Here’s the piece I wrote for my Collegeville Institute class. If you want to follow along with my journey here in Minnesota, go for it! Let’s see how it comes out in the end.
“Which desk do you want?”
My grandmother, affectionately known to us as “Gram,” was being her usual generous, loud, and slightly insistent self after hearing my need of a desk. After moving for the third time in six years, my furniture had become battered and nearly unusable. Having been called into the marginally intellectual vocation of pastor, and no longer having an office due to the burning down of the church, a desk was one way of giving me a little space to think. Over the course of 60 years of marriage, Gram had accumulated a couple of things, and was ready to unburden herself to one of her grandchildren. My need had met her generosity…
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Today is Thursday. “Into Jordan Now” is the title of my last entry. The title of this entry should be “Back in the United States”. However, since I am mostly only physically back in the U.S., I will call it “Not Quite Sure Where I am Right Now”. My heart and head are swirling with images, words, songs, places and people from Israel, Jordan, Palestine and my travel partners. On our final day, we spent time at the site of Jesus’ baptism and at the site of one final ancient archeological site. My head and heart were not fully into the places we visited. I thought about David, who had injured himself the day before and was now lying in a hospital bed at Jordan Hospital. I was also extremely exhausted from our time of traveling. There was not much time to reflect or contemplate during those days. We visited so many places! It was amazing but, on this day, I was just tired. I needed some silence and I tried my best on this last day to find it. At the site of Jesus’ baptism, I found retreat into the affirmation of baptism service that Dr. Hoffman performed at the water’s edge. I found peace watching those who had come to the water for a baptism. I found a stick I am calling my “Jordan stick” as we walked along the river. In those moments, God provided needed silence in my day and for all of those moments I am most grateful. Here’s the thing, there is nowhere I can go that God’s presence is not there. Even when I have no energy, when my body is hurting, when my mind is overwhelmed, when I am agonizing over something, it is up to me to enter in with God. Psalm 139: 7-10: “Where can I go from you Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.” I praise God and give thanks to all, all I have seen, all the people I have met, all of the food I have tasted, all of the places I have gone and all the Tells I have climbed. I will do my best to bring all that God has given me into this new day. I remember that even when my head is full, my heart aches, my feet are sore, I don’t know where I am and life is a struggle, that you, God, are always there with us. Thank you.
On this Sunday, we spent more time on the bus (a lot of time on the bus). We did visit an amazingly beautiful place called Petra. It is considered one of the great archeological treasures in the world. It was built by the Nabataeans about 2200 years ago. There are tombs built into the rock everywhere. It is said that the tomb of Aaron sits at the top of a hilltop nearby. Walking into Petra today all the tourists were surrounded by sales people. There were men, boys and girls attempting to sell camel, horse and donkey rides, postcards, books jewelry and even rocks. We learned that the people working in Petra once inhabited the tombs, caves and hills of Petra. An agreement was made with the government that they could continue to live nearby and work for the tourism authority. On this trip to Jordan we have learned that the country relies on the tourism industry by 65%. It is a mutual agreement. Or is it? I saw children as young as three years old selling rocks and post cards. Will they receive all the profits? Are they able to go to school? I did see many smiles and pleasant greetings but mostly I saw children learning how to sell themselves for profit. While I did enjoy the beauty of the natural rock formations, given to all and created for all by God, I took no pleasure in seeing the oppression.
I experienced the same emotion yesterday as we watched the people at Madaba Hand Craft Center. I am happy to know that the government supports this place but I can’t help but wonder what might go on behind the scenes. The center is set up to teach the craft of mosaic art work to individuals who are disabled or orphans. I asked about the wages and I did not receive an answer as to how much they each get paid. I did discover they receive monthly wages, housing and schooling.
As the day went on and we traveled on our bus, I looked out into the hills, valleys and roads and I asked myself this question: Is there beauty to be found in brown? The view from my seat on the bus is one that sees only brown; brown hills, brown ground, brown rocks and brown roads. In this question the answer I receive is this: To deny the beauty in the brown is to deny the beauty of God and the possibilities God has for us all. This country is not one in which I have grown up or one I am accustomed to but it is God’s country and it is for all of us to love.
Saturday, January 18th, is mostly a blur to me. We left Jerusalem at 8:00 a.m. and had to say good-bye to Andre and Samir at the border of Jordan. It was very sad. Andre was our guide and his passion and love for God shined through his words every day with us. Samir was our driver and his smile, hospitality, tenderness, care and amazing driving skills wowed all of us. Saturday was a day of transitions; saying good-bye to two men that became a part of our group, to the Holy city of Jerusalem and crossing into another country to meet a new guide and driver. This time we added one member to our group- an armed guard, courtesy of the tourism authority in Jordan. Mohammed is our new guide. He does have a love for his country. He considers himself an ambassador of Jordan and he is doing a fine job giving us information on the country. What stands out thus far is that the country is 90% desert. On Saturday we did visit the Wadi Qelt and discussed the road from Jericho to Jerusalem that you can find the story of the Good Samaritan. At this place at the Wadi Qelt we saw a 1500 year old Greek Orthodox Monastery. There are two monks that live there now. We went on to visit Mt. Nebo. Sadly, this day was such a blur, that I mostly remember the crowds and that we did not pause to read any passages at this spot. Throughout our time with Andre, he read at each spot with us. I do remember learning that Jordan is comprised of 10% Bedouins and 1% of them are Nomads. We spent a lot of time on the bus on this day. We did not reach our hotel in Madaba until 8:00 p.m. It was a long day and we were all fairly cranky by this time. I must say it has been an amazing group to be with for these two weeks.
“Hills, caves, quarries and tombs” is how our guide, Andre, described Golgotha to us as we stood outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I learned that this area that we stood in today would have originally been outside the city walls. The place we saw today has been built and rebuilt on top of other churches and even a pagan temple. Although there are many faith traditions that share this Holy place now and the traditions have varying opinions on worship, all agree that this is the place of Jesus’ crucifixion and tomb. There was a lot of activity inside the church. I did my best to walk quietly, stay quiet, reflect and pray. I met a Greek Orthodox woman named Helena that needed to get through the line quickly that all of us stood in, as we waited to go into the area of what is considered to be the tomb of Jesus. She told me that she needed to get to her sister’s funeral. Her accent was heavy and she apologized for not speaking English well but I think the two of us did quite well communicating with one another. I ran into Ben Sloss, a previous intern at my home congregation. He was with his sister, Anna. They had just spent two weeks receiving training through Peace Not Walls. They will be guides for others visiting the Holy Land. As guides they will provide education on the conflict between Israel and Palestine. With Elaina with us, the four of us walked around the city via the Ramparts Wall. We got a “bird’s eye view” of the city by walking on the top of the city wall. It was worth the 16 shekels! That is only about five dollars. After enjoying that spectacular view, we went into the Austrian Hospice to its roof top for another magnificent view of the city. We had a view of everything, the Dome, many mosques, the Mount of Olives and many Palestinian homes (in particularly the area where the City of David and the Pool of Siloam lies). I saw many more very small children walking around the old city on their own today. At the end of the day, when we visited The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, I heard the Pastor say that no children are abducted in the area. I am ecstatic to know that the children of all the different nationalities, faiths and citizenships are cared for by one another. I do believe God is caring for the children and we should stop for a moment to learn from this care when it comes to the care for all peoples. At the end of our time with The Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, we heard these words, when asked, “How do you do peace education?”, “Day to day living out a life of dignity and respect to everyone that I meet, providing that to everyone.”
Our day began at the top of the Mount of Olives. We visited Augusta Victoria Hospital. It is a specialty care hospital for the whole country. It is run by the Lutheran World Federation. We heard about Peace without Walls. The director talked to us about some of the realities of a “two-state resolution”. He talked to us about Christians leaving Jerusalem. One explanation he gave: If a Palestinian Christian Jerusalemite wants to marry a Palestinian who is not a Jerusalemite that person will have to leave Jerusalem. It seems there are many restrictions for marriage and citizenship. I am just beginning to understand some of the conflicts over here. It is thick, just like the stones that have been used to make the fortresses. We stood in one of the areas of the Garden of Gethsemane. We had some quiet time in this beautiful and peaceful place. We had a view into the city and the area of the temple that Jesus would walk into as he would have left the garden. In this place I found a stone and an olive branch to bring back with me. More tears were shed today. I am just allowing myself to cry as the tears come. We looked on to the Mount of Olives cemetery, the Muslim cemetery at the East gate of the wall and the southern part of the city where the Jewish quarters stand. Before entering the Temple Mount, we witnessed many Ba mitzvahs and Bar mitzvahs. I saw some young girls on the men’s side of the Western Wall. I was intrigued by that. It reminded me of the time I went to a mosque and saw young girls with their dads toward the front. We went on to the Temple Mount and walked around. All are welcome to this area. Orthodox Jews do not go here because they do not know exactly where the Holy of Holiest place would have stood and they do not want to defile that area. We were not allowed to walk into the Dome of the Rock. I did see many beautiful smiles and heard many peaceful greetings as we walked around. One Muslim woman asked to have her picture taken with one of our male travelers. On the Temple Mount children played soccer, people sang, people prayed, people walked in silence, people laughed and people carried on in their day to day routines. Before I left this area I just had to sit down. So, I did but only for a minute. The one great challenge of being a tourist versus a pilgrim- time constraints. After lunch- a falafel and Salab (typical local drink- warm thickened sweet milk with cinnamon, raisins and nuts), we went on to the City of David and from there I walked with my trusted travelers (upon unzipping my pants and turning them into shorts and replacing my tennis shoes with reef shoes) and went through Hezekiah’s Tunnel. We ended up at the Pool of Siloam. After dinner I took an adventure with four fellow travelers in Jerusalem. We walked to an outdoor shopping area with hundreds of shops. Our idea to take a taxi turned into an adventuresome walk. We had some idea where we were going but we mostly found our way by asking people we ran into. Everyone was so very friendly. Many people said hello, God bless you and some said “Jesus loves you”. One man from Egypt asked us if we were saved. There were lots of people out and about. Most of our walk was along the old city wall!
We departed from Bethlehem this morning and drove to Jerusalem. Our first stop was Herodium. Our view from the top of the fortress today, that I paid attention to, was the Jewish settlement. Down the hill from the settlement was one of those red road signs warning Israelis not to drive on the Palestinian rode. We walked around among the structures and there were two signs that caught my eye. One sign talked about the use of the space I was looking at as a reception hall (as used, of course, during Herod’s reign) and the other sign talked about the use of the space as a synagogue. Today I tried to spend time meditating. Our bus next drove on to Jerusalem. What a city! It’s huge. There is modern Jerusalem and there is Old City. We headed toward Old City. We went straight to the area of the Western Wall. I walked on a tour of the underground tunnel that follows part of the Western Wall. We reached the area that is the closest to the foundation stone of the Temple mount. I was moved to tears walking along the wall. I felt at peace. I learned that there is more of the Western Wall that exists but it does not show. It is underground and it was covered by the stone arches built by the Muslims, in an effort to rebuild the city. I spent time in prayer at the wall and I wrote a prayer that I left at the wall. It was an unemotional day. After lunch I walked around and I saw three children, under the age of four, walking by themselves. I was very concerned because I saw no adults near them. I kept watching them and the youngest split off from the other two. They walked a long time by themselves. I passed a man who was talking to a couple about the children. They were concerned, too. The man explained that it is very safe and children are seen very often leaving school/day care and walking home alone. He shared that he has never locked his house. He said that the area is very safe. This story of peace is quite different from the Jewish settlers who live in a settlement surrounded by barbed wire. It seems pockets of peace can be found in various places.