Okay Kids, hold on tight, this is going to be a long one.
To begin, class for the past few days has begun at 7am and ended around 5pm. Each day we wake up bright and early and go forth into Jerusalem walking, walking, and walking some more. I tend to think of myself as a relatively fit person, but I have to admit, between the some six-seven flights of stairs us girls have to walk to get to our dorm rooms, and the hills here, I have begun to feel the burn in my legs…I hope to have very chiseled calves and thighs by the time I get home (just in time for my sister’s wedding!). Something else that has been fun to negotiate has been the “modesty days” we have. These days include making sure (both guys and girls) have their knees and shoulders covered. If anything, I have rediscovered my love for skirts.
I feel at a loss of where to begin…hmmm… well we have seen the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, the Via Dolorosa, the Jewish Quarter of the Old city, as well as the Armenian, the Muslim, and the Christian. We have seen the ruins of the temple and even taken a stroll through its mikvehs (ritual cleansing stations), we have traversed the dark, watery passages of Hezekiah’s tunnel, and had our ears filled with the antiphonal singing and chanting contained within the golden mosaic’d walls of the Holy sepulcher. Truly it has been a whirlwind of sights, sounds, and smells. I don’t know if I have yet been able to process all that I have seen.
I go to these places, and I see these holy spots, yet all I can feel is a sense of tragedy. My whole trip has had so many moments of delight and joy, but these places, they all have such a history of violence and sorrow.
I’ll go to what is yet freshest in my mind. We arrived at the Holy Sepulcher today around 7:30am. As we sat outside of its massive doors all I could think of was an article I had read around Christmas about fights that had broken out inside of the building wherein priests were beating each other with brooms. This place that is supposed to mark the crucifixion and burial of Christ, made into a place of petty squabbles. Not only that, these squabbles are done in the face of the divine. I entered into the Holy Sepulcher and was immediately informed by my surroundings that this was indeed a place of cultivated reverence. The gold mosaic on the wall, the candles, the incense, the breathtaking domes, all of them carried a heavy sense of the religious. Yet while it was obviously a religious space, it lacked a sense of being a spiritual place. It felt empty, like a hollowed oyster. I took many beautiful photos because the aesthetics fascinated me, but other than that and the ancient graffiti carved into the walls (whether crosses, or messages from the 1870’s), there was little in the atmosphere of the space itself that drew me in. I have experienced an inexplicable draw whether towards people or places, all because of a sense I get of their almost numinous quality, yet these places held no such feeling. Maybe it is that I lack a robust theology of place. Growing up in an American context where our idea of home is transitory and flexible, I find it difficult to connect with the philosophy that a specific place, in and of itself, carries the presence of the divine. But, I know this is faulty because the Bible itself comments repeatedly on the sanctity of specific places, yet I feel no such connection. I know that my understanding is not completely bereft of such connections. I know that my home carries a strong connection for me, as well as a multitude of other places where I have had spiritual experiences, yet all of these places feel so modern, so stale, so commercialized. It’s hard for me to find the mystery of divinity in something so manufactured.
There is so much violence connected to these places as well. The Dome of the Rock/ Al-Aqsa mosque(a Muslim place of worship) rests upon the Western Wall (a Jewish place of worship) and you can almost feel the tension and resentment when you approach. To oversimplify the matter, the Jews are angry with the Muslim people for establishing their place of worship on top of the temple mount when the Arabs invaded Jerusalem. It was only in the last few decades that the Western wall was taken from Palestinian control. Yes it is a holy place, but is this the way that God meant for humanity to interact with one another?
Then there is Silwan, one of the few remaining Arab neighborhoods left in Jerusalem. We were warned that we should not go into this part of Jerusalem because of the frequent outbreaks of sectarian violence there…
I can see Silwan from my roof and each time I do I am reminded that this touristy façade of Jerusalem contains a much deeper and tragic secret of flagrant racism and inequality. Even emerging from Hezekiah’s tunnel, One sees in graffiti “This is Selwan’s pool”. A consistent reminder that there is injustice in Israel-Palestine.
On to something a bit lighter, we walked Hezekiah’s tunnel the other day and ended at the pool of Siloam (John 9:1-11). It was a fantastic experience! The walls would both narrow and shorten at various moments throughout the walk. Basically I entered into a tunnel about 6’ tall with water a few inches above my knees. As I progressed along the tunnel, lit by headlamps, the reverberating echoes of the water rushing and the happy chattering of the group around me, made this a memorable experience. We even began to sing some favorite hymns together as we walked, it was so nice to have our feet cooled in the water after being dusty and hot for most of the day. This group has been such a pleasure to get to know better and better. Last night we ventured forth into the New City of Jerusalem to try some of “Aldo’s” ice cream. It was WAY overpriced, but sooooo delicious! Almost to the point where the price seemed reasonable. I have to say it has been a delight to be surrounded by a thoughtful group of people that are both diverse and similar on so many levels. I have had the deep pleasure of talking and laughing and learning alongside a quality bunch.
So…..this was quite long, and there is so much more to talk about! I’ll do my best to post some more in the next few days! I realize this was a bit more of a somber posting, but these ideas have been rolling around in my head for the past few days and they needed to find escape. Have a wonderful Morning/Afternoon/ Evening/ Night!