Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Anointing Stone

This is another view of the Anointing Stone in the Sepulchre Church. In this view, you see the beautiful mosaic of Jesus being taken down from the Cross----one of the leaders pointed out that the angels are weeping. The one up in the right hand corner is blowing her nose.

Up on the roof, part II

This was the view from the roof of our hotel in Jerusalem---they had a light show that played during the week on the walls surrounding the Jaffa Gate. It wasn't free, but we decided that it would be more fun to watch the top half of the show, for free, from the roof of the hotel. So there you are.

Magdalene chapel in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

This has been my favorite place to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. When I was here in 2000, I completely missed this chapel. Once you've experienced the chaos that is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, you completely understand how this could happen.

I didn't have to work too hard to convince Jo to head out of the hotel at 5:45 AM to come back to this place so as to avoid some of the chaos that marks the later part of the day. It was still a bit chaotic, but worth it to get here with fewer people to deal with. There was still a lot of noise, a lot of chant competition (!)---but I got to spend a few quiet moments in front of this beautiful sculpture depicting Mary of Magdala and Jesus as they encountered each other immediately after the Resurrection. Mary of Magdala. Woman of courage, determination-- who first spoke the news of the Resurrection to the disciples of Jesus. They didn't believe her. She believed. They figured it out. She had the news first. You go, girl.

That's what they really call them...

All the crosswalk signs look the same...

Perhaps women don't cross the street here.

Let's not and say we did


Monday, July 26, 2010

Departure lounge in Tel Aviv

There was something interesting and beautiful about watching this man take the time to put on all of his prayer array---shawl, philacteries (small leather boxes containing verses from the Torah, and worn during weekday prayers). He spent his time praying, while waiting for his flight.

Western Wall

I took this before I found out that it's apparently forbidden to use electronic devices on the Sabbath.

The Wall

The apartheid wall continues to be built. It is huge----the scale is unimaginable. The wall is turning the West Bank into a huge concentration camp. To understand the wall, here are two books to consider:

"The Lemon Tree" by Sandy Tolan---I haven’t yet read it but it was recommended to me by several people. It's the first book I will read when I return.

"Peace, Not Apartheid" by Jimmy Carter. This is the book that got Jimmy Carter in trouble with Israel, and apparently now the IDF won’t let him into West Bank.

Driving through the checkpoints at the wall has been one of the most upsetting experiences here, especially when I realize that I can leave, but they can’t.

I can leave.

They can't.


The place that Christians hold as the birthplace of Christ has been turned into a prison, essentially. We spent a day in Bethlehem, mostly at Bethlehem University, meeting with students and learning, learning, learning. The situation for the Palestinian Christians, in particular, is bad and getting worse. They are basically imprisoned by the apartheid wall that is being built around them. They haven’t much left of their economy, because fewer and fewer tour groups come here. Getting through the checkpoints in the wall is difficult and time consuming---not to mention intimidating, which makes people not want to come here. We sang Christmas carols in Shepherd’s field, we visited the Church of the Nativity--- the damage from the Israeli mortars that were fired into it (and into Casa Nova—the Franciscan Guest house next door) in 2002 appears to be cleaned up---but you can still see bullet holes. That bit of news didn’t appear in our media---probably because Christians in America would be outraged.

Bethlehem feels sad and stifling. I’m sure Jesus is weeping over Bethlehem, too.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Church of the Holy Sepulchre

I remember my first visit to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 2000. I had heard of a mental illness that pilgrims get when they come to Jerusalem---called “Jerusalem Syndrome” and didn’t quite understand it. When I got to the church, we were prevented from going in to the tomb area because the Armenian clergy were there performing a ritual. They were going in and out of the edicule over the tomb, chanting and swinging their thuribles with jingle bells. Then the Syrian Orthodox started chanting in their chapel up on Calvary, and almost immediately, the Greek Orthodox started chanting in their chapel, which is in the Catholicon in the center of the Church. It was chaos, and they all sounded mad at each other. The final addition was the organ over in the Magdalene chapel----someone started playing “Tantum Ergo” at full volume.

Here I was in what Christians hold as their holiest site, and all I wanted to do was leave. The bridge, between what I held as a picture of Jerusalem in my mind, and the reality that is there, was fragile indeed. I understood what “Jerusalem Syndrome” might be. The very real conflicts between the various Christian groups that claim territory there are sad, to say the least. You can actually view the fistfights that happen there during the holiest of days on YouTube. Not a great example for us Christians to be setting. I have learned a lot here about how religion is used as a weapon---by all religious groups. It doesn’t speak well for any of us.

The chaos was somewhat less this time, but still present. It’s a holy place----the place where pilgrims remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus---and it may or may not be built over the actual sites of those events. The archeology is fascinating. The place is holy because the memory and the prayer make it so.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Weeping in Jerusalem

We stood on top of the Mount of Olives, the place where Jesus wept over the city of Jerusalem. You have to put your brain and ears in a different place, otherwise it’s too easy to get distracted by the constant “Postcards, 10 for 1 dollah” guys who are every, and I do mean, everywhere. It’s easy to forget that you are in the holiest city in the world for Christians.

But it’s easy to weep over the city of Jerusalem. We listened to a speaker last evening who is working with interfaith groups to try to break down walls between people of different faiths and build peace. This is not an easy thing. Racism and religious prejudice run high here (as it does in the United States!). If Jerusalem could live in peace…..perhaps the rest of the world could as well.

I read Ps. 122 and pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

What is clear to me is this-- Jesus still weeps over Jerusalem.


We visited many places in the Old City today, among them, St Anne’s Church. It’s a beautiful church, at the site of Bethesda. We arrived to the sounds of a music group---some young men from Yale, who were singing acapella Broadway songs in the Sanctuary. I’m sure that if the priests had understood the music they were singing, they wouldn’t have permitted them to do that! I'm guessing that they were just rehearsing and loving the sounds of the acoustics there.

They left, our group was alone in the church, and it felt as though we needed to reclaim the Church with sacred music----we decided to pray the Magnificat and I was asked to lead it. I love two different Magnificats---Leon Roberts' version (sung by ValLimar Jansen) and John Michael Talbot’s version. That's the one we sang. I was humbled to be able to sing Mary’s Canticle in the church dedicated to her mother, my patron saint. This church has the best acoustics ever in any church I have sung in. To hear all of our voices rise in the refrain of “Holy, holy, holy is God’s name,” was overwhelming. I could barely choke my way through it. I don't do well singing through tears. The sound of all of our voices washed over me. It was like the ocean---the song and the reverb rose and fell back like the tide. The reverb seemed to go on forever---as did our prayer.

Singing at St Anne's

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord
And my spirit exults in God, my Savior
For God has looked with mercy on my lowliness
And my name will be forever exalted
For the mighty God has done great things for me
And God's mercy will reach from age to age
And holy, holy, holy is God's name"

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just keeping it real, folks.....

Seen on the road to Jerusalem

Church of Mary Magdalene

The Church of Mary Magdalene is located across the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount and the Dome of the Rock--and it's across the street from the Garden of Gethsemane. It's in the domain of the Russian Orthodox who have a newly strict dress code--no pants, no shorts, only skirts for women and no shorts for men. We were scolded for wearing pants, and handed some wraparound skirts to wear. They ran out when they got to me, so I hiked up the stairs thinking that there would be a skirt waiting for me at the top. No skirt. No more scolding either. And the absolute BEST part was seeing all the MEN in shorts who had to wear the skirts to get into the Church. Hee. Justice. Just a little bit.

That said, today is her feast day, and it was wonderful to celebrate this here. Mary of Magdala has been restored, I hope. She was not a woman of ill repute. She was not married to Jesus. She was not the un-named woman in Luke's Gospel who weeps at the feet of Jesus and anoints his feet with oil. She was and is, the apostle to the apostles. She was the first to see the Risen Lord, and the first to tell the others of the news. She was a strong woman of faith who is a role model for all women, through all time. I am grateful to have spent part of her feast day in the church that bears her name in Jerusalem.

One of the questions for reflection for today is:

When in my life have I been clear about who I am and what I must do--even at great cost?

Anointing Stone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Greek Altar at Calvary

From our retreat book for today:

"What is worthy of outcry to God?"

I remember standing here 10 years ago and thinking that the place where pilgrims commemorate the crucifixion was over-decorated. I remember wishing that it was simpler, less ornate. I had only seen photos of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in passing and hadn't really paid attention, so my mind had pictured things differently.

And then, when I stood here for the first time, I found myself distracted, as I did today, by the memory of the places I had visited in West Bank, the people I had met, their stories. I had stood in the places where Jesus continues to be crucified every day. That's what I took to prayer 10 years ago, and that's what I continue to take to prayer today.

So, I crawled under the altar, felt inside the smaller altar for the rock underneath, and remembered that thousands upon thousands of pilgrims have done the same thing. I looked past the ornate-ness and remembered that I have met people in Bethlehem who haven't ever been to this site, or any other holy site, because they are not allowed to travel here. I remembered the ones who have had their houses bulldozed, their arms broken, their children killed, their lives shattered. They are Jesus, crucified in the Holy Land, in a place other than this.

The roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Yup, the roof. We got up on the roof. As part of the 'status quo' the Ethiopians have a small monastery on the roof, along with a chapel. On the roof.



Miryam, the sister of Moses and Aaron, was the epitome of a strong woman. She was sister, composer, musician, dancer, prophet and leader. She is the one who probably composed the Exodus 15 canticle that celebrates the deliverance of God's people from the slavery of the Egyptians. This is a photo taken in the Zin Wilderness, where Miryam died, and where we spent time in prayer. You can feel her spirit there. It gives new life and a new memory to her canticle which we sing every year at the Easter Vigil:

"I am free, I will sing to the Lord, triumphant is He, the horse and chariot He cast into the sea."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Into the Jordan....

We stepped into the Jordan River this morning to renew our baptismal promises. There are several areas where groups can gather and we were next to a group that was doing the entire immersion baptism experience (apparently you can rent baptismal attire--who knew?). We didn’t do full immersion, although it would have been interesting with all the fish that were swimming around. Fish. Lots and lots of little fish.

We made a statement of belief and a commitment for the future. We had water poured over our heads and were anointed with oil.

Baptism is something that most of us cradle Catholics let go over our heads (no pun intended!)----it happened when we were infants and didn’t have a clue about what we were saying ‘yes’ to. The commitments we make at Baptism drive the rest of our spiritual lives. All of our ministry and work flows from this Sacrament, and so it always feels sad to me that I don’t remember my Baptism.

I feel so much gratitude to have this new memory of Baptism in the same waters that Jesus and John the Baptist stepped into in 1st Century Palestine.


I missed the Dead Sea Scrolls when they visited Seattle several years ago. Life was so busy, and I just kept putting it off and then they were gone. I regretted it mightily then, and I REAAAALLLLLYYY regretted it today when we visited Qumran, where the scrolls were first discovered 1947-1952. This is a photo of Cave 4, the most famous of the caves, which produced approx. 90% of the scrolls.

It was amazing to be in that place and sense the ancient history around me. We reflect on commitment today, and seeing the hard land they chose to live in, I am in awe of the commitment of the ones who lived the hard life at Qumran for the sake of their faith.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunset at Church on Mount of Beatitudes

While the retreat is something that is inter-active and has us on the move every day, there is still time and space for personal reflection, journaling and prayer, for which I am grateful. I work in a ministry that is, by the very nature of it, loud. Very, very loud, so I relish quiet time, where I can sort out my thoughts, recharge my inner batteries---and one of the ways I can do this is by spending some time on my own. The church at the Mt of Beatitudes is a lovely place to walk to, and spend time in prayer. This is a 'high place' for me. We spoke of the high places today---they were alt. places of worship and condemned as places of idolatry because true worship, they thought at the time, happened in Jerusalem. We reflect on the high places in our own lives and how they are places of inclusion. This beautiful site, at the top of the Mt of Beatitudes, is a thoughtful place for reflection. For our reflection today---"What do my own 'high places' look like?" This is what one of my many 'high places' looks like.

Sunset over the Sea of Galilee

This is the view off the back of the Church on the Mount of Beatitudes. This has been my favorite place to walk and reflect on the way to our evening reflection session. You can't help but be moved by the beauty and serenity of this place.

Mud Gate at Dan

The second oldest mud gate in Israel---circa 1700 BC

Waterfall at Banias

This is the waterfall at the headwaters of the Jordan River. We know Banias better by a different name---Caesarea Phillipi. We read Mark 8:27-29 and Jesus asks "Who do you say I am?" The question we reflect on today is this: If I were to ask Jesus "who do you say I am?" how might he answer me?

Jordan River

Several priests dropped by to renew their Baptismal vows in the Jordan River headwaters.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The view from my window.

Location:Mount of Beatitudes


We spent today in Cana and Nazareth---spending time with Mary, the mother of Jesus.

I had been to the Basilica of the Annunciation in 2000, so didn't think that there was anything new to see or experience. I was wrong.

The basilica's walls and courtyards are covered with art from all over the world depicting Mary. I love them all---well, except for the one from the United States. It's a bit embarrassing. Art is something that, when done well, gives us a glimpse into the Holy. The piece from the U.S. doesn't give me a glimpse into the Holy. I'll post it at some point.

Having said that, there was a piece of art that I had missed on my first trip----this sculpture of the Annunciation stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away.

This young Mary has just received Gabriel's news that she is to be the mother of the Savior, and she turns away from him with a look that says "WHAT did you just say?"

I love this.

One of the questions that we reflected on today was:

How do I know that Mary's response was one of genuine open-ness and not simply naivete?

Keep in mind that Mary was a young girl of perhaps 14 when Gabriel came calling....she knew that to be a pregnant, unwed mother was a crime in 1st century Palestine---a crime punishable by death. That explains the look on her face. She knew that to say 'yes' to Life, meant to also say 'yes' to the possibility of her own death, execution style.

She said 'yes' anyways. Her courage blows me away.

This piece of art gives us a glimpse into that moment before she gave her answer.....

(thanks to Jo for the photo today---my CF card reader broke, and finding a new one isn't going to be easy....)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sea of Galilee

Sea of Galilee

It’s a huge body of water, this lake that figures so prominently in our religious imagination and history. It’s a lake. Fresh water, not salt. And did I mention big?

We are at the hospice, run by the Franciscans, on the Mount of Beatitudes. We overlook the Sea of Galilee---and spent most of today around, in or on it.

It’s difficult to condense all of one very powerful day into one experience, but if I had to pick one….

We took a boat ride around the Sea of Galilee---- up to the north side, where Tabgha and the Mount of Beatitudes meet it.

We read John 6: 16-22

As it finished, the boat driver cut the engines and we floated in the lake----all was quiet except for the strong, hot wind that blows across every afternoon. We sat in the water at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes—and it was that experience that made the day for me. The sense of the boat rocking (Jo said that she now understands why Jesus fell asleep in it!) along with the feeling of being in the wind, with water breaking over the bow-----all I can say is that it was powerful and sublime. I was floating on holy water……..looking up at the Church on the mountain, and wondering what it must have been like to be Peter. I don’t know that I would ask if I could get out of the boat and walk.

Then reality hit as the windsurfers blew by. They love the lake for different reasons. It’s 2010, and not everyone has the same connection to this body of holy water. Jet skiing, windsurfing, and swimming are mostly what happens here—Tiberias is considered a resort town in Israel, and we are here in high season.

They try to keep the north end clear for pilgrims. And the good news is that there are still fisherman who cast their nets.

Jesus and Peter

This sculpture remembers the encounter between Jesus and Peter. I think about how easy it is, when fearful, to deny anything, so Peter denied and denied and denied, and suffered because of it. I love this sculpture because it almost appears as though Jesus and Peter are dancing----this wonderful dance of healing and reconciliation. Is there a more profound sense of relief than that which comes from being truly forgiven? I remember an interview with Craig Scott, the younger brother of Rachel Scott who was murdered at Columbine High School in 1999. On the 10th anniversary of the killings, he said this: "Forgiveness is like setting a prisoner free---and then realizing that the prisoner is you."

Church of the Multiplication of Loaves and Fish

We have been given this marvelous book for our week of retreat--it has many, many Scripture references and questions for reflection. Part of today's reflection is about the Sermon on the Mount---and the Beatitudes. I have a friend who likes to tell me that the Beatitudes are the 10 Commandments of the Christian Scriptures. Our reflection questions:

How is the life of Jesus a witness to each of these? What do the beatitudes say to the culture around us? Do women typically integrate these beatitudes in ways different from men?

I heard a homily once, on the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fish---and the priest suggested that perhaps Jesus didn't just snap his fingers and lots of food appeared. He thought that it was likely that people had all brought food with them---and that there were also people who had nothing to eat. What if the miracle was that there was something so profound about Jesus that people were inspired to open their baskets of food and share what they had with everyone there, especially the poor? What was so attractive about Jesus, the way he spoke and lived, that called people to share what they had with those who had nothing?

And I'll bet anything that it was the women in the group who started the sharing, even though the women and children weren't part of the official count!

Excavating Peter's house

Stone Steps

Jesus and Peter may have had their encounter at the top of these---they are behind the church of the Primacy, and they 'flow' into the sanctuary...

Mt of Beatitudes from the Sea of Galilee

John 6: 16-22

Church of the Primacy of Peter


Don't wear shorts. Really.

Mount of Beatitudes Church

Sea of Galilee

Yes, this is us, at the Sea of Galilee, behind the church of the primacy of Peter.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

What I did today

That is all.

Bishops Finger Pub

I just had to put this one in----we walked by this on the way from the train station. It belongs in the 'you can't make this stuff up' category. Bishops Finger is a premium ale from Shepherd Neame, one of England's oldest independent brewers.