Sunday, June 3, 2012


Spring has arrived in Jerusalem. The flowers are blooming and the warm weather has begun. It is very welcome after the cold months of winter. I was quite surprised at how cold it actually was during those months. But now the blankets are folded and put away and the summer clothes are out.

This has been a very busy month for me. I have had friends come to visit and was able to play tour guide in my new home town.  My friend Steven and I went to museums and Caesarea Maritima. We walked along the Jaffa Port and came across a Youth Art Exhibition in one of the warehouses and saw some very interesting work. We had a serendipitous moment when we walked through a very narrow back street and heard a piano playing and a beautiful tenor singing from a music studio. We stopped to listen and clapped in joy and appreciation when they were done.

My friend Louise, arrived a few weeks later, and we went to Masada and spent a day amazed at the views and the history of this mountain. On the way home, we decided to go on an adventure and went off on a side road to see what we could find.  We saw a cross on a hill so we stopped to take a look and over the top and down in the valley we saw the monastery of St. George’s.  It was beautiful. A lovely quiet moment in the desert.

I have also been hiking in Palestine.  The hikes have been wonderful, the perfect way to get out of the city and clear one’s head.  Although I only found out about this hiking group at the end of the season, as it is now getting way to hot, I did hike the last two sections of Abraham’s Path.  The second to last section was out in the rocky, hilly desert part of South Hebron.
We came across goats and camels and ancient cisterns, even a 5th century abandoned monastery – so cool in the shade and so quiet.
The following week, we walked the last portion, ending (appropriately) at Abraham’s tomb.  That was very interesting, going into the Mosque in Hebron.  It is shared with the Jewish community so there are sections where one can look at the ‘tombs of Abraham and Sarah’ and see the place on the other side where they, too, can look through, although there are a lot of opaque windows obscuring any real view of people.

I also did a hike in the north, near Jenin and Nablus. Beautiful views. We stopped for coffee and tea in a Bedouin’s tent. Their hospitality is renowned.

At the Cathedral we celebrated the installation of Fr. Hosam Naoum as the first Arab Dean of St. George’s Cathedral. That was an especially lovely day.

I have also had some rather interesting and unexpected experiences:
Many years ago my Godmother worked for a very generous man who gave a lot of money to build a clinic here in Jerusalem. This clinic served all people, regardless of race or religion and she asked me to find the building. She even sent photos from the time it was opened so I would recognize it. So yesterday I decided to go on the hunt. Well, as it turns out it is no more than half an hour away from where I live, however I didn’t know that when I headed out and I ended up walking to the end of Jaffa Street (which felt like half way to Tel Aviv).

Anyway, as I was wandering down the street I found myself walking toward a young Jewish man, very conservative, wearing his fedora and black suit. I have learnt to just keep walking and avert my eyes. However, he came straight toward me and stopped me. He asked me a question but I don’t speak Hebrew and his English was limited. So I asked him if he was lost (although I was totally lost but you never know if you can help) and he asked me if I was from America. He told me his mother was from America (all in very halting English). He told me that his name is Isaac and asked my name (I was so thankful for my biblical name because I was kind of concerned – this just doesn’t happen). Then he stuck out his hand and in automatic response I put out mine and we shook hands.  We smiled at each other and said,’ Have a nice day.’ And then off he went and off I went -totally stunned.   This was highly unusual.  I don’t know what it was all about really expect to say that all the people I met during my lost excursion were very kind and helpful. I walked through a number of orthodox neighbourhoods and really they are not that much different from anywhere else - people out walking, kids playing ball, children with melting popsicles. 

These experiences constantly remind me that at the end of the day we are all the same.  I look deeply for the hope in them.

I did, eventually, find the building but sadly the clinic is no longer there. It is now a Torah School. I may go back to see if I can find out what happened to the sign, as I could still see where it had been.  But that will be for another day.

The highlight of my month was spending the night in the Holy Sepulcher.

It turns out (I think it is the best kept secret in Jerusalem) that one can sign-up to sleep in the Holy Sepulcher. Well, not sleep; there are 3 rules - no singing, no lighting candles and no sleeping. But I didn't sleep anyway as time just flew by. There were four of us. ONLY 4 (and various monks we didn't really see) with the whole place to ourselves. And so the three of us and one fellow (who made a bee line to the tomb where he sat crossed legged, meditating and praying until he was unceremoniously booted out at midnight so the priests on duty could perform their oblations) spent the night. We watched the door close and be locked and then looked at each other, sort of wide eyed and took a deep breath. Wow!

I felt compelled to begin my night at Golgotha – I just laid my head there. I prayed for everyone I could think of and every name brought to mind another name.  I made my way to the anointing stone and it was awash with perfumed oils. I ran my hands up and down the stone reveling in the sweet aroma of the incense and the almost soft touch of the marble.

I made my way to the Edicule and (sharing space with our friend); I sat in the tomb for what seemed like ages.

Eventually I began to slowly walk about this immense church.  I got up close and laid my head on almost every altar, looked closely at every icon and tried to touched every cross engraved in the stone, thinking of crusaders and pilgrims and the millions of people who, throughout the ages, have come here to pray and cry and sit in silence among the throngs. It is such a hectic place during the day that sometimes it is hard to be in touch with the holy.

 At midnight the Greek Orthodox priests and the Coptic priests wash the tomb and then cense it and every other altar in the church. They then chant – the Greek Orthodox chant, the Coptics chant and the Franciscans chant.  It was wonderful to watch the night ministrations. This is a very busy place in the wee hours of the morning.

I brought with me my bible, a poetry book and a journal. I went down to the very bottom to The Chapel of Saint Helena (where she allegedly found the Holy Cross) and sat and read awhile. I opened my bible - and it fell to 1 Corinthians 13-14 – Faith, Hope, and Love - just what is needed to be living here.

Lectio Divina is a meditative exercise of which I am particularly fond.  It means Divine Word. A passage of scripture is read and then you meditate on it, perhaps a word or phrase sticks in your mind. Then you read it again and ‘look’ for an image that associates with the phrase and then third time round, read it again and see if there is a feeling that binds it all together. I happen to like this exercise and suggested we give it a try. So at 4 in the morning the three of us gathered in the little chapel (Adam’s Chapel) under Calvary and we used that particular week’s lectionary - the Gospel of John 15 v 7-11-- Abide in me – as our scripture verse. My phrase was 'that my joy may be in you' - and my image - I was just overwhelmed with the joy that Jesus must have felt - God in the flesh - seeing, touching, smelling all the beautiful things He had created - the flowers and birds and ladybugs and us too. The roses here are delicious and I could imagine Jesus with his nose in one. I do that every morning as there are a number of rose bushes by my tower door and they are intoxicating. My feeling was of incredible thankfulness. Just for everything - my life, being here, the amazing things that keep happening to me. I am so thankful because I know there really is no reason for it - it is just a gift.

And you know, I was never scared - it is a huge place but I didn't even think about being concerned. I was just wrapped in the prayers of centuries. At 5am when the door was unlocked, I was ready to go home but not really. As we left, we saw people rushing to get there as it opened, and there we were walking out, no rushing, just quietly leaving.

I am not sure how to process all this - as one of the women I was with said - God set aside this particular time just for us to be here. How personal is that!

And I am thinking I may not ever need to go in the tomb again - He is NOT there! That is what came to me when I was sitting in it –‘I am not here. Get out and see the sky. Be among the living’.  I resonate with the women at the tomb who spoke with the ‘gardener’ on Easter morning.  

And so ever since then I have been sitting out on my tower roof under the beautiful blue sky or hiking in the country or walking in my neighbourhoods.

Jerusalem, my happy home.