Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Churches, Mosque, and Synagogue

As if we had to celebrate Ramadan, Rosh Hashanah, and an ordinary day in the Christian year, we three pilgrims started off with a tour of churches on the Via Dolorosa (the way of the Cross), and ended up in evening prayers in a synagogue, and stepped inside a mosque:
* First church was he Church of St. Anne (and Joachim, her husband), parents of St. Mary. This is a beautiful Crusader church based upon or near Byzantine relics, which are near the pools of Bethesda, which were outside the walls of Jerusalem during Jesus' day, but today are within the walls.
* We then went next door to the Greek Orthodox chapel for the tomb of St. Anne and St. Joachim. Beautiful and very Orthodox, with icons all over the place...literally.
* We then made it to the Greek Orthodox shrine where St. Mary died, filled with chandeliers and icons, with the site of her death;
* We then met the 12-2:30 lunch time, in which all the shrines and churches close, so we scavenged and found a place to eat: 7 Arches, a Palestinian restaurant near Mt. of Olives.
All the Jewish establishments are closed because of the holiday...all!
* We then made it to Pater Noster chapel, where Jesus is to have uttered the Lord's Prayer, and then the shrine of Ascension, where Jesus ascended, with a slab of rock marking his foot print where he last touched terra firma.
* I then stepped into a mosque, breathed in the serenity of the garden, and said a prayer for peace;
* We made it down to the "And Jesus Wept" chapel, as he looked over Jerusalem and cried as he said he would like to be a mother hen, bringing the children of Israel back into the fold. The chapel is designed by Barluzzi...exquisite, overlooking the old city;
* We traversed across the street to the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Chapel that is dedicated to all nations next to it;
* We then walked several miles to a Reformed synagogue for evening prayers, entering the Jewish "burbs" of Jerusalem (modern), which were lovely, though all the shops were closed. We caught one synagogue taking a fish to the river (dead fish), and casting the dead fish into the river with everyone's sins...happy new year!
* We then went to evening prayers in a Reformed synagogue. I still know enough Hebrew to follow some of the lines of the prayers/Psalms;
* The walk back was exhilarating, and dinner at our favorite Palestinian restaurant capped off a great day of walking and seeing and sensing the holy in an incredible land.

Shalom and Salaam,

Buen Camino!


Monday, September 29, 2008

Back to Jerusalem

This morning was an early morning: we got up at the break of dawn, packing our clothes and stuffing our rented car (a small Hyundai that they don't make in the States), ready to head back to Jerusalem (JLM). After a good breakfast, we headed west toward Mt. Tabor. Mt. Tabor is the place of Transfiguration. It is also high above the plain that plays a major role in Armageddon. The Chapel was designed by Barluzzi, who also designed the Chapels in Bethlehem and the Mt. of the Beatitudes, though this was one of the prettiest out of all the other chapels we've seen. There is a huge mosaic of Jesus, Elijah, and Moses in the Chapel, which sets on a site in which countless of other churches (now in ruins) used to sit.

The ride back home (3 hours) was, well, um, er, gee: fast! I rode behind an Israeli driver, and though this country has very few interstate highways, we passed each other with a certain aggression that made the other riders, well, um, close their eyes. But we made it back to JLM in time to unpack our things, fill the car with gas, and get to the Avis rental center with 5 minutes to spare (they close at 1 today because it is Rosh Hashanah). What a trip!

After dropping off the car, we strolled through the King David hotel, walked through the Old City to Papa Andreas, in which we had a grand tour of the Old City atop of the world. Fantastic view. We took Matt down to the Western Wall (he hadn't been there yet), and we watched as more and more men and their sons came to the Wall to pray, dressed in velvet coats, ermine hats, polished shoes...in other words, their best clothes possible because it is Rosh Hashanah: Jewish New Year. For two days, parts of the city will be closed because of this religious holiday. And by closed, I mean closed tight. It is rare, but this year Muslim Ramadan ALSO draws to a close, and there is more partying. I've learned more about Muslim holidays than I've ever known before during this trip.

After lunch and the Wall visit, we treated ourselves to baklava, and by 5:00 made it to our room at St. Georges.

Off to see if Ramadan ends tonight (the moon must show in order to draw this period of fasting and prayer to a close).

Shalom and Salaam,

Buen Camino,


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mount of Beatitudes, Capernaum, and St. Peter's Primacy

At 10:30 this morning we set off for the day to the top of the hill outside the Pilgerhaus: the Chapel of the Beatitudes. A Franciscan Chapel, it overlooks the Sea of Galilee, and the view is spectacular. Tradition says that this is the place that the thousands heard the Beatitudes (Matt. 5, etc.), and one had to wonder if Jesus had the facing the mountain to keep their attention because the scenery is beautiful! We read the entire Beatitudes this morning from this spot, and I must say it is one thing to read those texts in seminary and churches, and to read them right on the grassy edge of the Chapel. Context matters! The contextualization of reading these texts in the land and places where they may have happened brings theology and geography together like nothing else can.

We then walked by the side of a banana plantation, down a path to Capernaum, set by the Sea of Galilee, overlooking the ruins of the city where Peter lived, and where Jesus' earthly ministry took place. The ruins in this area show an amazing floor print of the City in the day of Jesus' life...fascinating to behold.

We then had lunch outside the ruins (salads!) before heading to St. Peter's Primacy, in which it is said that this is the place that the resurrected Christ cooked fish for his disciples, like Peter and others who were fishing. There is a flat rock, which is the supposed table (as told to the pilgrim Egeria by the Byzantines who took care of this place) where Christ set out the food, welcoming the fishermen from their day's labor, and, according to John, telling them repeatedly to tend, care, and the sheep of Jesus Christ's flock: us!

Back to Pilgerhaus, laughing and enjoy a 12 km walk in the hot, dry, sun of a Palestinian autumn day.

Salaam and Shalom,

Buen Camino,



Can anything good come out of Nazareth? That was the question, and the answer was a definite yes.

We started the day off at Yarnit, in which the river Jordan meets the Sea of Galilee, and, according to Mark, this is the place of Jesus' baptism. We watched as a group of Brazilian Greek Orthodox folks (!) were baptized, along with a group of Protestant Indonesians, and a Russian Orthodox for the heck of it (3 or 4). It is wonderful to watch everyone rent their robe and descend the stairs and ramps to the greenish water of the Jordan, full immersed, and holding their noses as they are dunked.

After that we headed through Tiberias to Nazareth. Once we successfully parked our car (don't ask), we made our way to the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, which is split in two parts. The bottom floor has the grotto where Mary was told by Gabriel she was to have a baby. The top half is modern veneration point for the world, revering the memories of this momentous news, all in 1960s architecture, e.g., cement and glass, with little wood. We tried to see a Herodian ruin at the Sisters of Nazareth Convent, but they wouldn't let us in because they were all booked.

We then went to the Greek Orthodox Chapel where they celebrate the annunciation, where Mary received the word that she was to give birth to Jesus by the running stream, but they were closed because of a funeral, in which we got caught up in the procession to the cemetery. While the Chapel was closed (with running water inside), the procession was something to behold.

We then made it to the Cactus room, in which they have the ruins of the old Roman Baths, and then the Mahroum Sweet shop for kanafeh and baklava!

We made it back to the Pilgerhaus by 7 for a fun dinner, full from a great day of touching and seeing and tasting and experiencing the rush of modern life amid the holy places of faith.

Salaam and Shalom, Brett

Friday, September 26, 2008

To Galilee!

This morning we processed BETHLEHEM, and sorted out the day's agenda:
* We made it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre/Resurrection, and kissed the rock where Jesus' tomb was, and from which he rose, being scooted along by a Greek Orthodox priest who yelled "Single Line!" and "Bravo" when we got out in time as hundreds waited to kiss the stone.
* We made it to St. Mark's, which is the Syrian Orthodox Chapel that housed the first meeting room of the Church because they had the Last Supper with Jesus here.
* We were wooed by a rug seller (More later), and given coffee and water for some purchases;\
* This morning, as we walked along the Cordo we were caught in a rush of veiled Muslim women as they rushed to the mosque near the Dome of the Rock because it is the last Sat. of Ramadan. Tonight is the night Muslim's celebrate the unveiling of the Koran!
* We made it to Avis to rent a car by 1, which is when Shabbath began.
* Then we made our way back to pick up our bags and out of Jerusalem! And we got really lost until we asked a driver in a bus in a town that wasn't on the map where we were. He asked, "How'd you ever find this road?" We were truly lost. But he led us to the highway that led us to the Dead Sea, and then left to Galilee.
* Tonight we ate dinner with the folks at the Pilgerhaus, a Benedictine house of welcome, along with the founders/ blazers of the Jesus Trail, a 40 mile trail through this area, connecting places of Jesus' ministry.

Buen Camino!

Shalom and Salaam, Brett

Thursday, September 25, 2008


This was a fascinating day emotionally, spiritually, politically, and in every other way of life: going to Bethlehem. I have long lost the image of "O Little Town O Bethlehem" hymns, which was dashed and replaced by Bethlehem the captive after last year's trip to this area of the world. Bethlehem is a Palestinian refugee camp, surrounded by a gray cement wall that is 8 meters high, surrounding the entire city. People who are Palestinian and live in here have a hard time getting out, and any Israeli citizen caught in the city is fined $25,000.

We began the day with a quick bus ride from Jerusalem. We got through the security point quickly, and found our friend Elias Ghareeb. Elias is a young Palestinian Christian (Greek Orthodox), and he gave us a royal tour:
* Started off with a visit to the Church of the Nativity, in which we kissed the rock where Jesus was born and the other rock where he was put in the manger. The Church is beautiful, with floors that are part stone and part wooden trap door, in which, when lifted, reveal the mosaic floors of St. Helena's days (4th century).
* We then went next door to St. Catherine's, Roman Catholic Church, in which we visited the place where St. Jerome once worked on the Vulgate version of the Bible.
* After a cup of coffee, we made our way to the Milk Chapel, in which the Virgin was said to have dropped some milk as she fed the baby Jesus, and the entire ceiling went white. The stone (lime) is said to have medicinal value when a woman takes some of the chalk from the ceiling (limestone) and ingests it.
* We then went to St. Cabus, a Greek Orthodox Chapel/Church, filled with icons from floor to ceiling, including the ceiling. Incredibly beautiful. Behind the Church were the 5th century Byzantine ruins of the Church and a Chapel that housed the remains of "some shepherds," as this church was the place where the Greek Orthodox Church believe the Shepherds were buried that worshiped Jesus.
* We made our way to Herod's Tomb/Monument, which is where Heron was buried. They only recently found his body/remains. What made an impression was the pool (Roman) at the bottom of the mound, with aqueducts bringing water to him. From the top of the hill you could see many Israeli settlements, made possible by moving out Palestinian families...illegally often times.
* We had a lunch of 12 different salads at Elias' family place, with lots of pita bread, with coffee and baklava for dessert. Yum!
* Souvenirs were bought next door at a Fair Trade shop, in which the artisans themselves get a fair pay back for the purchases we made.
* We then went to the Canadian Chapel at the Roman Catholic Shepherd's Field, different than the Orthodox! The Chapel is round, and along with a group of folks from Singapore we sang "Hark the Herald" and "Silent Night." It was magical because the acoustics are great, and to hear us sing one verse of Silent Night in English, followed by the Singapore Christians afterward in their language made us all breathe in the Holy! A great archtect by the name of Barluzzi designed this chapel, and other chapels throughout the land.
* We visited a church in which the spring of water produced a verdant garden in the middle of the dessert;
* We took in 2 out of 3 Solomonic Pools (Old Testament talks about these pools), which are larger by two or three sizes of the Olympic pools;
* We tasted Kanafeh, which is sweeter than baklava;
* We then went to the Palestinian Refugee Center, experiencing the full brunt of the 8 m. high wall that entombs Bethelehem. We were moved beyond tears by the wall, as well as the story of Palestinians who are literally stuck here because of Israeli law. The refugees who first lived here were moved here decades ago because Israel's forces took over 27 Palestinian towns, and those numbers swelled in the recent years. We were all left with the dull throbbing pain of dealing with being in the middle of Bethlehem, home of the Prince of Peace, in a town entombed by anger and fear and violence. On one wall was a mural by the artist Bansky, who drew a picture of the wall entombing a Christmas tree.
* Elias leaves us at the gate, having just learned of his 87 year old grandmother's death: prayers be with him.
* We left the security point by 7 in the evening, Iraeli/Jerusalem time, which is an hour later than Palestinian time! No buses! No taxis. We had to walk a dark street with few street lights, no traffice, only stillness.
* We finally made it (20 mintues later) to a bus stop, only to be met by an older Israeli who told us that "it isn't like the old days, when Palestinians knew their place, and we knew our place."
* Tonight, the waiter at our restaurant A Hazzar told us that he is Palestinian from Bethlehem. Even though it is 20 minutes away by car, it takes him 3 hours to simply get through the gate every morning of his working life. Why? He is Palestinian.

Buen Camino!

Shalom and Salaam, Brett

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Church of the Resurrection/Sepulchre

We started off this afternoon with a walk from St. Georges to the Jaffa gate, which is the northwest end of the Old City. We went through the Armenian Quarter (there are four quarters to the city: Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and Armenian), and we ate in the Jewish section at a restaurant that overlooks the entire old city of Jerusalem, including the Mount of Olives that we walked to this morning.

We made our way through the modern day Corda, which is the main shopping bazaar, seeing the ruins of the Corda from the 2nd century (Hadrian) at certain points. We walked into the Church of the Holy Resurrection/Sepulchre through the Ethiopian Coptic Chapel, which has a large painting of the Queen of Sheba talking with King Solomon, which is where they say their faith began. The Church is magnificent and a mess: there are some parts that are Greek Orthodox, other parts that are medieval Crusades, and still other parts that date to the 3rd century. There is the Anointing Stone where Jesus' body was anointed (though that was put there by the Greek Orthodox folks later); there is the stone where Jesus' cross was buried; there is the small little area that shows what the Jewish tombstones looked like, and the Chapel of Resurrection. The place was crammed with pilgrims, so we'll go back early in the morning to see some of the sights that were clogged with pilgrims.

Off to dinner!

Buen Camino!

Shalom and Salaam, Brett

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Sunrise from Mt. of Olives

Got up this morning at 5:15 A.M., to begin our morning trek up to the Mount of Olives. Interesting name, "Mount of Olives": it is a mount on the eastern edge of Jerusalem, overlooking the old city. We went through the Damascus Gate, down the Via Dolorosa (the trail Jesus supposedly walked to his death, but didn't...I'll explain later), and up the mountain to the top of the Mount of Olives. We left at 5:30 and got to the top by 6:30, just in time to watch the sun capture the gold dome of the Dome of the Rock (Muslim), and before most of the tourist "pilgrim" buses made it up to the top of the Mount. From this vantage point you can see the entirety of the Old City of Jerusalem, along with the rest of the City--the modern part--and notice all the Jewish settlements in Palestinian lands. It is breathtaking to see that this City is still in political and religious ferment after thousands of years.

We could see from our eagle's eye view the Jewish cemetery, along with the Catholic cemetery, all in the Kidron Valley. You could see where the wall went out further south during the reign of King David, along with the Crusader parts and Roman parts (Hadrian of Hadrian's Wall in Scotland). And modern Jerusalem is growing quickly.

We walked home along the northern edge of the City, traipsing to St. Georges College and Cathedral for breakfast. We'll take off on the second part of the pilgrimage at 12 noon, going deep into the Old City to see what was of Jesus time, what was of the Crusaders time, the Ottoman era, up to the 1967 war for the Western Wall.

Shalom and Salaam...

Buen Camino, Brett

Back in Jerusalem!

Good afternoon. It is 12:35 here in Jerusalem (JLM), and around 7 hours earlier in Chapel Hill, NC. I am writing this from the business office of St. Georges College and Cathedral's Guest House. It is a warm day--high in the 80s--and a dry heat, far different from the humid summer heat of NC.

The flight over was wonderfully uneventful. I sat by Eli, a young orthodox Jewish man from Brooklyn, NY, Flatbush area, who will live and go to school here for the next few months. I sat on the exit row seat so I got to stretch out, and sitting by the window, I could lean against the wall of the plane for good sleep: I slept for 7 hours over here. This morning I was awaken by the movement of several men with their prayer shawls on, large black hats, and other accessories of prayer, moving side to side, or backward and forward, reading and praying from their prayer books. I knew I was no longer in North Carolina.

On the shuttle from the airport to Jerusalem I sat by Mary Lou and Gene, Pentecostals who have a prayer ministry in this area. They have been here on and off since 1996, and truly feel the power of God in this land.

And this is what is amazing about this place: Christians, Jews, and Muslims claim this land that is about the size of New Jersey. And it is growing by leaps and bounds, with many Palestinians who own the land being moved out. And many of these Palestinians are Christians. It is impossible to be here and not be swept up into the religious and political dimensions of this land, culture, and people.

Shalom and Salaam!

Buen Camino!


Sunday, September 21, 2008

On the eve of going to Israel

It is the day before going to Israel. My life, and the lives of those going with me, will be forever changed, yet again.

I will blog daily from Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Galilee and back to Jerusalem, and possibly Tel Aviv.

Prayers for the journey ahead are welcome...and my prayers are with you!

Buen Camino!

Pilgrim peace, B

Friday, September 19, 2008

Getting Ready for a Pilgrimage to Israel

Getting ready to go to Israel for a pilgrimage! A group of three of us are going to spend time in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, 3 days around Galilee/Nazareth/Golan Heights, and the Negev.

Your prayers are welcome! We all leave Sept. 22nd, and will be coming back October 4th.

I'll be blogging along the way. Keep tune here!

Buen Camino!

Pilgrim peace, Brett

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


In last week's lectionary reading there was this marvelous passage about preparing for Passover: "This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord" (Ex. 12:12).

This spoke volumes to me about pilgrimage: being ready to go at the drop of the hat. A few blogs ago, I wrote about the challenge of what life would look like if God had the audacity to simply say to us, "Pack up your things and go. I will take care of you and your loved ones. But go: I have a place and people for you to be part of." Or what would happen at the end of worship, after Eucharist was shared, we were told to "go, get going on your way, wherever God sends you." Rather than going to Applebees or Wendy's, we actually went the way that God directed us.

Pondering pilgrimage...buen camino!

Pilgrim peace, Brett