Yes, I did just title this “A Kinda Final Reflection.” Jerusalem, the Holy Land lives within side of me as a transformative subtle haunting, calling me back yet illuminating so much of all that makes up me. I feel myself as clay being morphed and molded in the hands of God’s gentle imprints as cliché as that may sound. I honor the places that I have been, the people, the eyes of whom I’ve met, the spirit, the very living spirit of culture that takes modernity and aligns itself right beside ancient history, rooted in faith and God, yet enshrouded in human conflict.
There as totem etched in stone lay covenant between God and man with so many seekers longing for a taste of the Almighty, yet in foolishness, in haste they all too easily miss God completely. How often through these paths and roads did I hear Jesus flipping tables? Where is Christ, but in our fellow man? Where is God, but in the Holy and Righteous relationship we make with each other. So much has embodied this trip to the Holy Land. So much has taken me. When I left for the trip, people often said, “You will be transformed.” Even the lady at Target from whom I purchased my luggage, wished me well as she said, “You will be transformed.” I gather after hearing this enough, I had such expected, but not to the degree in which Jerusalem is still working on me.
I was not impressed by many of the sights in which one former Roman Catholic girl may have suspected would overcome her with immeasurable joy. Areas like Mt. Beatitudes were so overly commercialized it dampened the connectedness I would have expected from the space, but through the words of the Gospel in our shared voices, we managed to gain the soulful connectedness to the Holy Spirit. Sometimes it is good to take your shoes off in public spaces and feel the earth that lies beneath the mired layers of mankind.
At Joffa I cried at the sound of the Song of the Ascents in Hebrew. I continue to ponder what is it in me that was so deeply stirred by the psalm. I’ve reread it, listened, and re-listened. Is it perhaps the story of Miriam begging the people to release her husband from prayer? Was it the Hebrew sounds that appealed to my embodied Ashkenazi roots? Or perhaps it was a deeper desire for a world of peace longing for God’s intercession? “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come?” Maybe it is more personal than that and maybe in the beginning of this trip this was my invitation from God to open my heart to the healing of my own wounds, and trust, “The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.” Whatever, the invitation, it hasn’t left me.
As a mother, I was moved by the influence of Helena in the region. These are things we read about, take note of and place in the backs of our minds for use at a later date, but it never really registered until being in the region. How many places she has inspired to grow, the depth of love she had for her son and the means by which she would go to be sure that he would have faith and be solid in his ways. What an inspiration! How must I survey my own life in relation to my sons through the eyes of Helena? I often look to the blessed mother for such advice, as she stood with an aching heart helpless to her son’s suffering. I find my strength, my comfort, and the very core of resilience embedded in her presence and God’s infinite grace. Have mercy on us O’ Holy Mother of God. Have mercy.
The psalm spoke and my wounded and healing soul looked to the hills. As we climbed the rocky path in the mountains of Qumran and the stairs at Masada, God’s presence was enormously lived in the vast spaces and whistling winds. Each movement forward, each incline upward was a simple victory for me. Once upon a time, I could tackle this with ease and now every breath was a spiritual revival born in every cell. The echoes of subtle whispers to my offender who walked these paths years before myself occasionally took to heart, “Did you see this? Were you not here? My God, what were you thinking?” I touched the water at the Jordan as she touched, I blessed myself with its ironically toxic flow and looked down the path at the children playing, inhaling rebirth as I captured a sample. This trip was greater than I and it was greater than my hurt or the evil I endured.
Before disclosing my “Me too” moment to the necessary authority, weeping with agony among uncertainty and fear, I suddenly found myself drawing in the sand. I raised my head and Jesus was drawing in the sand with me. He looked into my eyes and turned his head to draw my attention elsewhere. It was his naked body bound to a stump, being whipped and beaten. When I turned my head back in the direction of Jesus, he was gone. My weeping ceased as a calm overcame me, I knew what he was saying.
There was no irony, no coincidence that at the Tenth Station I was given the following to read,
“At the Tenth Station we pray for those who are exposed to ridicule, who are shamed, humiliated, degraded; For battered wives and battered children; For women who are raped and for children who are victims of violence and sexual abuse; Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Let us pray: For those who expose, shame, humiliate, and degrade others, by word or action or simply in their thoughts; For those who degrade or exploit others racially, sexually, intellectually, or economically; Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.
Let us pray: For ourselves; When we are ashamed or abused; That we may find healing and so live that we have nothing to hide; Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.”
(Peterson, John. A Walk in Jerusalem: Stations of the Cross. Church Publishing Inc.. Kindle Edition.)
It took everything in me not to fall apart as I discreetly wiped the tears from my eyes. I left my pain, my wound there at the stump in which Jesus was beaten, knowing I was with our Lord.
We finished the walk through the Stations of the Cross carrying our own. Then took to restoration, kneeling at the Stone in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the stone in which we remember our Christ’s body being laid and prepared for entombment. We placed the cross, which we carried throughout our walk on the healing stone scented with frankincense and myrrh and together at each fingertip with our foreheads pressed against the oil-soaked stone, we prayed and blessed it and us. Eyes now firmly set on our resurrected life in Christ, the Blessed Jerusalem Cross, a gift to General Seminary, will remind me always of our time there together, my personal journey and our strength and restoration as a resurrected people.
I am happy we travelled from the North to South, biblically, scripted from Jesus’ birth to Death. Well, played Dean Michael! Reading and listening to the Holy Gospel is a renewed experience for me now, an experience that comes with a greater understanding of the journey, culture and landscape of Jesus. I will remember the parable of the Sower with a vision of Dean Michael picking up the gravel along our path in Magdala and calling our attention to the rocky ground, and the fertile ground and the olive tree that stood firm in growth. Dean was showing us Jesus in relationship to the world, the environment and the people in which he communed. Dean Michael gave us many of these lessons along the way. Lessons, that I will keep and refer back to throughout my ministry. I cherish that deeply.
The word of the week was “WOW”. Wow, was the first word we encountered looking at the massive ruins and structures that were left behind for 2000 years. It was the word we used to describe incredibly intricate murals that remained from the time of Christ. “Wow” was the word we used to describe tombs and caves, mass vast spaces in the desert, the mountains, the Sea of Galilee, and so much more, but “Wow” is wholly understated. It was merely the utterance of sound as our breath was literally stolen by each and every moment, place and encounter.
The Holy Land is as beautifully full of historic culture as it is with conflict, not only among those with differences but also within denominations. Power, politics and divisions left me feeling mournful for a human race of hurt people inflicting more hurt on other people. At the Western Wall, the Wailing Wall, I wept for the cycles of violence and oppression that seem to have captured humanity bound in chains of fear, reaching for power with no regard for the dignity of the other. Rooted in faith and God, yet enshrouded in conflict, what kind of dichotomy is that? If I am to truly live my Baptismal covenant than my answers are clear. Not easy, but clear.
By travelling from the North to the south we had easy access to a wide array of news, broadcast and conversation, but the closer we got to Jerusalem, the American influence can be seen and some news agencies were blocked from our hotel. It was bold and it was sad, even in the bookstore, we were encouraged to not try to bring certain books, those more Palestinian sympathetic books on the plane. We were told Israeli security would stop us. We learned about zone living and travel regulations with I.D. cards. I couldn’t help but think of Nazi Germany and the time following. I couldn’t help but reflect upon the oppression, racism and prejudice in our own country. I thought, what if I were forced to carry an ID card that marked me as a Lesbian Episcopal Woman. Maybe New Jersey was zone A, where I was born and lived with people who were like me, but I was allowed to travel to Zone B, New York City for school between certain hours only, and was never allowed to visit my relatives in Long Island, Zone C. What if my or your ID card is the color of your skin or shape of your eyes? You see, deeply, Jerusalem is still working on me, and even in its conflict, something calls at me still. Have mercy, dear Lord have mercy.
When asked about my trip, our journey, I respond with the word illuminating, because there were so many parts of me awakened, and enlivened by the grace of God and the very presence of Christ in the World today. In the midst of awestruck history, conflicted humanity, and spiritual devotion set to a backstage of enormity there was the work of every day people tending to needs of their lives and families and then, of course, there were others like the work being done at the Princess Basma Centre. Established in 1965 as a home for children with physical disabilities, mainly those suffering from Polio. It came under a charitable organization licensed in Jordan, in Palestine and in Israel. In June 2000, the Centre was entrusted under the Arab Anglican Episcopal church – the Diocese of Jerusalem. This beautiful and heartfelt Centre helps mothers, children and families to find the help they need. Physical Therapy, Occupational therapy and Music therapy are among some of the much-needed services they offer.
Christ in action today!
I know there is so much more about this trip in which I’d like to share, but here seems a good place to stop, at least for now, but not without saying thank you to the Episcopal Cathedral of St. George’s Jerusalem for welcoming us to worship. In the midst of overwhelming information overload, you provided a spiritual home and comfort longing to be had among our weary feet.