This past week my daughter Lauren was here in the Holy Land as part of a group from the University of Michigan. It was great to spend time with her and share the richness of this place with her once again. We were here together in 2005 so it was great to visit our local friends together and to meet new ones. As I traveled around with the group I had the pleasure of seeing this place through the eyes of people who were seeing it for the first time, and to rekindle the sense of awe that is invariably invoked here. While they spent much of their time seeing the impact of the occupation, as that was their primary goal, they also visited the holy sites and did much of what the other thousands of tourists that are here in any given week do, like shopping in the souks of the Old City.
This is without question a magical place that for any religious person instills a feeling of coming home. All of the places you have heard and read about since you were a child are here in front of you and you realize, perhaps for the first time, how tangible they are. From the vantage point of the guest house I live in here on the top of the Mount of Olives I am surrounded by olive trees that look the same as they did 2000 years ago. I can look down to the west to see the Old City, the Dome of the Rock, the Al Aqsa Mosque, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre over the spot where Jesus was crucified and the Western Wall that is holy to Jews. It is a short walk down the hill to the Garden of Gethsemane. In a few hours I will walk down the Mt of Olives to the Old City as I do many days. Today I will reflect on Jesus’ walk down this hill. I will be thankful for Laurens visit and the renewed lens to look at this place through that the U of M group gave me with their visit.
I have said in the past that you use all of your emotions when you come here. You also use all of your senses. Jerusalem is visually dynamic with a new and exciting thing to see around every corner. While I have walked through the narrow lanes of the Old City many times I see new things each and every time. In addition to being visually rich, you are reminded of the religious significance with the mixture of sounds that are unique to this place. As I am sitting here writing this, the second morning call to prayer has just ended. The first still wakes me up each morning at about 4:30. Like most people, I simply go back to sleep. The melodic call is sometimes done by men and sometimes by young boys and is quite beautiful to hear. The various mosques sometimes overlap but for the most part they take turns out of respect. This mealody mixes with the church bells that ring in different churches at various times throughout the day and the din of the vendors in the souks pitching their wares.
As you walk though the maze that is the Old City, you smell the fresh herbs that the ladies sitting on the ground are selling out of large bags that they have hauled here early in the morning, to get the very best spots to sit for the day. The spice sellers compete for your nose with the fresh fruit vendors and the sweet smell of honey drenched treats. Of course the ever present Arabic coffee vendors are not to be outdone as they constantly grind fresh coffee to mix into the pallet of smells. This truly is a magical place.
I have updated the slide show that is running below to show from this past week to give you a sense for that side of the Holy Land. At the end of the day, it is a place that you have to see for yourself and I encourage you to do that sometime. In the mean time over the coming weeks of Lent, if you would like to you can take a virtual tour of the Holy Land that has been put together by Christian Aid UK based world-wide aid organization. Each day they will visit a new place and allow you to experience both the grandeur and the challenge of this place.
Here is a link to the tour: http://lentpilgrimage.christianaid.org.uk/
I would like to thank all of you for your prayers and thoughts as a reach the halfway point in this journey. I am particularly thankful to my wife Julie and the rest of my family for looking after all the aspects of daily life in my absence. I miss you all very much and look forward to seeing you. If the second half goes as fast as the first I will be with you in the blink of an eye.