We’re Back, We’re Changed, We’re Challenged…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

home sweet home

Thank you for your prayers.  Thank you for all the comments via social media as well as here on this blog.  Thank you for trusting us when we said, “We are safe.”  Thank you for giving us the opportunity to have this amazing learning and growing experience.

unexpected Jesus

If there is one ringing Truth that has come to us during this trip, it is that we’ve experienced the unexpected.  The political situation is not as clear as some of us may have thought.  The understandings and concepts we have about what things look and feel like in The Holy Lands were challenged.  We learned a lot about reading the Gospels in context which caused us to see that Jesus was, in many ways, not what the disciples expected him to be.  He didn’t fit their preconceived notion of who the Messiah is.  And that leads us to ask a few very important questions . . .

molding clay

Are there ways in which we have molded God into something we want God to look like?  Is who Jesus is to us a reflection of who we want him to be?  Do we find that God tends to agree with all or most of our opinions on the various issues of the day?  Have we accepted (or worshipped) a version of God based on what others have told us?  Or on their understanding of scripture?  Have we read the text in it’s geographical, topographical, historical, cultural, political, AND spiritual context?

jesus

We don’t claim to have any special knowledge now that “we’ve been to The Holy Lands of Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.”  Far from it.  We’ve had an experience.  And we’d love to hear from you about your experiences while we’ve been away.  And, if you’re willing, we’d love to share some of our experiences. The bottom line is, we’re more in love with this God of the Universe and what this Jesus has done for us and how this Spirit of God has filled us.

It’s good to be home.

The Road to Emmaus…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

pray for paris

pray for paris

We woke up on Saturday morning in Jerusalem and immediately heard the news of the terrorist attacks in Paris. We are scheduled to have a 7-hour layover at the Paris airport tomorrow but our thoughts turned quickly to the victims and their families.

road to emmaus roman road

We had breakfast and then departed at 8 a.m. in the direction of Emmaus, which is famous because of the Biblical reference but isn’t a specific place on the map. We went to Abu-Ghosh, about 10 miles west of Jerusalem, which has been identified as one of the possible locations of Emmaus.

the lower level of the church at Emmaus, built by the crusaders in the 12th century

the lower level of the church at Emmaus, built by the crusaders in the 12th century

the main sanctuary . . . frescos on the walls dating back to the time of the crusaders

the main sanctuary . . . frescos on the walls dating back to the time of the crusaders

We stopped first at the Benedictine Monastery that was built by the Crusaders in the 12th Century. Today a community of nuns and priests continue the worship in the church and offer hospitality, reflecting the ancient story of the men and women on the road to Emmaus who encountered the risen Christ (Luke 24:13-35). According to excavations completed in 1944, the Crusaders identified the site as the biblical Emmaus.

reading about the resurrected Jesus in a place near where the resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers

reading about the resurrected Jesus in a place near where the resurrected Jesus appeared to his followers

Fr. Ralph and Fr. Kamal

Fr. Ralph and Fr. Kamal

Fr. Kamal, shares his wisdom for the final time . . . on this trip at least ;-)

Fr. Kamal, shares his wisdom for the final time . . . on this trip at least 😉

We then bused up a steep hill to Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant Church, located on a beautiful site overlooking the city, with Jerusalem visible in the distance. We read the Scriptural account of the Resurrection and Fr Kamal blessed us with his final teaching of the trip.

the good reverend Aran Walter talking a selfie before eucharist

the good reverend Aran Walter talking a selfie before eucharist

the prayers of the people, praying for the Church and the World

the prayers of the people, praying for the Church and the World

the gifts of God for the people of God

the gifts of God for the people of God

the beautiful church of Notre Dame de l'Arche d'Alliance

the beautiful church of Notre Dame de l’Arche d’Alliance

After spending time in meditation, we went into the church for the final Eucharist of our trip. Aran Walter celebrated and after Michele Whitford read the Gospel (that included the Road to Emmaus account), each person reflected on what part of the reading held the most significance. There was no shortage of emotion as we looked back on the previous 17 days.

farewell to Fr. Kamal Farah . . . we WILL see you again soon

farewell to Fr. Kamal Farah . . . we WILL see you again soon

We then had lunch served by the Sisters of St. Joseph before returning to our hotel. First, we had to say farewell to Fr Kamal who was heading back to his home in Nazareth, leaving in his wake 24 thankful and better educated pilgrims.

prayer-sillouette

We now await our trip to Tel Aviv late Saturday night and our scheduled flight to Paris, followed by the last leg of our trip to Chicago.  Thus far, all indications are that our flights in and out of Paris are without delay or cancellation.  (see our previous post on this)  Please pray for that whole situation as well as

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Paris…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

prayer-sillouette

Our prayers are with the victims and perpetrators and all those affected by the horrific acts of violence that took place in Paris yesterday.  During our time in The Holy Lands we have learned that the Jesus Way of praying is simply to present the situation to God.  God knows what needs to be done.  We pray for God to do what God does everyday . . . heal, reconcile, forgive, and achieve justice: God setting things right.

plane taking off

For those concerned about our travel plans, which take us from Tel-Aviv to Paris and then to Chicago, we have heard nothing to make us concerned or lead us to believe our flight will be rerouted or cancelled.  The airport is 100% open according to our logistics guide, Bishara.  Air France has even issued a statement which you can read HERE.

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We will see you all soon.  Our flight number is Air France #1121 from Tel-Aviv to Paris.  Pray for peace in Paris, around the world, and of course,

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Via Dolorosa…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

Via Dolorosa literally means "Way of Suffering"

Via Dolorosa literally means “Way of Suffering”

It was our earliest rising during our time in Israel but well worth it.

standing at Station 0, the Antonia, the military headquarters of the global super-power known as The Roman Empire

standing at Station 0, the Antonia, the military headquarters of the global super-power known as The Roman Empire

We gathered in the hotel lobby at 5:55 a.m. and walked to Herod’s Gate into the Old City. Father Kamall led us through the winding streets where there was evidence of some shops getting ready for the day but most of them still closed. We arrived at an area called Antonia Fortress, which was the location of military barracks dating to 19 B.C under the authority of Herod.

our journey with Jesus begins...

our journey with Jesus begins…

the journey goes up and down many stairs and in and out of many tunnels and gates

the journey goes up and down many stairs and in and out of many tunnels and gates

stations 3 and 4 are right next to each other which makes sense . . . station 3 is when Jesus falls, and station 4 is when his mother is at his side (helping him up)

stations 3 and 4 are right next to each other which makes sense . . . station 3 is when Jesus falls, and station 4 is when his mother is at his side (helping him up)

and still, we walk and journey on, as Christ did

and still, we walk and journey on, as Christ did

That’s where we started on Via Dolorosa, also known as the Way of Sorrow, which is intended to follow the route Jesus took from his condemnation by Pilate to his crucifixion. At each of the first 9 stations, a member of our group read the prayer, and then we quietly moved on to the next station.

the 9th station, just before we head to the roof

the 9th station, just before we head to the roof

on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also known as The Church of The Resurrection

on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, also known as The Church of The Resurrection

entrance to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulcher

entrance to the courtyard of the Holy Sepulcher

Stations 10, 11, 12 and 13 are read in a courtyard on top of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which was built at the site of the crucifixion and burial. We then entered the church for the final station and then took our turn going into the narrow entrance of Christ’s tomb. It’s not the actual tomb, but about 8 meters above the actual empty tomb.

the empty streets at 6:00 am . . . very peaceful

the empty streets at 6:00 am . . . very peaceful

The entire Via Dolorosa covers about 2,000 feet through the Old City. It is a sobering and inspiring experience, especially done in the early morning when few people are around.

an incredible model of ancient Jerusalem, at the time of Jesus

an incredible model of ancient Jerusalem, at the time of Jesus

We returned to our hotel for breakfast, took a short rest and then traveled by bus to the Israel Museum. The highlight was the outdoor model of Jerusalem as it appeared in 66 A.D., right before the Jewish Revolt against the Romans. The model, which covers about one acre, is at a scale of 50:1 and was the brainchild of a hotel owner who wanted to memorialize his son. It was originally displayed at a hotel but was moved to the museum ground in 2006.

the Temple Mount

the Temple Mount

the Holy of Holies

the Holy of Holies

It provided an ideal teaching exhibition for Father Kamall, who pointed out the key features of the city at that time, including the Temple Mount. We then toured the museum itself that included parts of the Dead Sea Scrolls and ancient artifacts, as well as priceless art of many kinds from earlier periods. It is the type of place that requires days to fully tour.

yum

yum

It was time to return to the hotel where we had a late lunch of lentils and fruit before taking the rest of the day to ourselves.

we're already starting to pack up...

we’re already starting to pack up…

We are nearing the conclusion of this pilgrimage. We will travel to Emmaus on Saturday morning, visiting the Benedictine Monastery where we will have lunch with the sisters. We will then celebrate our final Eucharist of the trip at Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant. We then return to our hotel in Jerusalem, have our final dinner here and then are driven to Tel Aviv late at night to begin the long journey home. It will take us to Paris, where we’ll have a 7-hour layover at the airport, then fly to Chicago, scheduled to arrive there at 3:20 p.m. Sunday. Shalom.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

The Three Great Abrahamic Faiths…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

Fr. Kamal teaching out entire group. we saw and learned a lot today.

Fr. Kamal teaching our entire group. we saw and learned a lot today.

Days such as this one need to be set aside for future discussion, prayer and revisits.

Damascus Gate into The Old City of Jerusalem

Damascus Gate into The Old City of Jerusalem

beautiful fabrics in the Muslim quarter of The Old City

stores and shops line the narrow streets, selling goods and foods of every kind

we strolled amidst the hustle and bustle around us

we strolled amidst the hustle and bustle around us

there are beautiful children of all 3 Abrahamic faiths everywhere walking to school together

there are beautiful children of all 3 Abrahamic faiths everywhere walking to school together

We spent the day in the Old City of Jerusalem, whose wall is right outside the front door of our hotel. We walked in through the Damascus Gate. Through the narrow and ancient walkways that featured merchants of every type trying to sell their wares.

in line to pass through security to access The Temple Mount and the al Aqsa mosque area

in line to pass through security to access The Temple Mount and the al Aqsa mosque area

walking up to Temple Mount

walking up to Temple Mount

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Israeli solders on Temple Mount

We had to go through two security checkpoints to get to a ramp that took us up to the historic Temple Mount, perhaps the holiest religious site in the Old City. It is a site that has fed much of the Arab-Israeli strife and is currently under the authority of the Kingdom of Jordan. Solomon’s Temple was built there and it’s the site where Abraham was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac, by binding him to an altar. An angel from God interceded.

The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock

the al-Aqsa mosque

the al-Aqsa mosque

Muslims believe it is the site where Muhammad was transported faster than lightning from Mecca. The site includes the golden-domed Dome of the Rock as well as the al-Aqsa Mosque, both open only to Muslims due to violence by Jewish ultra orthodox extremists. In fact, there is resentment whenever Jews come to the Temple Mount, as we witnessed when a group of about 15 Jews – under police guard – appeared and Muslims chanted loudly in opposition. There was no confrontation however.

the entire area is a massive and beautiful open air space with trees and many small groups sitting in circles studying the Koran

the entire area is a massive and beautiful open air space with trees and many small groups sitting in circles studying the Koran

Father Kamall told us that during Ramadan, more than 600,000 Muslims gather at the Temple Mount.

a palm tree planted in the name of Jesus, who, according to the Koran, was born under a palm date tree

a palm tree planted in the name of Jesus, who, according to the Koran, was born under a palm date tree

the Dome of Judgement where Jesus will sit

the Dome of Judgement where Jesus will sit

the Dome of the Prophets, where Jesus explains the Holy Scriptures to all the prophets of Islam, including the Prophet Mohammed

the Dome of the Prophets, where Jesus explains the Holy Scriptures to all the prophets of Islam, including the Prophet Mohammed

We were surprised to hear a familiar name over and over again.  While we were at this 3rd most holy site for people of the Islamic faith, we kept hearing the name of Jesus.  Yes, Jesus, the Christ. We saw a special palm tree, planted in Jesus’ name.  We walked by The Dome of Judgement, where, according to the Muslim faith, Jesus will and judge the world on the last day.  We also saw the Dome of the Prophets, where all the prophets of Islam are in constant conversation and dialogue about what the Holy Scriptures say.  And the primary prophet, in the Islamic faith, the one who explains the Holy Scriptures to all the other protests, including the Prophet Mohammed . . . is Jesus.

the ruins of two churches on the site of the Pool of Bethesda

the ruins of two churches on the site of the Pool of Bethesda

there are many STEEP stairs that take you several levels down to the actual pool

there are many STEEP stairs that take you several levels down to the actual pool

this is the same pool from the time of Jesus. it actually predates the time of Christ by more than 2,000 years, and it's still there

this is the same pool from the time of Jesus. it actually predates the time of Christ by more than 2,000 years, and it’s still there

the beautiful (and acoustically perfect) Church of St. Anne

the beautiful (and acoustically perfect) Church of St. Anne

We left the Temple Mount and walked down to St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church, built in the 12th Century. Immediately outside the church is the site of the Pool of Bethesda where Jesus healed the blind man who had been there for 38 years, displaying to all that the outcast and the excluded are invited in and included in God’s Kingdom. The church is known for its amazing acoustics, so our group gathered in the center and sang the first verse of “Amazing Grace.” We sounded pretty good.

If you’d like to hear the acoustics from St. Anne . . . please watch the video below

our group at The Western Wall

our group at The Western Wall

prayers stuffed into the cracks of the wall

prayers stuffed into the cracks of the wall

to pray at the most holy site of your faith is a great honor

to pray at the most holy site of your faith is a great honor

some pictures need no words

some pictures need no words

From there, we went to the courtyard that leads to the Western Wall, known also as the Wailing Wall. This is all that remains from the 2nd Temple, and it is only the largest stones near the bottom that actually date back to the time of Herod the Great.  There is a place on the right where women are welcome to go but the rest of the wall is for men only. We were able to walk down to the wall, and some of us approached the wall to pray. Part of the wall is inside a tunnel area and many Jews were in there reading and praying. Many others were outside at the wall.

falaffel on a pita - delicious

falaffel on a pita – delicious

It was time for lunch and we ate at a restaurant that served us falafel in pita bread. It contained, lettuce, onions, potato, and who knows what else. It was tasty.

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher - or better known as The Church of the Resurrection

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher – or better known as The Church of the Resurrection

This set us up for the day’s highlight. We walked up a long series of steps to the courtyard outside the Church of the Resurrection, built in the 12th Century on the site where Jesus was crucified, anointed, buried in a crypt, and risen to life again.

the stone slab, representing the place where Mary received the body of her dead son, Jesus

the stone slab, representing the place where Mary received the body of her dead son, Jesus

up above, where you see the light, is the top of Calvary, where "it was accomplished"

up above, where you see the light, is the top of Calvary, where “it was accomplished”

Inside the front door is a large stone of anointment to represent where Jesus was prepared for burial. Father Kamall told us it wasn’t the original though. But he pointed to a spot one level up that was Calvary, the place where Jesus was crucified.

the Tomb of Jesus

the Tomb of Jesus

all churches in the Holy Lands orient themselves towards the east because that's where the light comes from (Light of the World). however, this church's architecture is different as the light enters from above, because the tomb is empty and Christ is risen

all churches in the Holy Lands orient themselves towards the east because that’s where the light comes from (Light of the World). however, this church’s architecture is different as the light enters from above, because the tomb is empty and Christ is risen

He then took us to the area that led to the tomb, although the actual tomb is eight meters below that site.  This large memorial tomb was built in the early 1800’s when an earthquake damaged the one dating from the time of the crusaders.

this is the area of the garden, where Mary saw the risen Christ

this is the area of the garden, where Mary saw the risen Christ

He then led us to an open area that was once the garden where Mary Magdalene first encountered the risen Jesus, whom she at first mistook for a gardener. Today it is a stone floor with stone walls around it.

the grotto which is the very base of Calvary

the grotto which is the very base of Calvary

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We also went to the area where Jesus’ cross was found but it eventually was lost when the church was destroyed in 1009 A.D.

the top of Calvary, hosted by our Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters

the top of Calvary, hosted by our Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters

The only thing left to see was the crucifixion site. We walked us a short flight of stairs where the site is located, brightly lit. It is a surreal experience to sit on the floor in front of the site and comprehend what you are seeing and experiencing.

a beautiful and enormous icon very near the site of Jesus' crucifixion depicting his death, preparation, and burial

a beautiful and enormous icon very near the site of Jesus’ crucifixion depicting his death, preparation, and burial

It was a time of prayer.  And please, in your prayers, continue to

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

The Tension Is Real…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

despite the palpable tension in the air in Hebron, it is home to some of the finest vineyards in The Holy Lands

despite the palpable tension in the air in Hebron, it is home to some of the finest vineyards in The Holy Lands

Our Wednesday wasn’t filled with joy as we saw some evidence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict up close.

this is the road, the actual road, that Abraham and his sons and their sons would have used to travel to Jerusalem

this is the road, the actual road, that Abraham and his sons and their sons would have used to travel to Jerusalem

We left our Jerusalem hotel at 8 a.m. and headed south toward Hebron, about 40 minutes away. En route, we made a brief stop to see part of the Way of the Patriarchs. This was the route that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph would have taken when they walked from Hebron to Jerusalem.

as we attempted to enter the Palestinian side of Hebron, our bus was bored by an Israeli soldier

as we attempted to enter the Palestinian side of Hebron, our bus was bored by an Israeli soldier

the stores owned by Palestinians near the Mosque were not allowed to be opened

the stores owned by Palestinians near the Mosque were not allowed to be opened

Fr. Kamal speaking with the Israeli soldiers

Fr. Kamal speaking with the Israeli soldiers

We drove on to Hebron, going first into the heavily-guarded Jewish settlement district. An Israeli officer stepped on to our bus and we all held up our passports as he briefly scanned the group. We then drove ahead and parked near the Ibrahimi Mosque. We had to walk a bit further that originally planned as our bus wasn’t allowed to go any further because our driver was Palestinian.  The only other people visible there as we arrived were rifle-carrying Israeli soldiers.

inside the Ibrahim Mosque. on the left is the Tomb of Rebekka, and on the right, is Isaac's Tomb

inside the Ibrahim Mosque. on the left is the Tomb of Rebekka, and on the right, is Isaac’s Tomb

Fr. Kamal teaching

Fr. Kamal teaching

The Tomb of Abraham. the small stone base has a hole in it where you can look down into the cave where Abraham's Tomb actually is, over 60 feet down.

The Tomb of Abraham. the small stone base has a hole in it where you can look down into the cave where Abraham’s Tomb actually is, over 60 feet down.

bullet holes from the 1994 massacre. one is high and to the left in the dark stripe. the other is in the middle of the 1st white stripe from the right.

bullet holes from the 1994 massacre. one is high and to the left in the dark stripe. the other is in the middle of the 1st white stripe from the right.

Bishara did the talking and we were allowed to proceed into the mosque. Its main floor was spectacular, with beautiful carpets covering the entire floor. We were shown the spot where there had been an entrance down to Abraham’s tomb. We also stood where 29 Muslims were shot and killed by Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish physician, in February 1994.

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It was a tense atmosphere although we felt safe. But the ongoing strife between the Jews and Palestinians almost forced us to cancel our trip to Hebron and did change part of the itinerary Bishara had planned and we were not permitted to enter the synagogue that shares in honoring Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, and Leah.

the beautiful space where Abraham was visited by three men/angels and lays the groundwork for how we are to practice hospitality

the beautiful space where Abraham was visited by three men/angels and lays the groundwork for how we are to practice hospitality

From there, we drove to the Palestinian section of Hebron, where approximately 170,000 people live and Jews are not welcome. Our first stop was at the Oak at Mamre, a large yard with the ruins of a former temple. It was there that Abraham was visited by the three visitors (Genesis 18:1-15). In our Western Theology, we tend to miss the significance of this encounter.  The primary focus of this section of scripture is hospitality.  Abraham RUNS out to meet these visitors and the brings water for them, not to drink, but for their feet, so they may stand in the cool waters and feel refreshed from their journey. It is this very instance of hospitality that Jesus repeats in John’s Gospel (John 13:1-17) when he demonstrates the Jesus Way of hospitality and goes even further and WASHES the disciples feet, rather than merely allowing them to stand in the water. It was interesting to listen to Fr. Kamal tell us the history, with the sound of schoolchildren playing nearby.

lunch time

lunch time

hard to argue with this

hard to argue with this

We then drove into central Hebron where we had lunch that consisted of chicken, kabobs, potatoes and rice, and hummus.

a view of The Old City from the lobby of our hotel (photo by Cam Ross)

a view of The Old City from the lobby of our hotel (photo by Cam Ross)

Following lunch, we headed back to Jerusalem where many of us took advantage of some free time by shopping in the Old City, whose walls are right outside the front door of our hotel. Tomorrow we will tour the Old City as a group, visiting many sites including the Western (Wailing) Wall, the Dome of the Rock, and The Holy Sepulcher.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

It’s Not A Simple Situation…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

a view from the top of the "beheaded mountain" looking towards Bethlehem

a view from the top of the “beheaded mountain” looking towards Bethlehem

We experienced the political impasse involving the Jews and Palestinians today.

our host in Efrat, Ardi Geldman

our host in Efrat, Ardi Geldman

Our Tuesday in Israel began with a drive about seven miles south of Jerusalem to Efrat, a Jewish settlement established in 1983 in the occupied West Bank. We were ushered into a synagogue by Ardi Geldman, a member of the community and a native of the north side of Chicago.

Efrat is a beautiful community with spacious homes and lots of green yards...

Efrat is a beautiful community with spacious homes and lots of green yards…

He painted a picture of Palestinian violence against the Jews – car rammings, murders – and confessed that he didn’t see an end to the Mideast conflict.

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many of the homes don’t look all that different from homes one might find in many places in the United States

“The peace process is dead in the water,” he said. “We’re living with conflict management.”

in a town of 10,000, there are several medical clinics

in a town of 10,000, there are several medical clinics

There are approximately 10,000 Jews living in the settlement. Geldman told us it is no longer safe for him or other people in the settlement to go to nearby Bethlehem, which is under Palestinian authority. He spoke of an Israel that welcomes all faiths – he said there are 100,000 Palestinians allowed to work in Jerusalem and other Israeli-controlled cities. Geldman and his wife moved from Chicago to Efrat in 1985 and have six children. He said more and more Jews are returning to Israel from other parts of the world.

Musakhan

Musakhan

From there we drove to Bethlehem for lunch at restaurant that served Musakhan – sumac chicken with sautéed onions on pita bread. Very tasty.

the gate that Palestinians had to use to enter and exit the camp until 1996

the gate that Palestinians had to use to enter and exit the camp until 1996

Then it was to a nearby Palestinian refugee camp called Dheisheh, which was established in 1949 for Palestinians from more than 45 villages who fled during the 1948 Arab-Israel War. It is located just outside Bethlehem.

Hamzeh Abedrabbu, our host at the Dheisheh refugee camp

Hamzeh Abedrabbu, our host at the Dheisheh refugee camp

We were met by 27-year-old Hamzeh Abedrabbu, who shared his life and hopes with us. He was born in the refugee camp and still lives with his parents, working as a social worker.

this is one of the widest roads in Dheisheh

this is one of the widest roads in Dheisheh

“I don’t want to die here,” he said. “We don’t belong here. We keep dreaming about going back (to Jerusalem). If you lose hope, you will lose your life.”

too narrow for any vehicles

too narrow for any vehicles

He painted a picture of small rooms – 12-feet by 12-feet – created by the United Nations. He said there was no electricity in the camp, which has about 11,000 residents, until 1976. And he said 60 percent of the people living there are teenagers and that 80 percent of the residents are educated. It was clearly a different view of the Jewish-Palestinian impasse that we had heard in the morning.

a young Palestinian refugee watching us

a young Palestinian refugee watching us

Hamzeh said his goal for himself and his people is freedom. “I seek for justice,” he said. He said he tells children in his community not to hate. And he urged us to “go home and tell the truth” about what is happening here. We walked through part of the camp, which has a single pharmacy and only one medical clinic, run by the United Nations, before returning to our hotel in Jerusalem.

this wall has been called a Security Wall, a Separation Wall, an Apartheid Wall, and worse

this wall has been called a Security Wall, a Separation Wall, an Apartheid Wall, and worse

On our way, we got a close up view of the Separation Wall, built by the Israeli government.

pray for peace, justice, reconciliation, and for the people here in Dheisheh and in Efrat

pray for peace, justice, reconciliation, and for the people here in Dheisheh and in Efrat

The Wednesday itinerary has us traveling to Hebron of the West Bank although Bishara, our guide, is going to confirm that in the morning since there has been some tension there.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Fortresses, Faith Communities, and Floaters…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

the suns rays shining on us all

the suns rays shining on us all

One of the unexpected gifts in coming to The Holy Lands of Jordan, Palestine, and Israel is visiting and learning about spectacular places on God’s earth that you may never have heard about in your life.

the fortress of Masada

the fortress of Masada

looking down from the top of Masada to the ruins below

looking down from the top of Masada to the ruins below

a model of what Masada would have looked like in the time of Herod the Great

a model of what Masada would have looked like in the time of Herod the Great

Today, it was Masada. High into the rocks and cliffs west of the Dead Sea about an hour south of Jerusalem are the remains of a place that has a significant place in Jewish history, and is also a historian’s paradise to visit.

the views from the top of Masada are breathtaking to say the least . . . this is looking east, towards the Dead Sea and the Kingdom of Jordan

the views from the top of Masada are breathtaking to say the least . . . this is looking east, towards the Dead Sea and the Kingdom of Jordan

this is looking north, towards Jericho and the Sea Galilee region

this is looking north, towards Jericho and the Sea Galilee region

Originally built for Herod the Great, this was the site of the Great Revolt by the Jews against the Romans in 66 A.D. A group under the leadership of Eleazar ben Ya’ir, fled Jerusalem and took refuge in the fortress overlooking the Dead Sea. Several years later, Roman troops came to the site and eventually built a ramp made of dirt and rocks to try to get to the Jews. Ben Yair convinced the 960 members of the community that it was better to commit suicide rather than become Roman slaves. When the Romans finally reached the crest, only two women and five children remained.

If you are intrigued by the story of Masada, feel free to read more online AND see the 1981 mini-series staring Peter O’Toole (trailer below)

a view from the cable car about to head up 1,300 feet to Masada

a view from the cable car about to head up 1,300 feet to Masada

there's a path that leads to the top as well . . . if you don't feel like riding the cable car . . . it takes about 45 minutes to walk up

there’s a path that leads to the top as well . . . if you don’t feel like riding the cable car . . . it takes about 45 minutes to walk up

the ruins at Masada are extensive . . . this is the remains of the "downtown" area where many stores and shops would have been

the ruins at Masada are extensive . . . this is the remains of the “downtown” area where many stores and shops would have been

there are mosaics everywhere . . . these are in what would have been Herod's bath house

there are mosaics everywhere . . . these are in what would have been Herod’s bath house

one of Herod's bathtubs . . . he wasn't in it, so it's ok to look

one of Herod’s bathtubs . . . he wasn’t in it, so it’s ok to look

this is Herod's sauna, or steam room. the floor was elevated, with the hot water down at the base of these columns (which supported the floor. the steam from the hot water then traveled up the hollow pipes made of stone to create a steamy place to sit and relax. remember, this place was built in 37 BC!

this is Herod’s sauna, or steam room. the floor was elevated, with the hot water down at the base of these columns (which supported the floor). the steam from the hot water then traveled up the hollow pipes made of stone at the edge of the floor against the wall to create a steamy place to sit and relax. remember, this place was built in 37 BC!

Herod might have been "Great" but he certainly wasn't tall . . . Fr. Ralph had to duck to get into the bathhouse . . .

Herod might have been “Great” but he certainly wasn’t tall . . . Fr. Ralph had to duck to get into the bathhouse . . .

Aran didn't . . .

Aran didn’t . . .

hundreds of years after Masada was abandoned by the Roman Empire, a group of Byzantine monks discovered it and built a church there

hundreds of years after Masada was abandoned by the Roman Empire, a group of Byzantine monks discovered it and built a church there

We all stepped into a large cable car that took us up the side of the mountain. From there, we were able to roam the ruins of the fortress that included evidence of a synagogue, baths, a palace and water cisterns. Several of us in our pilgrimage group admitted we had never heard of the place or its historical significance.

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Fr. Kamal, teaching us at Qumran

We weren’t finished with exploring history on this Monday. Several miles north of Masada, also west of the Dead Sea, is Qumran. A breakaway sect called the Essenes lived and studied there for two centuries, a period that covered Jesus’ time on earth. The Essenes were dispersed in 66 A.D. by the Romans but stored ancient scrolls in the caves that were in the side of the rocky cliffs.

there, that large cave, that's the one that started the whole saga of the Dead Sea Scrolls

there, that large cave, that’s the one that started the whole saga of the Dead Sea Scrolls

in that small cave near Fr. Kamal's hand, were found every single scroll of all the books of the Old Testament, except one (Esther). this is far and away the most incredible archeological/biblical find in history

in that small cave near Fr. Kamal’s hand, were found every single scroll of all the books of the Old Testament, except one (Esther). this is far and away the most incredible archeological/biblical find in history

In 1947, Bedouin shepherds found seven of these scrolls in one of the caves, sparking a massive excavation that found additional scrolls. They became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls that shed considerable light on the culture of the 1st Century as well as gave us wonderful confirmation that the scriptures we have today, in the 21st century, are as close to the original texts as they can possibly be.

they're still digging and finding things at Qumran

they’re still digging and finding things at Qumran

Excavation continues at the site.

the beach at the Dead Sea

the beach at the Dead Sea

Leslie Kohler and Cam Ross floating

Leslie Kohler and Cam Ross floating

Lyn Ross enjoy the soothing salts and minerals in the water

Lyn Ross enjoying the soothing salts and minerals in the water

Fr. Richard Schaal, waving whilst effortlessly remaining on top of the water

Fr. Richard Schaal, waving whilst effortlessly remaining on top of the water

Michele and Jon Whitford and Aran Walter, all proving that you literally need to do NOTHING in order to float on the Dead Sea

Michele and Jon Whitford and Aran Walter, all proving that you literally need to do NOTHING in order to float on the Dead Sea

We drove a short distance north to a small community near the northwest corner of the Dead Sea, and several members of our group took advantage of the invitation to float in the sea. Its high salt content – 33.7 percent – gives bathers a buoyant experience. One does not swim in the Dead Sea, one floats.  Because of the massive amount of salt and minerals showers were recommended for all.

the Dead Sea is shrinking by more than 3 feet a year. take special note of the southern end. it is possible today, to actually walk across the Dead Sea on dry land as the water levels have gotten so low. :-(

the Dead Sea is shrinking by more than 3 feet a year. take special note of the southern end. it is possible today, to actually walk across the Dead Sea on dry land as the water levels have gotten so low. 😦

It is, however, sad to note that because of policies and projects supported by the Israeli government, the Dead Sea is dying.  Water is being siphoned off from the Sea of Galilee which means less water travels down the Jordan River.  The Dead Sea loses more than 1 meter of depth each year.

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Tuesday promises a different type of experience. We will head south to the Israeli settlement Efrata in the West Bank near Bethlehem that was established in 1983 to hear from an Israeli settler there. We will also go to the Dheisheh Refugee Camp for Palestinians displaced by the Israeli occupation to hear from one of the refugees.  More than ever, we ask that you

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Separation Is Not Of God…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

because every blog about The Holy Lands should have some geese in it

because every blog about The Holy Lands should have some geese in it

We were made quite aware of separation on our Sunday in Israel.

the illegal Separation Wall in the West Bank

the illegal Separation Wall in the West Bank

So much separation: The walls that separate the Jewish settlements in the West Band from the rest of the Israeli occupied Palestinian lands, the separation of the Samaritans from the Jews. Fr. Kamal reminded us of the recent statement by Pope Francis that the area needs to build bridges, not walls.

the city of Nablus

the city of Nablus

The Church of the Samaritan Woman

The Church of the Samaritan Woman

inside the Samaritan Woman church . . . all paintings and icons were done by one person, The Holy Father Justin

inside the Samaritan Woman church . . . all paintings, icons, and mosaics were done by one person, The Holy Father Justin

stunning

stunning

We left our hotel at 7:30 a.m. and headed north toward the city of Nablus, part of the West Bank and a 90-minute drive from Jerusalem. It’s the home of 90,000 Palestinian refugees. Our first stop was at the Samaritan Woman Church, built in 1914, that was the site of Jacob’s Well.  The well is where Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman and told her she had five husbands and the man she was currently with was not her husband. (John 4:1-42) The significance of the conversation was that Samaritans were looked down upon by Jews but Jesus was there for all nations.  Once again, Jesus is calling all people, not just chosen ones.  He is proclaiming a Kingdom, not a promised piece of land.  For Christians, to follow Jesus is to embrace these things.

down towards Jacob's well

down towards Jacob’s well

Fr. Kamal teaching at Jacob's well

Fr. Kamal teaching at Jacob’s well

Deacon Michele Whitford reads from John's Gospel about the Samaritan Woman at the well . . . at the well in the Samaritan Woman's church

Deacon Michele Whitford reads from John’s Gospel about the Samaritan Woman at the well . . . at the well in the Samaritan Woman’s church

Aran drinking the sweet clear water from Jacob's well

Aran drinking the sweet clear water from Jacob’s well

The well is beneath the church and we were able to crowd around it. Fr Kammal dropped cupfulls of water down the 40 meters, then asked women in our group to turn the crank and lower a pail to the water level. When it was brought to the surface, the pail was full of clear water from the spring. Several of us took a drink. Aran took video of Fr. Kamal pouring the water but it was posted to his snapchat which we can’t make work on this blog.  However, here’s footage of Fr. Ralph doing the same thing 3 years ago on their 2012 pilgrimage.

part of the steps destroyed by the bomb throw by Israeli settlers

part of the steps destroyed by the bomb throw by Israeli settlers

a school for Palestinian refugee children

a school for Palestinian refugee children

Walking down the steps from the church’s main floor, we were shown a shattered concrete step where a bomb, placed there by a Jewish extremist, exploded and injured a nun. Across the street was a refuges school sponsored by the United Nations in which boys and girls are taught separately.

a Samaritan priest shows us a copy of their Torah. They have an older one . . . it's 3,617 years old.

a Samaritan priest shows us a copy of their Torah. They have an older one . . . it’s 3,617 years old.

a fascinating man and a fascinating faith

a fascinating man and a fascinating faith

From there, we drove up a winding road to the top of Mount Gerizim to the temple of the Samaritans. Approximately 350 Samaritans, half of the number living in Israel, reside in the Mount Gerizim community. A Samaritan priest met us and took us into the temple, where we sat in front on the Torah. With our guide, Brishara, helping to translate, he explained the Samaritan tradition.

an amazing lunch . . . we ate chicken that had been cooked for 2 hours in a hole in the ground

an amazing lunch . . . we ate chicken that had been cooked for 2 hours in a hole in the ground

shopping and walking in The Old City

shopping and walking in The Old City

beautiful fabrics in the Muslim quarter of The Old City

beautiful fabrics in the Muslim quarter of The Old City

Lunch was in Nablus, (see Aran’s video here) then we bused back to Jerusalem, arriving in time for some to do some shopping.  Several members of our group ventured into The Old City, bought some falafel, some spices, some fabrics, and several other fun things for friends and family.

St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem

St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem

Evening Prayer

Evening Prayer

Before dinner, several folks attended Evening Prayer at St. George’s Anglican/Episcopal Cathedral in Jerusalem.  The music, the prayers, the liturgy, it all had a wonderful familiarity.  And yet, praying the Litany for Peace in an area of the world that desperately needs it, somehow has a much different feel.  On a day of being made aware of separations, we ended it with this simple prayer, posted at the back of the Cathedral . . .

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The Dead Sea awaits us Monday.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

A Spring, A Tree, The Wilderness, and A Dead Man…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

Fr. Richard Schaal, wearing his new kufiyeh

Fr. Richard Schaal, wearing his new kufiyeh

A day that began in Nazareth and ended in Jerusalem, with so much in between.

Aran and Fr. Kamal

Aran and Fr. Kamal

It started with a breakfast conversation with Father Kamal when one of our pilgrims noted that Western theology often seems transactional – in order for God to do something, we must do something.  Or, when we sin, God moves away and is separated from us.  So what happens when we sin, Fr. Kamal was asked. His answer? “God comes closer, but He suffers.”

Fr. Kamal, teaching us at Nabot's Field from 1 Kings 21

Fr. Kamal, teaching us at Nabot’s Field from 1 Kings 21

The Jezreel Valley today

The Jezreel Valley today

We pulled away from our guest house at 7:30 am, beginning along the path that Jesus took on his last journey to Jerusalem. Our first stop was the site of Nabot’s vineyard in the Jezreel Valley that Ahab and Jezebel took from him (1 Kings 21). We passed close to Shechem, where Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, known to many today as the story of “Joseph and the Technicolored Dreamboat.” (Genesis 37:12-36) This is also the plain upon which many battles have taken place throughout the centuries, including David against the Philistines (1 Samuel 17), and Gideon against the Midianites (Judges 7).

Fr. Kamal, always teaching

Fr. Kamal, always teaching

It was this site that Fr. Kamal talked about the duty of the church to face up to abuses of power. Asked if he meant the church should defy authority, he replied, “I don’t say defy, I say remind, to see justice implemented.”

Elijah's Spring in Jericho, still there today

Elijah’s Spring in Jericho, still there today

listening to Fr. Kamal and the flowing waters of Elijah's Spring

listening to Fr. Kamal and the flowing waters of Elijah’s Spring

We drove on to Jericho, which boasts having the longest continuous human presence of any city in the world.  Records have humans living there going back more than 10,000 years (older than some people believe the world to be).  In Jericho we stopped at Elijah’s Spring which Elisha blessed (2 Kings 2:19-22) and still runs today. We stopped and watched those waters flow. Interestingly enough, every 25 – 30 years, the spring runs bitter for about 2 – 3 days and then returns to the sweet water.  No one knows why.

Fr. Kamal teaching about the Mount of Temptations, in the shadow of the Mount of Temptations in Jericho

Fr. Kamal teaching about the Mount of Temptations, in the shadow of the Mount of Temptations in Jericho

Jericho is also near the Mount of Temptation where Jesus was tempted three times by the devil (Matthew 4:1-11). It led to a teaching by Fr. Kamal that temptation is not something to be avoided.  Rather, temptations are there for us to use the energy that God has given us in a positive way.  We can, of course, also use that energy in destructive ways.  But Fr. Kamal challenged us to see the ways in which we can use that energy in positive and transforming ways.

Fr. Kamal teaching from the scriptures about the Essens, the scribes of the ancient scriptures

Fr. Kamal teaching from the scriptures about the Essenes, the scribes of the ancient scriptures

He gave us a teaching on the Essenes who believed that the Messiah would come from its community and would help the blind to see and the lame to walk. Of course, it was Jesus who healed a blind man on his journey to Jerusalem through Jericho (Luke 18:35-43), but because he did not fit their image of what the Messiah was to be, they did not receive him.

a giant sycamore tree in Jericho today

a giant sycamore tree in Jericho today

Jericho is also on the route that Joshua took when he entered the Promised Land. No walls from the ancient city of Jericho were ever found Fr. Kamal told us. It is also where Zacchaeus, the tax collector, climbed the sycamore tree to be able to see and hear Jesus. When Christ called him down from the tree and went to his house, he was telling the people that salvation was for all people, not just one group of chosen people.  Jesus was inviting us to think about God’s Kingdom, and not a specific piece of land, or even A Promised Land.  God’s Kingdom does away with this kind of thinking. We did see a sycamore tree but not THAT one.

lunch in Jericho

lunch in Jericho

We had lunch in an outdoor veranda in Jericho, then continued toward Jerusalem.

the Judean wilderness

the Judean wilderness

walking in the wilderness

walking in the wilderness

Fr. Kamal, teaching from the wilderness about Jesus being in the wilderness

Fr. Kamal, teaching from the wilderness about Jesus being in the wilderness

St. George's Greek Orthodox Monastery

St. George’s Greek Orthodox Monastery

incredible

incredible

On the way, we drove through the Wilderness, the beautiful hills and valleys. It included a stop at Wadi Qelt to gaze at St. George’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, a sixth-century cliff-hanging complex of gardens and chapel. To get to our viewing spot high above the monastery, we had to walk a short distance along the edge of a cliff. There were no incidents.

Fr. Kamal teaching about Lazarus coming out of the tomb, at the site of Lazarus' tomb

Fr. Kamal teaching about Lazarus coming out of the tomb, at the site of Lazarus’ tomb

THE tomb. as in, the actual tomb that Lazarus came out of

THE tomb. as in, the actual tomb that Lazarus came out of

We drove on into the village of Bethany in the West Bank, where Palestinians are prevented from entering Jerusalem because of the Separation Wall. It was in Bethany that Jesus visited Martha and Mary, and raised their brother, Lazarus, from the dead (John 11). We entered the Lazarus Church and saw the empty tomb that historians, archeologists, and church theologians agree was THE tomb of Lazarus.

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We haven’t experienced any direct evidence of the tension between Israelis and Palestinians, but physical barriers and military checkpoints are present in many places. Also present at every stop are merchants trying to sell their goods of postcards, scarves, jewelry and handbags. We were back at the Golden Walls Hotel in Jerusalem by 5:30 p.m.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Many Different Heights…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

this flower is called "crown of thorns" and served as a foreshadowing of our return to Jerusalem tomorrow

this flower is called “crown of thorns” and served as a foreshadowing of our return to Jerusalem tomorrow

Friday’s journey included a political reminder earlier in the day and ended with a powerful spiritual confirmation later.

near the closed border between Israel and Lebanon

near the closed border between Israel and Lebanon

looking south from the Golan Heights

looking south from the Golan Heights

We left the guest house in Nazareth at 7:30 a.m. and headed as far north as the Israeli border permitted. It took us to the borders of Lebanon and Syria, two countries without diplomatic relations with Israel. Our path would include the Golan Heights, which was Syrian property until taken over by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War. It remains Israel-occupied land.

the head of the Jordan River at Caesarea Philippi

the head of the Jordan River at Caesarea Philippi

Fr. Richard Schaal and Fr. Ralph Osborne stoop down to collect water for future baptisms from the beginning of The Jordan River

Fr. Richard Schaal and Fr. Ralph Osborne stoop down to collect water for future baptisms from the beginning of The Jordan River

Our first stop was at Caesarea Philippi at the base of Mt. Hermon and the site of one of the largest springs feeding the Jordan River. As a result, the area is more fertile than most of the Israel we had seen so far.

the place where Jesus invited his disciples to identify him as the Son of the LIVING God took place at an ancient temple to many other gods of that time, both Greek, and Roman

the place where Jesus invited his disciples to identify him as the Son of the LIVING God took place at an ancient temple to many other gods of that time, both Greek, and Roman

all the niches you see in the rock face were dedicated to various gods of the time

all the niches you see in the rock face were dedicated to various gods of the time

Near the springs at Banias, we toured the Temple of Pan, and the remains of an ancient city founded sometime after the conquest by Alexander the Great and inhabited until 1967.

The Golan Heights

The Golan Heights

the border between Syria and Israeli occupied Syrian lands

the border between Syria and Israeli occupied Syrian lands

so many wonderful people in this world that we've never heard of before

so many wonderful people in this world that we’ve never heard of before

Michele and Jon Whitford sharing some shrak (Bedouin bread) filled with chocolate spread . . . they are too cute!

Michele and Jon Whitford sharing some shrak (Bedouin bread) filled with chocolate spread . . . they are too cute!

Driving from there through the Golan Heights, we were told that minefields that had been placed during the 1967 war had to be cleared by using cows. We stopped to look into Syria from a distance, always under the watchful eye of Israeli security. Bishara, our guide, said anyone with an Israel stamp on his passport would not be allowed to enter either Lebanon or Syria. We weren’t thinking of going there anyway. We were instructed to never take pictures of any Israeli security facilities.  We also stopped at a wonderful fruit and vegetable market inhabited by the beautiful Druze people.

it's called St. Peter's fish by the locals but it's actually Tilapia . . . it was delicious!

it’s called St. Peter’s fish by the locals but it’s actually Tilapia . . . it was delicious!

We left the Golan Heights and drove south and back to the Sea of Galilee, stopping for lunch at the same place we had eaten the day before. That set us up for our afternoon visit to Mount Tabor.

a Byzantine icon of Jesus' transfiguration

a Byzantine icon of Jesus’ transfiguration

the first eucharist, where divine and human come together, and we become what we receive . . . the Body of Christ

the first eucharist, where divine and human come together, and we become what we receive . . . the Body of Christ

This is where Jesus brought disciples Peter, James and John to be witnesses to his Transfiguration (see Matthew 17:1-13). We were gifted with a beautiful meditation by Fr. Kamal, who first explained why the transfiguration was necessary – certainly leaving no doubt among the disciples that he was the Son of God – then said that the encounter of the human with the divine is our transfiguration. His example was Eucharist where he said we become what we receive, the body and blood of Christ.  Fr. Kamal’s paraphrase of Luke 9:28-35: “This is my son. Listen to Him.”

The Church of the Transfiguration

The Church of the Transfiguration

inside the transfiguration church

inside the transfiguration church

we packed into little mini-busses to get up to Mount Tabor

we packed into little mini-busses to get up to Mount Tabor

The Church of the Transfiguration is the centerpiece of the site, located 500 meters above the valley. To get there, we parked our bus at the foot of the hill, and were driven – rapidly – up the twisting road that included a series of hairpin curves – in smaller vans. We then drove back for our final night in Nazareth.

a cloudy and misty view from the top of Mount Tabor, site of the transfiguration of Jesus

a cloudy and misty view from the top of Mount Tabor, site of the transfiguration of Jesus

Saturday will take us to Jericho, the Judean wilderness, the Mount of Temptation, and Bethany before return to Jerusalem, which will be our headquarters for the final week of our pilgrimage. As we return there, we continue to ask everyone to

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Around, Near, and On The Sea…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

too good not to share

too good not to share

After breakfast at the guest house in Nazareth, we left for the day’s adventures at 7:30 a.m., heading northeast toward the Sea of Galilee. The route took us through Cana and, of course, there was a First Miracle wine shop on the main street.

the women of our group, standing in a chapel and center dedicated to the woman who followed Jesus

the women of our group, standing in a chapel and center dedicated to the woman who followed Jesus

1st century synagogue at Magdala

1st century synagogue at Magdala

our group, learning in Magdala

our group, learning in Magdala

Our first stop was at the shore of the sea, where we visited the city of Magdala, which is where Mary Magdalene was from. Fr. Kamal Farah, our teacher, brought us to a center and chapel focused on the contributions of women in the Body of Christ.  All the women in our group gathered for a photo. Near the center was the evidence of excavation of a 1st century synagogue. It was first discovered only nine years ago.

The Church of the Beatitudes

The Church of the Beatitudes

front the front

front the front

the view of The Sea of Galilee from The Church of the Beatitudes

the view of The Sea of Galilee from The Church of the Beatitudes

Fr. Kamal, doing what he does best: teaching, and opening the scriptures

Fr. Kamal, doing what he does best: teaching, and opening the scriptures

We turned north along the west coast of the sea to a hill called the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus is believed to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount. We read the beatitudes at a small park there and Fr. Kamal provided us with a beautiful insight into Jesus’ longest recorded teaching. Kamal talked about the salt of the earth reference that is a metaphor for taste, preservation, and health. Then he said the light of the world metaphor tells us that, just as in a thunder storm, the light comes first, then the sound. He used the example of lightning being seen before the noise of thunder, pointing out that many humans fail to wait for the light (knowledge) before speaking.

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Church of the Multiplication

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inside the Multiplication Church

The next stop up the coast was at Tabgha, site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. It was also the fourth appearance of Jesus after the crucifixion.

fire damage to the Church of the Multiplication at the hands of Israeli students

fire damage to the Church of the Multiplication at the hands of Israeli students

more damage

more damage

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the following photos are on display at The Church of the Multiplication and they show the destruction both during and the morning after the terrorist attack by Israeli students

the following photos are on display at The Church of the Multiplication and they show the destruction both during and the morning after the terrorist attack by Israeli students

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This is also the site where, 3 months ago, the church was badly damaged by religious extremists (aka terrorists).  The group of 16 Israeli Jewish students responsible were arrested, but then released.

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yes Jesus was born in Bethlehem and he was raised in Nazareth, but he spent the vast majority of his ministry in and around Capernaum

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the synagogue in Capernaum where we read from John 6:53-59

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hearing the words of Jesus being read in the place where he said them . . . yeah

Peter's house. the archeological find is astounding because it contains evidence that this house was also used as a church, which would make it the first Christian church in the world. Ever.

Peter’s house. the archeological find is astounding because it contains evidence that this house was also used as a church, which would make it the first Christian church in the world. Ever.

the beautiful church build ABOVE the ruins of Peter's house

the beautiful church build ABOVE the ruins of Peter’s house

at the center of the church is a viewing space where you can look down into Peter's house

at the center of the church is a viewing space where you can look down into Peter’s house

Then to Capernaum, the city at the northwest corner of the sea where Jesus chose to do a lot of his public ministry. It is located close to the village of Bethsaida where apostles Peter, Andrew, James and John were from, and where he healed the slave of a Roman centurion. Ruins of the synagogue where Jesus preached were first discovered in 1866. Also found were the ruins of Peter’s house.

it's called St. Peter's fish by the locals but it's actually Tilapia . . . it was delicious!

it’s called St. Peter’s fish by the locals but it’s actually Tilapia . . . it was delicious!

We had a late lunch south of Capernaum in a seaside restaurant, most of us eating the fried tilapia that was served with head and all.

a boat, like the one we rode upon

a boat, like the one we rode upon

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it was a beautiful evening

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together…

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on the Sea of Galilee

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getting scruffier by the minute

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Tony, meditating on our reading from Matthew 14:22-33

Bishara

Bishara

sunset over the Sea of Galilee

sunset over the Sea of Galilee

The sea had been pretty choppy in the morning so our guide, Bishara, made arrangements for us to go out on the sea is a wooden boat that afternoon when things had calmed. This is where Jesus walked to his disciples on water, and where he told them what side of the boat to fish. Fr. Ralph read the scripture passage (Matthew 8:22-33) and we all sat in meditative silence for several minutes.

nazareth traffic

It was time to return to Nazareth but the usual 45-minute journey took almost two hours because of the Nazareth traffic. Friday will be spent at Caesarea Philippi near the northern border where we’ll see the Jordan River springs, visit the Golan Heights and, finally, go to Mount Tabor, site of the Transfiguration, before returning to Nazareth for one more night.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

The Sea, The Proposal, The Descent…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

prayers for Tony's leg, please

prayers for Tony’s leg, please

You get to hear from Aran today.  As a result, first and foremost, we ask your prayers for Tony, who has an infection or something going on with his lower leg. It IS getting better but it is still quite painful for him.  He’s hobbling around and gutting this once in a lifetime trip out.  But prayer is more powerful than the antibiotics he’s on.  So please, do pray for healing for Tony Walter.  Thanks.

keisaria, caesarea,The Time Tower, 0679

Our day began in Jerusalem but that didn’t last long as we loaded onto our bus, driven by the always steady handed Ahmed, and we headed west to Caesarea Maritima.  This was a site that, 3 years ago, we visited only briefly.  Today, we spent almost 2 hours there.  And oh, what a treat.

looking towards the Mediterranean Sea from the top of the amphitheater

looking towards the Mediterranean Sea from the top of the amphitheater

good looking fella

good looking fella . . . or is it scruffy looking?

the deep water port was conceived of my Herod the Great and served as a port for hundreds of years under many different occupying empires

the deep water port was conceived of my Herod the Great and served as a port for hundreds of years under many different occupying empires

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the possible place where Paul appealed to Caesar

part of the Crusader's fort from the 12th century

part of the Crusader’s fort from the 12th century

I’ll let you learn about Caesarea Maritima by clicking on the name there but suffice today, this place has loads of history and figures prominently in the scriptures as it is where Peter goes in Acts 10 after The Spirit of God leads him to “break the rules” of his religion and culture in order to spread the news of Jesus. It is also the place where Paul, in Acts 25, appeals to have his life spared by being sent to Rome to speak directly to Caesar himself.

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From there we stopped briefly at the far northern side of Caesarea Maritima to view the aqueducts that stretched for 17 miles in order to bring fresh water from Mount Carmel down to this flourishing seaport town.

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that’s dust and wind in the air

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hazy, to say the least

Back on the bus we went and drove to Nazareth.  The weather began to turn a bit icky as the winds increased and really stirred up the dust and sand in that region.  We stopped at two very high points of Nazareth to get a view but it was oh so windy and oh so dusty that the views weren’t so good.  We may return there before we head back to Jerusalem on Saturday.

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down into the grotto to see Mary’s Well

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difficult to see but there is water flowing up from those rock and there has been for thousands of years

The rest of our day was focused on Mary, the mother of Jesus.  We visited The Synagogue Church, which is a Greek Orthodox Church, and the site of Mary’s Well.  This was the place where Mary (as well as the rest of the women in Nazareth) would have come for water each morning.  The spring is still there, flowing strong.  You can touch and drink the water as it is fresh, clean, clear, and even a bit sweet.

oh you know, just walking the streets in Nazareth

oh you know, just walking the streets in Nazareth

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so….

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many…..

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spices!!

We then walked the streets of Nazareth (you know, like you do) as Mary would have, perhaps in her day, and stopped at one of the oldest spice shops in all of The Holy Lands, the Elbabour Galilee Mill.  Seriously an unreal and incredible experience.  You can find them online (and they ship to the USA) at www.elbabour-shop.com

The Church of the Annunciation

The Church of the Annunciation

those aren't steps leading down. seriously, it's flat. the way the tile is laid makes it look like steps.

those aren’t steps. seriously, it’s flat. the way the tile is laid makes it look like steps.

the massive upper sanctuary

the massive upper sanctuary

the lower sanctuary with the grotto in the back ground

the lower sanctuary with the grotto in the back ground

Our walk through Nazareth continued and we made our way to The Church of the Annunciation.  This is the spot where Mary was visited by the angel Gabrielle.  Icons of Mary from more than 100 countries line the walls and exterior of this amazing church.  Inside are two massive levels, the lower of which contains a grotto (little basement) dedicated to, what we believe to be, very close to the place where God proposed to Mary.

the grotto, where Mary was proposed to by the angel

the grotto, where Mary was proposed to by the angel

Yes, proposed.  As we heard Fr. Kamal teach us today: there are two things that can never be forced . . . faith, and love.  Mary was not forced to do this.  God did not make her have a child.  It was a proposal.  And Mary did not say “yes” to the proposal.  She questioned it.  She wrestled with the proposal God had made.  The cultural and scriptural result of becoming pregnant before she and Joseph were married was being stoned to death and, just as bad, her family being shamed (see Deuteronomy 22).  But Mary took the risk.  She trusted.  As Fr. Kamal said today, “Trust is about the future.  We do not trust in the past.  Trust means future.”  For us today, the implications are as complicated as it was in Mary’s time.  How can we trust God’s future?  How do we live out that trust?  How do we, as Mary did, take the risk and ignore the cultural or even scriptural result?

Sister Stephania and Mother Superior of The Sisters of Nazareth

Sister Stephania and Mother Superior of The Sisters of Nazareth

Finally, we made our way to The Sisters of Nazareth.  We were treated to something that very few people who visit The Holy Lands ever get to see.

down one level...

down one level…

down two levels...

down two levels…

down a third level...

down a third level…

down a fourth and final level...

down a fourth and final level…

Sister Stephania lead the way down…

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a 1st century chapel

a 1st century house

a 1st century house

a 1st century tomb (see the round stone?)

a 1st century tomb (see the round stone?)

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you have to bend over to look in

Beneath the convent has been found a 1st century chapel, and, more importantly, a 1st century house AND tomb.  1st century is the time of Jesus. Nazareth is where he grew up as a child.  Nazareth had only about 50 – 60 families living in it at that time.  In the Jewish culture, everyone knew one another, prayed together, shopped together, went to school together, etc.  We can’t know, and don’t know, if this house was “THE HOUSE” where Jesus lived. But he most assuredly would have known who lived there.  Perhaps he even visited some friends of his there.  Whatever the case, the above photos REALLY give us a sense into what a 1st century tomb looked like.  The image of a HUGE stone and big entrance is shattered.  You have to, as the bible references in John 20, bend over to look into a 1st century tomb.

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the beautiful grotto chapel where we had our evening eucharist

Our day ended with dinner and The Eucharist at our new dwelling, The Betharram Guest House in Nazareth.  We are filled and satisfied and well and whole.  Continue your prayers for us and, as always,

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Today Was Mother’s Day…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist

Mary, the mother of Jesus and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist

Our second full day in Jerusalem was labeled “Mother’s Day” for good reason.

Elizabeth's & Mary's Spring in Ein Karem, the hometown of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist

Elizabeth’s & Mary’s Spring in Ein Karem, the hometown of Elizabeth, Zechariah, and John the Baptist

our teacher, Fr. Kamal, says that it should also be called Elizabeth's Spring

our teacher, Fr. Kamal, says that it should also be called Elizabeth’s Spring

After breakfast, we left our hotel at 8 a.m. and drove immediately west of Jerusalem to the village of Ein Kerem, the hometown of John the Baptist and his parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. It was a hilly area, like most of the topography here. We were let out of our bus and made our way to “Mary’s Spring”, a place where Elizabeth and the other women of the villiage would have come to draw water and take it back to their homes.  As Fr. Kamal would say, “no gossip ever took place here”. 😉

up, up, up the hillside to the Church of the Visitation

up, up, up the hillside to the Church of the Visitation

the tower at The Church of the Visitation

the tower at The Church of the Visitation

the lower chapel of The Church of the Visitation

the lower chapel of The Church of the Visitation

the main sanctuary of The Church of the Visitation

the main sanctuary of The Church of the Visitation

We then turned and walked up a steep hill to the Church of the Visitation.  The church was built on the site of the home of John the Baptist’s parents, Elizabeth and Zechariah. It was there that the Virgin Mary visited her cousin Elizabeth, who was pregnant with the baby that would be named John. This was also the place where Elizabeth would have hidden John from the Roman soldiers during the slaughter of the innocents at the command of King Herod.

Fr. Kamal Farah

Fr. Kamal Farah

This was also the site where Mary recited her song of praise, the Magnificat. Outside the church are large posters with the Magnificat translated into scores of languages.  Our incredible teacher, Fr. Kamal, gave a brilliant teaching on the ways in which The Magnificat is actually her response and greeting to all three of her hosts in Ein Karem.  Elizabeth, Zechariah, and the unborn infant John.  Truly, a thing of beauty.

Packer fans are everywhere

Packer fans are everywhere

A small world sidelight: A group of pilgrims from Nigeria were also at the Church of the Visitation and one of them was wearing a Charles Woodson Green Bay Packers throwback jersey.

The Church of John the Baptist (as seen from The Church of the Visitation)

The Church of John the Baptist (as seen from The Church of the Visitation)

From there, we walked back down the hill and then up the neighboring hillside to the Church of Saint John the Baptist. This was built on the site where it was believed that John the Baptist would have been born.  Interestingly enough, this church was one of only 2 churches in Jerusalem that were not destroyed by the Persian invasion in 614 AD.  The reason being, the Koran mentions both John the Baptist and his father, Zechariah.  The Muslims who came not only didn’t destroy it, but honored and respected the church as a place of worship.  The other church, The Church of the Nativity, where Jesus was born.

the city on the hill in the distance is Bethlehem . . . and in front of it, the Separation Wall

the city on the hill in the distance is Bethlehem . . . and in front of it, the Separation Wall

We set out by bus for Bethlehem, about 25 minutes away, but stopped briefly on a hillside on the West Bank, which is Palestinian territory, occupied by Israel.  From there we could view Bethlehem and the Separation Wall that weaves randomly through the West Bank.

some caves, near the fields of Boaz, where some shepherds were keeping their sheep

some caves, near the fields of Boaz, where some shepherds were keeping their sheep

these caves are huge

these caves are huge

the fields above the caves

the fields above the caves

The weather was turning cloudy so Bishara Khoury, our guide, decided to have us visit The Shepherds’ Field and caves where shepherds tended the sheep when they saw the star that signaled the birth of Jesus. We walked into beautiful caves where the shepherds lived with their sheep as well as walked through the fields of Boaz, yes, Boaz, from the Book of Ruth.  It was in those fields that the shepherds were keeping their sheep.

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We continued into Bethlehem and had lunch on a dish called Maklobah – rice with chicken and vegetables, and very tasty. It followed salad and hummus.

O Little Town of Bethlehem (which means House of Bread)

O Little Town of Bethlehem (which means House of Bread)

the streets of Bethlehem

the streets of Bethlehem

Our bus was parked and we walked up the hill along the streets of Bethlehem, which, for many of us, did not fit the image we had in our heads.

down into the grotto at The Church of the Nativity

down into the grotto at The Church of the Nativity

Then to the highlight of the day for many of us: the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where historians believe that Jesus was born. The church was built in the 6thCentury after the first church built there was destroyed in the Samaritan Revolt.

the traditional site where Jesus' birth took place

the traditional site where Jesus’ birth took place

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a 14-point silver star is embedded in the floor on “the spot”

the manger

the manger

We entered the church and were led to narrow steps that led us down to the place that is believed to be where Jesus was born. Fr. Kamal said there is more solid evidence to indicate where the manger was in the grotto but there is a spot nearby identified by a 14-point star to show where the birth took place.

in the chapel of St. Jerome, which is in the lowest level of The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

in the chapel of St. Jerome, which is in the lowest level of The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

We then twisted and turned and descended some more and came to a chapel in the Church of the Nativity which is named for Saint Jerome.  Jerome was a pilgrim to the Holy Lands, like us, who upon reaching Jerusalem, felt the fall of God to translate the scriptures into a language people could understand.  However, in order to do so, he spent 36 years in Bethlehem learning the biblical languages of Hebrew, Greek, and Syriac Aramaic.  He eventually completed the translation into Latin and it remained valid in the Roman Catholic Church until Vatican II in 1965.

bethlehem gift shop

It was then time to be tourists and we spent time in a gift shop near the church before returning to the bus and going back to our Jerusalem hotel.

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We will relocated for the next three nights, going first to Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean Sea, then on to Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum, and Jericho.  Pray for us as we travel, and as always,

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

From up high, to down low, and back up…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

far left: Mount of Olives, moving down & right: Garden of Gethsemane, further down & right: Kindron Valley, moving up & right, the Temple Mount, further up & right, Calvary

far left: Mount of Olives, moving down & right: Garden of Gethsemane, further down & right: Kindron Valley, moving up & right, the Temple Mount, further up & right, Calvary

I have considerable experience with the spoken, written and printed word. Today, in Jerusalem, was a reminder that none of them can adequately translate the pilgrimage experience we had in the Holy City. Several places of Jesus’ final days in Jerusalem, known to most of us only through printed Scripture, Sunday sermons or children’s pageants, became unquestioned reality before our eyes on a beautiful day in Israel. The Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, Mt. Zion, King David’s Tomb, St. Peter’s Church.

Fr. Kamal Farah, teaching us from The Mount of Olives

Fr. Kamal Farah, teaching us from The Mount of Olives

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a view of the Mount of Olives from Jerusalem. the Garden of Gethsemane is immediately to the left of the church with the arches and pillars.

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above ground tombs for the Jewish people on The Mount of Olives

Our first one-day spiritual journey began on the Mount of Olives (photos above) and we were mesmerized by the teaching of Fr. Kamal Farah that was facilitated by a wireless microphone that allowed us to hear him through individual ear phones. From the crest of the Mount of Olives, we had a spectacular view of the city. It was this site that was David’s route in his escape from Absalom, where Jesus wept for Jerusalem, where he came on the night of his betrayal, and where he ascended to heaven. On the hillside are the above-ground tombs of Jewish residents of long ago.

walking down the Mount of Olives

walking down the Mount of Olives

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descending to Mary’s Tomb

From there we walked down a steep road to the Church of the Sepulcher of Saint Mary where it is believed in many traditions that the Virgin Mary was buried. The Roman Catholic faith teaches that Mary was raised to heaven before a natural death – the Assumption.

continuing the walk down The Mount of Olives

continuing the walk down The Mount of Olives

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our fellow pilgrims from Nigeria

Walking down the steep hill, we followed a brightly-clothed group from Nigeria who were singing beautifully. Fr. Kamal explained that every Nigerian is allowed to make one lifetime visit to Jerusalem paid by Israel in exchange for the oil provided by Nigeria.

this is actually one olive tree with five separate trunks. it has been tested and is over 2,000 years old, dating back to the time of Jesus

this is actually one olive tree with five separate trunks. it has been tested and is over 2,000 years old, dating back to the time of Jesus

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We then walked a short distance to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed and his disciples slept the night before his crucifixion. It’s a relatively small area with several olive trees, one that archeologists date to the time of Christ.

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schwarma

Lunch at a downtown Jerusalem restaurant was a wrap that included chicken, onions and vegetables.  Schwarma is good.

celebrating the Eucharist at the site where Peter denied Christ

celebrating the Eucharist at the site where Peter denied Christ

Fr. Ralph Osborne in a beautiful setting

Fr. Ralph Osborne in a beautiful setting

We then drove to Mt. Zion, stopping first at St. Peter’s Church in Gallicantu to celebrate Eucharist. Fr. Ralph Osborne celebrated in a chapel of the church.

several cells in the dungeon below The High Priest's House

several cells in the dungeon below The High Priest’s House

you can see the holes in the rock where straps would be tied to a prisoner's wrists while they were scourged (the ropes are not original, just for show)

you can see the holes in the rock where straps would be tied to a prisoner’s wrists while they were scourged (the ropes are not original, just for show)

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the hole where prisoners were lowered (or thrown) into the pit below

the pit . . . where Jesus most likely spent his last night on earth

the pit . . . where Jesus most likely spent his last night on earth

We went from there to the site of the house of Caiaphas, the high priest at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is where dungeons were discovered, showing holes in the rocks to help bind prisoners to the rock and a pit in which some prisoners had to be descended through a 3-foot wide hole. Fr. Kamal said there is no evidence that Jesus was put there after he was condemned but it makes sense since his trial occurred in the house of the high priest just above these dungeons.

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We continued up Mt. Zion to the site where we were close to where The Last Supper occurred (no one knows for sure where it happened). Afterwards we ascended to the rooftops and got to see quite the spectacular sunset over Jerusalem.

Throughout the day, Fr. Kamal continued to point out the geography of Jesus’ (and ours today) journey in his last week and days.  Up onto Mount Olives, down to Gethsemane, down further into the Kidron Valley, up to The Temple, further up to Mount Zion, down to Caiaphas’ house, down into the dungeon, back up to Pilate’s Palace, and finally, up to Calvary.  It will be difficult to top today’s experience but Tuesday’s schedule includes a trip to Bethlehem. Nuff said.  But please continue to

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Rocks, Castles, Ruins, and Borders…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

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the beautiful Jordanian flag

We have left the Kingdom of Jordan and this post comes to you from the Golden Walls Hotel in downtown Jerusalem, right across the street from the wall to the Old City. Our journey through the brilliant mind of Fr. Kamal Farah begins in the morning as we visit the Mount of Olives, the garden of Gethsemane and Mt. Zion, site of the Last Supper.

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Sami and Aran pose for a selfie

But our Sunday began in Petra where we had an early breakfast and then were led north on a beautiful tour by Sami, our Jordanian guide. He amuses as he educates. “To get a driver’s license in Jordan, they give you a car and tell you to drive around,” he told us. “If you don’t have an accident or kill someone, you get the license. If you have an accident or kill someone, they say ‘Try again.’”

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the rock traditionally believed to be the one that Moses struck and water came forth

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Moses’ Spring

The first stop was the Spring of Moses (pics above), where Moses took a stick to the rock and made water come from it. Officials have built a building around the spring but the water still flows and people come to get drinking water from it.

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Montreal Castle

We then continued north for an hour through the desert – Jordan is 80% desert – and stopped at the remains of Montreal Castle in Shoubak, the oldest castle in Jordan, built in 1116, by the Crusaders.

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the main gate into Jerash

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columns lining the ancient road

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a massive amphitheater

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a beautiful hippodrome

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a temple to the god Artemis

Then on to Jerash in northern Jordan (see photos above). Jerash is one of the 10 cities that made up The Decapolis, a region where Jesus walked and talked and spent time ministering to people.  There we toured the spectacular excavations of a German archeologist who rediscovered and revived the city in 1806. A series of Roman arches and columns, an amphitheater, a hippodrome where chariot races were held, and ancient temples are wondrously preserved.

Allenby Bridge

The Israeli side, Allenby Bridge

After lunch in Jerash, we drove southwest to cross into Israel. It wasn’t easy. First, we were told at the Jordan end of the Ben Gurion/King Hussein bridge over the Jordan River that the Israel side of the Allenby Bridge was closed because of a suspicious object. But eventually were allowed to proceed and went through three passport checks, scanning of our luggage and some questions from Israeli security personnel. Having said good-bye to Sami, bus driver Captain Soud and our security officer, Rafmat, we were met in Israel with a new driver, Ahmed, who will be with us for the remainder of our time in Israel.

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our first glimpse of Jerusalem . . . in the dark . . . lol

He drove the 30 miles to Jerusalem but there wasn’t much to see yet because the sun had set.

Kamal Farah

Fr. Kamal Farah, our teacher and friend

Fr. Kamal was waiting for us at the hotel and was warmly greeted by Fr. Ralph and Cindy Osborne, Aran Walter, and Tim and Anne Peterson, all who had studied under him three years ago. Dinner was waiting, as were beds and relaxation. We have arrived in this next part of The Hold Lands; Palestine and Israel.  We are in Jerusalem now, so we ask you, even more, to please,

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Petra. Period.

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

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For anyone looking for something to outrank the Grand Canyon for spectacular natural beauty, let me introduce you to Petra. This natural wonder in Jordan can exhaust the use of superlatives, and can test the legs and stamina of anyone. It didn’t help that I brought a new physical limitation to my first visit to Petra. During the night, while walking from my bed to the bathroom, I hooked the small toe on my left foot to a chair leg. Dr. Brad Lauderdale, a member of our pilgrimage group, inspected it and said it might not be broken, but the swollen and discolored toe assured me that my time upright would be limited. But miss Petra because of a toe? Not in this life. So, with hiking boots on to help me emphasize my limp in an effort to gather more sympathy, I headed out of the hotel to the nearby entrance to this phenomenon.

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Nancy Kuhn and Mark Zimmerman on a horse drawn carriage

We had the option of riding a donkey to the first stage that leads to the canyon, or ride in a horse-drawn carriage to go more than a mile to the spectacular treasury. But I walked to take advantage of the teaching of our guide, Sami.

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our guide, Sami Sahawneh, at the entrance to The Siq

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walking into The Siq where all the rocks you see are sandstone

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in some places, the canyon walls seem to almost touch each other

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the ancient aqueduct runs the entire length of The Siq: over a mile

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Lyn and Cam Ross enjoying the sunlight

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a view of The Treasury through the narrow walls of The Siq

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The Treasury, just over 128 feet high

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The Treasury, where Indiana Jones and his father found The Holy Grail

The walk through the narrow canyon, called The Siq, is downhill to the Treasury building (see pics above), but that meant walking back was uphill. Fortunately, I had company, the scores of young boys who were trying to get me to buy postcards for “One Dollah.” While I ended my Petra journey before noon, the rest of the group continued the hike, some going to very high spots and most going to the Monastery (see pics below). So, rather than subjecting you to read more about my toe or the 2-hour nap I took at the hotel, I’ll turn the text to Aran who didn’t return to the hotel with the others until 5 p.m.

Aran & Tony Walter, your bloggers, taking a selfie in Petra

Aran & Tony Walter, your bloggers, taking a selfie in Petra

Hi folks.  Aran here.  Sorry, can’t talk about The Treasury without referencing the film that brought it back into popular culture…

LOL . . . ok, enough of that.  So, this is actually my second time to Petra and I am thrilled to say, it was even better than before.  This is primarily due to my having the opportunity to go up to the High Sacrifice Places.  I’ll let you read more about it on your own at the Petra Wikipedia Page (<– click on that) but here’s a video I recorded from “on high” as well as some photos of the stunning views.

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Fr. Ralph, Nancy, Fr. Richard, Tom, and I walked to the High Places

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stunning views

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this is a 180-degree photo from atop of Petra. on the far left, at the highest peak, is the Tomb of Aaron, brother of Moses.

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looking towards Aaron’s Tomb

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the High Places crew, standing in front of The Rose Tomb

On our way down from the High Places, I had one of my “geeky church nerd” moments.  We came across an ancient banquet room, carved into the rock (as all of Petra’s rooms and homes and tombs are).  But inside was (so geeked out here) a Triclinium.  A 3-sided table, open at one end.  Those of you who’ve ever heard me talk about Jesus and his friends at the “Last Supper” have probably heard me talk about a Triclinium which was the table around which Jesus and his friends would have been reclining.  Not sitting.  They wouldn’t have been at a table like you and I sit at.  No chairs.  A Triclinium is a low to the ground table at which you pretty much spooned with your neighbors to the left and the right.  You shared the bowls and plates of food in front of you.  It was an intimate dining experience, one that wouldn’t fly at Grandma’s Thanksgiving Dinner!  Anywho, I had never seen one in person.  Just photos or drawings.  And now, here was one used in ancient times, dating back to the time of and even before the time of Jesus.  Take a look…

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Triclinium, 3 sides, left, back, and right. open towards you. very low to the ground. you would recline around the outside, propped up on your left elbow.

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check out the “painted” ceiling. minerals seeped through to form fantastic colors as well as reacted to the fireplace which you can see on the far left of the photo, the dark hole.

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standing at the head of the Triclinium looking out

The 5 of us reconnected with the rest of our group at lunch time, after which, many of us made our way up, up, up, up, and up to The Monastery.  This is, without a doubt, the most beautiful and breathtaking sight in all of Petra.  Many, however, do not go to see it because it is, well, it’s quite a hike.  Over 850 steps (not paces, stairs) along with a vertical ascent of more than 720 feet.  But, if you can get up there (and back down), it is one of the most incredible and deeply moving experiences of my life.  I heard one member of our group say, as we were about to leave, “I feel like I need to say good-bye to this place!” and they promptly made the sign of the cross and spent time in silent prayer.  It’s moments like this that cause me to realize that God truly is everywhere.  There is no place that we can go that isn’t already DRENCHED in the Presence of God.  The only question we must ask is, “Are we willing to seek and find it?”

That’s the end of my words for now.  I’ll let the photos of The Monastery do the rest of the talking.

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The Monastery at Petra

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it’s huge. and the carved it from the top down. yeah.

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how big is it? here’s some perspective . . . that’s me at the base of the “front door”.

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and that’s Fr. Ralph, in the red shirt, standing front and center.

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no words

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18 of us went up, up, up to see and experience The Monastery at Petra

Sorry, one last thing.  Do continue to pray for us as we cross from Jordan into Palestine and Israel tomorrow afternoon.  But most of all, please continue to

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

River Jordan, Mount Nebo, Madaba Mosaic…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

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on our bus

There is no way to make a day sound routine when you’ve visited the site where Jesus was baptized and where Moses first saw the Promised Land. Those were among our stops on our first full day in Jordan, a day that ended with us at the 5-Star Mövenpick Resort in Petra. Our Jordan traveling team began the day with two important additions – our guide Sami Sahowneh and a Jordanian police office who went with us for any security that might be – but wasn’t – needed. Sami was a first-rate guide and was one of those initially chosen to be one of the men to participate in President Obama’s recent visit to Jordan.

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renewing our baptismal vows

After a buffet breakfast, we boarded the bus and drove for 45 minutes from Madaba to the Bethany Site where John Baptist is known to have baptized Jesus. It is important to note that Jesus was most definitely not baptized on the Palestinian (now Israeli) side of the Jordan River.  There are massive excavations on the Jordanian side (see photo below) and archeologists and historians agree that to visit the true site of Jesus’ baptism, one must come to Jordan.

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the site where Jesus was baptized, in Jordan

The Jordan is quite muddy but it felt good to step into it as the temperatures were in the upper 70s. A major difference from the time of Jesus was the fact that you could pick up a wifi signal near the site today. Just 20 yards across the river on the Israeli side, a group of people – Jewish we believe – were having a prayer service.

Aran, cautiously stepping into The Jordan (he didn't fall in like he did in 2012)

Aran, cautiously stepping into The Jordan (he didn’t fall in like he did in 2012)

Aran and Fr. Ralph then led us on a renewal of our baptismal vows at the spot where Jesus was baptized. That’s a fact that is hard to grasp as it’s taking place. The site has seen five different churches built – one on top of the other – over the past 2,000 years. As each one was destroyed or fell apart, a new one was built. Archeologists have uncovered remains of the last one. The site is 600 feet below sea level. Near the site, we went into a Greek Orthodox Church, where men are required to remove their hats. Also nearby are the sites that have been given to different Christian denominations to build their own church. The Anglicans have land but no church there yet.

shish kabob

Sami is a fountain of knowledge. He told us that shish-ka-bob is an original Iranian word. Shish means 6 and kabob means meat. So if you get something that doesn’t have six pieces of meat, it’s not a shish-ka-bob. So thought provoking.

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a top Mount Nebo

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use the above picture to know what you are seeing in this picture

From the Jordan River site, we drove 45 minutes up nearby Mount Nebo, and I keep fearing I’m going to call it Mount Nemo. This involved a windy road that took us to the top where there was a spectacular view of Jericho but also into Palestine and then further to Israel. This is where Moses, on returning from Egypt, was able to view the Promised Land before he died. The site is owned by the Franciscans, who helped preserve it over the past 80 years. Every member of our pilgrimage group is managing to take scores of pictures.

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We left Mount Nebo and started south. Soon we stopped at a business where those who are handicapped and people with special needs help make mosaics, and the shop was filled with some spectacular work.

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Madaba Mosaic Map

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the oldest map of The Holy Lands in the world

We stopped in Madaba for lunch – salad and baked chicken – then walked a couple blocks away to St. George Orthodox Church where a mosaic that dates to the 6th century and was rediscovered in 1884 by Christians, is on the church floor and provides a religious history of the Mideast. Our guide, Sami, tells us it is the oldest map of The Holy Lands in the world.  Then it was off to Petra three hours away, where we had dinner that included lamb stew, chicken and every type of salad and dessert imaginable. Afterwards, we met as a group to begin plans for our full day in Petra on Saturday. Walking, climbing and being in awe are on the agenda.

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sun set in Al Hasa, Aţ Ţafilah, Jordan (on the way to Petra)

We love that you continue to pray for us.  Please know that Jordan is one of the safest countries in the Middle East.  We are all doing well and can’t believe it’s only been our first full day.  Your prayers are much appreciated but please, also . . .

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

We’re Not In Wisconsin Anymore…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,
(please remember all Red Bold Text is a link to click on)

Well, we aren’t in Wisconsin anymore.

Wisconsin Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.

The pilgrimage group spent the better part of 24 getting to Amman, Jordan but did arrive at 5 p.m. (Jordanian time) which was 9 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 29 in the Midwest. It will only be a 7 hour time difference after tonight as the Mideast version of Daylight Savings Time goes into effect after midnight here.

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traveling pilgrims

We arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Field shortly after noon on Wednesday and went through all the complicated steps of getting checked in, something that puzzles me in this day of technology. The only drama was added by me – Tony – when I unknowingly dropped my passport in side O’Hare, only to have a gentleman behind me point it out and pick it up for me.

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But after reaching our gate, we learned that our initial flight to JFK Airport in New York was delayed by two hours, meaning we wouldn’t make our connection to Paris. Fr. Ralph went into conversation with the Delta folks and we soon learned that we could be rebooked on Royal Jordanian Airlines and flown directly to Amman. It meant 12 hours on the plane but it was a fair tradeoff. We flew at 10 p.m. and arrived in Amman 11 hours later. We were fed a dinner and breakfast enroute by a very competent flight crew.

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walking to the bus

In Amman we were met by a man named Allaa, an associate of our host and guide, Bishara Khoury. He led us to the baggage claim and we were pleased that our bags – minus one for Brad Lauderdale and one for Sue Giles that should arrive tomorrow – arrived. It is a brand new terminal and the Muslim Call to Prayer was broadcast over the public address as we waited for our bags. Our passports were collected and Allaa took care of the customs details. Outside the terminal, we met Bishara and his wife, Rana, and our bus driver, Soud.

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The Mosque of Jesus Christ

We loaded up and Soud drove us about a half hour to the Best Western Grand Hotel in Madaba, a suburb of Amman. On the way, Bishara pointed out a brightly lit Muslim mosque that is named The Mosque of Jesus Christ (the English translation). He said it was the named this because the Muslims in Jordan wanted to emphasize how the two faiths could live together in the country. It was nice to hear after reading so much negative opinions about the Muslim faith.

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Amman reminds me of Tucson, Arizona because it’s in the desert. But Thursday was the last day of the work week in Jordan so there was plenty of traffic as we headed to the hotel. There we were assigned our rooms and fed a wonderful buffet dinner that included fish, chicken, rice, pickles and stuffed leaves.

tomorrow

We sang Happy Birthday to Father Ralph, who celebrated his birthday by flying overnight. Then we met with Bishara who outlined the plan for Friday. We will go to the Baptismal Site on the Jordan River where we will renew our baptismal vows, visit Mount Nebo where Moses viewed the Promised Land, tour St. George Orthodox Church to see the ancient mosaic map, then drive to Petra for the night.

Nope, we aren’t in Wisconsin anymore . . . but please continue to

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Travel Changes…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

  
As you read this we are all together at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.  But, there’s be a MAJOR change in our itinerary.  Our original flight from Chicago to New York was seriously delayed which means we would have missed our flight to Paris.  BUT, God is good and faithful and we have been rerouted and rebooked onto a 9:30 pm Royal Jordanian Airlines DIRECT FLIGHT to Amman, Jordan!!!

  
We are blessed for sure!  We’re all doing well, we’re all feeling good, and we’re all quite excited about not having to make any connections!  We know you are praying and we love it.  But also . . .

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

first step

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

check in graphic

The Israel trip has taken what is probably the most boring – driving to O’Hare in Chicago. Checking through Delta almost needed an act of Congress, and the flight to JFK in New York is delayed a half hour, which makes our connection to Paris a little tight. Sure glad God is steering this.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Rendezvousing…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

Rendezvous

ren·dez·vous
ˈrändəˌvo͞o, ˈrändāˌvo͞o/
noun
1. a meeting at an agreed time and place

rendezvous 1

Today, we depart.  But we’re not all together . . . yet.  Actually, we are.  God’s Spirit unites us.  And yet, we are not all in the same place.  Some of us are meeting in Neenah, WI.  Others in Oshkosh, WI.  Still others in Sheboygan, WI.  We’ll be driving to Chicago to catch a plane.  But we still won’t all be together.  We have two pilgrims who will be meeting us further along on our journey.  It won’t be until Thursday morning on October 29 that we’ll all be together . . . in Paris.

we'll always have paris

We hope to also do a good bit of “rendezvousing” with The Presence of God on this pilgrimage.  And we hope you’ll follow along on this blog.  Please, continue to keep us in prayer, but as always . . .

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

One Day More (Reprise)…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

One Day More Gif

We leave tomorrow.  A car/van ride to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for a 3:47 pm flight to JFK in New York.  Then, on to Paris where we have a 6-hour layover before our flight to Amman, Jordan.  We will arrive in Jordan at 9 pm local time on Thursday, October 29, roughly 30 hours after we depart our homes and families.

prayer-sillouette

Please, obviously, continue your prayers for us, for our last minute packing, for our families as they help/watch us pack, and for our hosts, Fr. Kamal Farah and Bishara Khoury.  Bishara will be meeting us in Amman.  We will rendezvous with Fr. Kamal in Jerusalem on Sunday, November 1.

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You can reach us by commenting here on the blog or by emailing, tweeting, facebooking, snapchatting, instagraming, etc.  Most of us will have the data shut off on our phones but there’s lots of wifi spots so we’ll easily be able to remain in contact.  We look forward to hearing from you all…

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

The Final Countdown…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

Europe Final Countdown

Yes, The Final Countdown has begun.  We are now less than a week from our departure to The Holy Lands of Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.  The 25 pilgrims from The Diocese of Fond du Lac as well as various other locations around the USA are double and triple checking their passports, running last minute errands, exchanging emails, texts, and phone calls, and preparing to hug loved ones staying behind.

do not be afriad wall

Much has taken place in Jerusalem these last few days and weeks.  But we are making this Pilgrimage.  We do not live with a spirit of fear.  The scriptures have plenty to say about being afraid.  In fact, God’s most repeated command in all of the bible is, “Do not be afraid.”  We are confident of God’s protection as well as the wisdom of our professor Fr. Kamal Farah and our guide and liaison Bishara Khoury.

Kamal Farah

Fr. Kamal Farah

Bishara Khoury

Bishara Khoury

We of course covet your prayers for our travels, our safety, and our loved ones at home.  But most of all . . .

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Anticipation…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

anticipation

There are two kinds of anticipation in our group of pilgrims.  The vast majority of the crew have never been to Jordan, or Israel, or any part of The Holy Land.  The words, “Jesus stood in the place where you are standing” have never been said to them.  The Palestinian people are strangers they hear about on the news. Israel is a country, not a people group.  For this group of pilgrims, the anticipation is about experiencing that which is unfamiliar, unknown, un-understood.  It’s not a bad thing.  It just . . . is.

reconnect puzzle pieces

There are some in our group who have been there.  They’ve seen.  They’ve experienced.  They’ve heard.  For them, there is a longing to go back – to reconnect with the places and people who impacted and touched their lives. They have been changed and they long to be re-changed yet again.  They don’t have a “leg up” on the rest of the group.  They aren’t “better”.  It’s just that their anticipation is not the same kind as the rest of the group.

watch look listen

There is a parallel to each of our personal (and corporate) journeys of faith.  For many people, their faith journey begins by seeking something more, something deeper.  They look for something that, at the time, they do not yet know, and have not yet experienced.  They are reliant on other peoples’ understandings and experiences of faith.  They are forced (not in a bad way) to listen to the stories of other people.  They have not yet come into their own understandings of faith, nor have their experienced enough to share their own faith stories.  This is not a bad thing.  It just . . . is.

lean not on your own understanding

But there are also those who, after having many experiences in their faith journey, are not satisfied with what they know (or what they think they know). Their experiences are beautiful and have been life-changing.  And yet, they know they have not come to a full or perfect understanding of God, or Jesus, or the bible, or church, etc.  They have seen things that have caused them to rethink and reinterpret and re-understand.  They aren’t “better”.  It’s just a different place in their faith journey.

Jerusalem Skyline

This group of pilgrims leaves 3 weeks from today.  We are getting to that stage where we can no longer say, “I’ve got time.”  Our realization of that truth is getting palpable . . . and so is our anticipation.

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

We’re Getting Ready…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

Jerusalem Panoramic

a panoramic view of jerusalem

One month from today, we begin our pilgrimage.  We covet your prayers.  We invite you to journey with us.  We long for your comments and “likes and shares” of this blog.  One of the best ways we can share this experience with all of you during the trip is for you to keep eyes on this space as we share our thoughts, our pictures, and our hearts.

Jerusalem Market

one of the streets in the old city section of jerusalem

We are taking this trip because we desire to know more about who Jesus was/is, who we are as his followers, and how we can become more like him as we attempt to live out his teachings.  The sights, the smells, the views, and the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding cities, are intoxicating.  As we read from the scriptures, and as we stand in the places where those stories took place, we feel drawn further into the heart of God.  Our lives are changed.

Jacob's Well

jacob’s well . . . the actual well where jesus met the samaritan woman

We hope you’ll follow along.  We ask for your prayers.  We invite questions and comments.  Our goal is to post once or twice more in the coming weeks and then, daily (if not more) once we are on the ground in Jordan and Israel.  Every time this blog shares a new post, it will simultaneously be shared to St. Thomas’ facebook page and twitter account.  Feel free to follow along via social media as several of us will be sharing on our pages and accounts we well.

facebook.com/stthomaswi twitter.com/stthomaswi

facebook.com/stthomaswi . . . twitter.com/stthomaswi . . . youtube.com/stthomaswi

“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

Watch This Space…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

watch this space

In the coming days and weeks, please be watching for posts from this site . . . www.stthomas2israel.wordpress.com . . . a group of us are heading to Jordan and Israel on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and this blog will be one of the ways you can stay connected with us, learn along with us, pray for us, and be a part of our community (in a virtual-digital sense that is).

St. George's College Domes

Stay tuned and…
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…” – Psalm 122:6

One Final Push…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

We’re in Chicago.  Our bags have made it.  God has bought us this far safely.  We are blessed and thankful.

We have just one final leg to go and it’s a mere 3 hour drive north into Wisconsin.  It will be lovely to see the Land of Cheese once again!

On this Day of Giving Thanks, we are so thankful for so many things…

…for the opportunity to go on this trip, for the way that God protected us, for the things we have learned, for the people we have met, for the way in which we have fallen more in love with Jesus and his teachings, for the chance to share all these things with you in the coming days, weeks, months and years.

We pray that as you are spending time with family, friends, food, football, and fellowship, that you may come to know just how blessed you are and how much you are loved by God.

peace to you

Our Cell Phones Work Now…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

We have landed safely in New York City.  Thank you for your prayers but please keep them going.  We have three legs left to our journey.  From here we fly to Atlanta, then to Chicago, then a drive north to the Fox Cities.

If it now OK to call and/or text our phones.  We’ll have them on and we’ll be waiting for your communications if you so desire.

While is is good to be back on our home soil, if we are honest, we are already missing The Holy Land.  We miss our friends at St. George’s College, our fellow classmates from the Palestine of Jesus course.  We miss our professor, Fr. Kamal, our chaplain, Fr. David, our liaisons guide, Bishara, our hospitality host, Rev. Honey, and others.

We miss The Old City, the falafel, the smells of spice coming from the Islamic Quarter, the presence of Jesus as we learned about his activities, the waves on the Sea of Galilee, the Holy Spirit leading us, and more.

Our lives are forever changed and we can’t wait to share our stories, photos, laughter, tears, and the presence of God with you all.

peace to you

On Our Way Home…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

The St. Thomas Six have LEFT THE BUILDING!!

We are officially on our way home.  Please pray for us…

…for safe travel, for smooth security checks (there are many), for on time departures and arrivals, for our bags to arrive with us, and more.

We’ll post again once we are on the ground in New York City.  You can watch Aran’s Facebook and/or his Twitter account for the latest.

peace to you

The Way…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

We started early this morning . . . 5:30 am wake up, 5:55 am gather, 6:00 am departure.  Our destination?  The Old City of Jerusalem.  Our purpose?  To walk The Way of The Cross along the very streets that Jesus would have used.

Let that sink in for a moment . . . well, more than a moment actually.  We’re still letting it sink in and it was over 9 hours ago that it took place.

Obviously, if you’ve been following along in this blog, you know by now that there are many MANY sites in the Holy Land that are “traditional” or “monuments” or “remembrances” of events that took place because we simply don’t know the exact location or, more commonly, those places are deep underground.  This is due to the fact that buildings and churches were destroyed many times over the centuries and then, when a different occupying group came in, they just built on the rubble of the old places.  1st century buildings, built on top of by Byzantines, built on top of by the Crusaders, built on top of by the Ottomans, built on top of as late as the last 40 years!

But still, the notion of having walked along the same streets or even just in the same area as Jesus did in as we participated in The Way of The Cross is an honor at the last and life altering at most!

We were asked not to bring cameras but I snuck two with my phone (tee hee . . . shame on me)

We used John Peterson’s book called “A Walk in Jerusalem: Stations of the Cross” as our guide and liturgy.  It’s a phenomenal book and one we highly recommend.  You can find it at Amazon right HERE.

After breakfast, we went to one of the towns that claims that they are the site of the true Emmaus, where some of Jesus’ followers were headed on the day of his resurrection.  (no one knows for sure where the REAL city of Emmaus is)  We had our final Eucharist together as a class and it was lovely.  A fitting farewell to our time together in the Holy Land.

Currently, as this is being written, we are packing up the things we brought with us as well as all the stuff we’ve got for our loved ones back home.  We have a final meal together this evening, a short ceremony/celebration, and then many of us begin the journey home.  We’ll keep you updated as we travel here on the blog, on facebook, twitter, email, texts, etc.

peace to you

Domes, Walls, Pools, Songs, Hills, Tombs…

this is the base of the rock that is Calvary. it’s in the basement of The Church of the Holy Sepulcher. after you touch and pray at this rock, you walk up 3 different flights of stairs to be on top of Calvary

Hello friends . . .grace and peace,

We were everywhere today!  We spent time on some of the holiest of ground for all three of the Great Abrahamic Faiths: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.  Yes, in case you didn’t know, all three of the major world faiths trace their roots to Abraham who worshipped One God. (Genesis 15)

Our first stop was at The Dome of the Rock, which is the 3rd most holy place for Muslims.  Our professor, Fr. Kamal Farah, walked with us all through the grounds, teaching us about the different elements of the Islamic faith.  We were stunned to learn (or at least some of us were) at how many times Jesus came up within the Muslim faith.  Of course, Muslims do not recognize Jesus as Messiah (nor do those in the Jewish faith) but Muslims BELIEVE in Jesus.  They believe in Mary (and she is the only woman mentioned by name in the entire Koran).  They believe that Jesus will be the Judge on the Last Day.  They believe that all the prophets who have gone before are currently listening to just one other prophet tell them about the scriptures and that is, you guessed it, JESUS!!

None of us are saying that there’s no different between Muslims and Christians. That would be ridiculous.  But many of us thought it very interesting to keep hearing the Name of Jesus brought up again and again in a Muslim context.  Here are some photos of the Dome of the Rock.

We next went to The Western Wall, or as it’s also called, The Wailing Wall.  This is the most holy spot in the world for people of the Jewish faith.  In their story, God was and is most present in the Holy of Holies inside The Temple.  The First Temple was built by King Solomon in the 950’s BC but then destroyed in 586 BC. The Second Temple was then built in 516 BC and stood all the way until 70 AD when it was destroyed by the Roman Empire.  All that remains from The Second Temple is the Western Wall which is what is now The Wailing Wall.  Jewish people from around the globe come to say prayers at the Wall, praying for the coming time of The Third Temple.

After that, we went to the Pool of Bethesda, the spot where Jesus healed the man who couldn’t walk and had been sitting by the pool for 38 years.  (John 5:1-15) This pool dates back to 3,000 BC.  It’s more than 5,000 years old!!  (which is only half as long as the city of Jericho has been around!)  This was another one of “those spots” where we KNOW that Jesus actually stood.  Many other places in the Holy Land are “traditional sites” meaning, it’s not the exact spot where something happened but it’s close so we just put up a monument or a church to commemorate the event.  But, like the well where Jesus met the Samaritan woman, this pool is a place where Jesus actually stood.

ruins of the upper levels of Bethesda Pool

many many steps to get down to where the pool was in Jesus’ time

this is a 3,000 year old pool . . . and Jesus was here

Just next to the Bethesda Pool is St. Anne’s Church which has possibly the best acoustics of any church we’ve ever heard.  We recorded our group signing a few songs but we haven’t gotten it from the iPhone of the gentleman who recorded it. Here’s a clip of another group singing.  LISTEN TO THE ACOUSTICS!!!  (click here) ((it’s only 2 minutes long))

the acoustically perfect St. Anne’s Church in Jerusalem

We had lunch and then moved on to The Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  This place is ENORMOUS!  It houses 4 key sites for Christians.

1) Calvary, where Jesus was crucified
2) The spot where Jesus’ dead body was presented to Mary
3) Jesus’ tomb
4) The garden where the resurrected Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene

All of these sites are each within a 30 second walk from each other, and some even less.  And all have been commemorated in grand ways with candles and gold and lights and altars and more.  It’s beautiful but it’s also so busy and so active that at times, it’s hard to really “get into it”.  There were SO MANY people there who have their own spirituality to draw close to Jesus.  And every language you can think of. All of them coming to engage with God through Jesus.

hand on the rock which forms the base of Calvary

first set of stairs heading up towards Calvary

all along the walls as you go up the stairs, there are MILLIONS of crosses that have been carved into the stone by pilgrims over the centuries

another set of stairs up to Calvary

up top, on the right side, where the light is coming from under the arch, that is the top of Calvary

final set of (VERY STEEP) stairs up to Calvary

the altar, built onto the rock of Calvary. you can crawl under the altar and place your hand in the place that held the cross of the crucified Christ

“It is accomplished”

this is the spot believed to be where Jesus’ dead body was placed in Mary’s arms

where Jesus lay . . . dead

the tomb of Jesus

you have to wait in line to get into the tomb. sometimes the wait can be all day. other times, only a few hours. Aran waited only 45 minutes!

heading into the tomb . . . you have to stoop way down, almost to your knees

this is not THE place as the real tomb is about 5 feet below this spot. but it does represent the beautiful location where Jesus lay dead and then rose to life again!

this space is where the garden would have been when the resurrected Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene

just to give perspective, on the far left is the tomb, then come around the corner in the middle and there’s where Mary received her son’s body. and further to the right is Calvary. the garden is past the tomb and around the next corner to the right. it all happened within about a 300 square foot area.

It was a great day.  And perhaps the most two important things we discovered are:

ONE – Jesus is in places we don’t expect him to be and

TWO – Even if we don’t know the “exact” spot where Jesus may have been, it doesn’t mean he’s not there now.  Plus, by the presence of the Holy Spirit, he lives in our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.

peace to you

In the Garden…

Hello friends . . . grace and peace,

Before reading further, please take a moment to read Fr. Ralph’s post from earlier today.  Click here.  Thanks.

Today was rather remarkable.  We quite literally walked our way from Palm Sunday through Maundy Thursday.

We began our morning at Bethpage Catholic Church near the top of the Mount of Olives and saw the stone on which it is believed that Jesus stood onto in order to get onto the donkey he rode into Jerusalem. (see Luke 19:28-35)