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

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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