Today was truly amazing-- I feel like we have had several days in one. I am quite tired and we leave very early for Massada and the Dead Sea tomorrow-- but I just want to run through all we did:
Our AMAZING tour guide (and truly this is not an effective description of Mike- he is teacher/professor, preacher, evangelist, care taker, a very wise, generous man!) took us to the Dome of the Rock (which was not on our schedule- but he took us anyway! We left at 7:15 this morning!
The Dome of the Rock was incredible- so beautiful and I felt so honored to able to come and witness this place.
Right after the Dome of the Rock --my camera died (I was so tired last night that I forgot to charge my battery.... I laid in bed and thought about it...but I was just so tired [guess I was charging my own batteries instead!]
But really- in many ways- not having my camera liberated me- I no longer worried about documenting-- I found a few folks and asked if they would make sure to take pictures of our readers (at every place we read scripture and I want a picture of those who are reading for them and for our story too). I no longer felt like I had to remember to take pictures- I would just be in this holy place. And I could also focus on keeping our group together.
Keeping 44 people together walking through the Old CIty of Jerusalem is quite a feat!!! But we did it! Wow! Ralph and I have definitely become better shepherds and we now have a completely new perspective on the Parable of the Lost Sheet!
We went through the Lion's Gate, also called (Sheep Gate, Mary's Gate, St. Stephen's Gate, and I think there were some more) we were already inside the walls, but upon getting to the gate, Mike had us walk out so that we could see the lions on carved on the gate and see it fully before we walked around inside.
We went to the Pool of Bethesda where we read scripture (John 5: 1-9), had a devotion and then wondered into the Church of St. Anne's - It was here at the pool of Bethesda a man was lame and Jesus asked him "Do you want to be healed?" And he said yes- but he couldn't get to the pool- people would jump ahead of him, no one would help him down.... and Jesus said to him, "Get up , take you mat and walk." Jesus healed on the Sabbath and healed in a way this man was not expecting. His paradigm of healing shifted- his paradigm of life shifted.
St. Anne's is a beautiful church!!! It is not covered in mosaics or gold, or stain glass like some of the others- it is raw and pure and clean and beautiful with high amazing arches.. Here we sang. We sang the Doxology, we sang "Jesus Remember Me," and we sang "Hallelujah." I sat down and I prayed for those who God has healed-- praising God for all he has done-- I also thanked God for those who have gone home to him- who have been healed in a way I cannot fully understand. I prayed for my sister whom I had prayed to God for a miracle, I had prayed for healing and the Lord did heal her by making her whole and bringing her home- it was not the healing I wanted, but I know that she is with God and at complete peace and complete wholeness and healing. I praised God for healing my mother- who is a survivor and has been healed from so much illness in her life. I praised God for having her in my life. I prayed for healing and for wholeness in the brokenness I see and feel. I prayed for marriages that are hurting, for those in my church suffering, for those in all the world who seek healing. I just prayed and prayed and prayed and wept and praised and praised God. It was truly powerful-- I just sat to the side and prayed. No camera- no exploring- no pictures- just stopped and was still. I came outside and they asked if I had gone downstairs-- there was a downstairs? So I had a few minutes before our meet up time and saw downstairs-- beautiful down there- with powerful altars, icons, pictures, candles lit, prayers stuck in walls, prayer in the air being lifted to God.
We left from there and went to the 1st and 2nd Stations of the Cross- two churches there- the Chapel of Condemnation and the Chapel of Flaggellation. So very powerful- it was hear that we gathered in the 2nd station of the cross that we read scripture Mark 15 and then sang "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Amazing Grace." Here in this place you can literally see where the Roman soldiers were playing a game as they mocked Jesus- the game is carved into the stone. (Thankful for those with working cameras who got he shot- I'll add later).
We continued on the Via Dolorosa- the Way of Sorrows- through the Old City. Mike led us to a cafe where we rested- some of us had freshly squeezed pomegrante juice, orange juice, turkish and arabic coffee-- YUM! A great pick me up!
We continued through the Old City- walking through the souk- I wish I could give you the sounds, smells, sights of this! These are narrow passage ways- passing places that sell clothing, food, jewlery-- we saw everything for sale- this is where people shop. This is daily life for many.
We continued through to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre--Golgatha - the skull where Jesus was crucified. Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are stations 11-14 - they are incredible. Here you can touch the stone that was known as the skull. There are many holy stones in the Holy Land- the stone where Jesus was born, John the Baptism born, the stone where Jesus died, the stone where they laid Jesus to be annointed- all so powerful. My dear husband had warned me of the frentic nature of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre- and I was prepared- but still amazed - amazed at all I saw- and amazed by all the pilgrims here. There are mosaics that over the walls, arches, and way high ceilings that are made of tiny stone/glass/ceramic-- amazing!!!
We exited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and Mike gave each of us delicious seaseme bread! So so good- I could see the fire of the bakery as we stopped to take a breath and smell the the breads all baking! We climbed the bus and headed for the area of the Dead Sea. We love to be below sea level! Mike says that we get happy! You breathe better- it is lighter, and warmer, and wonderful! The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth! We went to Qumran --where you can see the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. As you look over these caves behind you is the Dead Sea- behind that the Jordan Mountains where Moses would have stood looking over and where Joshua would have come over into the land of milk and honey. Here in this area was where John the Baptist was living and preaching. We saw an area at Qumran where they made date honey-- and we thought about how John the Baptism ate locusts and wild honey and thought he probably ate date honey! wow!
We then went to Jericho. Jericho is a beautiful city- filled with palms- and oasis. Jericho is a Palestinian City, walled/fenced where you go through a check point to go in. The people who live here cannot leave w/o a special permit which is quite difficult to attain. Here in Jericho is where Jesus came to the Mount of Temptation after he was baptized by John the Baptist- you can take a cable car to the top (we did not do this today-- perhaps this is for our next trip!) By now it was almost 2pm and we had lunch! A wonderful lunch! And people did a bit of shopping in the store- where you can purchase Hebron glass, the best olive oil I have every had in my life (truly truly amazing), and Dead Sea products... We then walked up to see Jericho and read about Zaccheaues and Joshua. We sang (with the help of Jan's kazoo!!!) "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" and "Zacchaeus was a Wee Little Man" It was the day for children's songs!
As we came down the mountain there were lovely vendors selling poster panorama views of Jerusalem and Jericho for only $1 and I met a lovely man who also sells things--and we talked about America. He would like to go, but I said I would send him a postcard. So now I have his address and will send him this. He and I spoke for awhile about life in Jericho. I am overhwhelmed by the kindness, hopsitatliy, graciousness, and outpouring of grace of the people here. I literally felt most of this day that my heart would explode out of my chest. I cannot process the places I have been- but I cannot process the love of the people here-- it is more love- more hospitality from a people-- all people - than I have ever experienced. In every place you can meet pockets of people who are nice. But everywhere in Jericho and in Bethlehem especiallly-- the people were so so kind -- so happy to be with us. They were happy to sell their things- but they were happy to be with us- to ask about Virginia- about the States --to Bless us.
We crossed over the street where we met more vendors- drank juice (yum pomegranete) and rode camels! Yes- I rode a camel- everyone took a picture! It was so awesome! I have ridden a camel once before at a church near us at Christmas- this was nothing like that-- I think that camel I rode before must have been asleep or old.... Very funny when Ishmael (our bus driver) said "Go faster go faster-- 10 times!" I am on this camel and it feels like he is just all over the place--- I think I had my mouth open in laughter and amazement at the experience the whole time! My cheeks hurt from smiling today- my heart is so full...
We then saw the Spring of Elisha-- and we were able to go down and touch the water.
And then we were off to come back home to Jeruselum tonight.
We had dinner and then there was a lecture about Israeli and Palestinian Reconciliation- WOW- they had a Christian Palestinian man and an Jewish Israeli man speak and answer questions. This was quite enlightening and powerful.
This is the fourth of EO lectures-- Apparently there was one in Tiberius about Jesus' Ministry in the Galilee (but it was the night we arrived and at another hotel-so we missed that). Our first night here in Jeruselum there was a lecture on the geography of the the Holy Land. And last night there was a lecture on Jesus' Ministry here.
Today- I am filled-- I am filled with holy sites- with holy power from these sights falling afresh on me as I pray, sing, sit, watch... but today I am also filled by these holy people-- holy people who live in a holy place that struggles to be holy. The Lord says, "Be Holy" I am in awe of the people as much or more as I am in awe of this place.
Tonight and every night- my prayer is: Lord you are holy. Help us to be holy and make us holy and let us live in holiness and peace all our days so that we may fulfill your call for all your world. In the name Holy Jesus, the Prince of Peace, we praise you and thank you, Amen.