusader, built in 1170]. All three churches were built over a large rock that has traditionally been identified as the place where Jesus prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will be yours be done.” We then went to a grotto where Jesus is supposed to have come with his disciples for prayer and teaching–as you can imagine, all of this now is pretty much “somewhere within the general vicinity here.” Since we are now in Jerusalem proper, with many things close together, many caves, many paths, many houses–it is much harder to say with certainty that something happened RIGHT HERE. [Unless Jesus left a footprint, like with the ascension.] So, for me, going to these places now is less about seeing where Jesus “really was”–although, as you know, that was not ever my primary motivation for coming on this trip–and more about feeling connected to the long history of Christians across time and space. It is their faith that inspires me here–not a lingering whiff of Jesus’ cologne [you know what I mean]. Anyway, we went into the grotto, and then right next door, there is another Gethsemane grotto, but this time, done up in style by the Orthodox. And, let me just say, no one makes a statement that THIS IS A HOLY SITE like the Orthodox: going down the long flight of stairs there were too many colorful lamps/lights hanging from the ceiling to count, PLENTY of incense, several side chapels, a few places to buy icons and light candles, and then, at the bottom, one final very small site to descend into and view; and another large, beautiful icon of Mary and Jesus, covered in silver. The Orthodox know how to feed the senses, that’s for sure! Then, lunch–lots of vegetables, hummus, pitas, and a very strong coffee! After lunch, we went to St Peter in Gallicantu, which is on Mount Zion. [We made a brief stop at the “Upper Room” site, which is pretty much discredited now and lives on only in the tradition that goes back only to the 10th century CE. I petted a wet, very stinky cat here–she could have used a trip to the vet, but she was so insistent & I’m such a sucker! Let’s just say I was glad to have some hand-sanitizer along!] I LOVED this church, because it was really, really colorful–I love color! The tradition says that the church is built over the site of the house of Caiaphas, the high priest during the time of Jesus. Again, there is doubt about this authenticity, although I guess there are some compelling arguments for it, too. I must admit, this sort of back-and-forth between scholars [well, it could have been here, there seems to be some caves in the basement where prisoners could have been kept; no, it couldn’t have been here, this is the wrong place for a house like his to have been built….] makes my eyes cross and my mind wander! I’m more than happy to let the Bible folks hash all that out. [Most compelling for me, however, is the fact that my new best friend, the pilgrim Egeria, mentions a different site in her diary. I’ll take her side, I think!] Anyway, like I said, it is a beautiful church, commemorating, of course, Jesus’ arrest and imprisonment, and Peter’s denial [hence “gallicantu,” which means “cock crowing.”]. We went down below the church into some deep caves, and we read Psalm 88, a psalm of lament. Whether Jesus was imprisoned there or not, it sure reminded me of all the people who right now are imprisoned in horrible conditions–cold, hungry, tortured, and alone. We should not call to mind Jesus’ suffering without also seeing him suffering alongside our neighbors today. Our final stop was to the Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem. The meaning comes from Isaiah 56:5: “And to them will I give in my house and within my walls a memorial and a name (a “yad vashem”)… that shall not be cut off.” Here is their website: As you can imagine, it is amazing & utterly impossible to describe or summarize. What I appreciated here was that you really get a sense for the people–lots of short videos of survivor interviews, as well as artwork, artifacts, and personal mementos that help put a face on the inconceivable genocide of 6 million people. Who can fathom such a horror? But, in telling the story, learning about the story, the people lost continue to live in our collective memory–and death is not the end. I was reminded of Ruether’s understanding of the resurrection–in “Sexism & God-talk,” she describes resurrection not so much as an individual existence in eternity, but rather who we are living on in the collective memory of our families, our friends, and indeed, the whole human race. I’m not sure I’m ready to go all the way with that idea, but I do believe in the power of memory to keep loved ones alive, and to keep our connection to them strong. In this way of thinking, then, one of God’s divine attributes is perfect memory–God never forgets. [And so maybe forgiveness shouldn’t be linked to forgetting, either–but now I certainly digress]. Off to bed, to rest up for another day. I want to talk about the concept of pilgrimage tomorrow, too–I’ve been thinking a lot about that.

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