Mother Robin’s Blog

Thursday, February 10. Homeward bound.
 
It’s just after midnight on Thursday and I’m killing time waiting for the sherut (shur–OOT), the “shared taxi” that will take me to the airport in Tel Aviv. I don’t actually leave until 5:30, but it takes an hour to get to the airport and passengers have to be there 3 hours early for international flights.
I tried to get some sleep earlier, but just tossed and turned–so I’ve been on the computer a bit–Candi and I have been “chatting” –she’s at work on Wednesday afternoon, and I’m in Jerusalem on Thursday morning.
I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday! I bid your prayers for traveling mercies–I’m supposed to land in Moscow midday on Friday. No snow, please! I’ve checked my flights through to Seattle, and–thankfully–they are unaffected by the snow in the East & mid-Atlantic.
My love to you, St. Mark’s family!
 
Tuesday, February 9. On the road.
 
This day began with a class on Luke 24:13 ff (the “walk to Emmaus”) and then a drive northwest of Jerusalem to Motza where there are some remnants of the Roman Road that may have led to Emmaus. The location of Emmaus is illusive, and there are four (!) locations which are or have been presumed to be the biblical Emmaus so the course staff picked a road rather than a destination as the focus of the reflection on this text–very fitting.
The road is in the Jerusalem hills maybe 5 miles from the city, in a wooded drainage (next to a large water [or sewer?] pipeline. We walked for a bit more than a quarter mile, and there were places where the ancient road edge is visible, but for the most part, it’s now a narrow, dirt path. Lovely in any case, and certainly more evocative than a crowded tourist site!
After that, we went to Abu Gosh (about 7 miles northwest of Jerusalem)–which some claim as a possible “Emmasus” site–and to The convent of Notre Dame de l’Arch de l’Alliance (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant). The sisters have been here since the end of the 19th century on the site of what is said to be the house of Abinadab where the Ark of the Covenant rested for 20 years before David took it to Jersualem. The Ark contained the Torah–God’s revelation–and Mary “contained” Jesus, God’s revelation; hence the imaging of Mary as “Ark.”
We had our final Eucharist in an outdoor chapel at the convent, overlooking Abu Ghosh and  across a broad valley to Jerusalem on the hills beyond. Stunning setting. Very pleasant, sunny day. It was the first (and only) time a woman priest–our chaplain, from New Zealand–celebrated the Eucharist, since this Diocese does not ordain women (a cultural concession).
In the afternoon, I spend several hours in the Old City (didn’t buy anything!), just wandering and actually getting lost, but not scary lost since I knew basically where to go to get “found”–I just couldn’t place myself exactly in the maze of narrow, winding cobbled paths and “streets.” These “streets” are wide enough for a car (and on rare occasions, in some main thoroughfares, two) but except at opening and closing the only motor vehicles one sees as a matter of course are the occasional motorcycle and service vehicles. Some are competely underground and some have a narrow open skylight directly overhead. Some roads come to functional dead-ends, usually people by Israeli police who permit only Jewish (or in some cases Muslim) foot-traffic through. And some come to literal dead ends.
As in any city, there are some commercial streets, but the majority are (even more winding and more narrow) residential streets from which lead metal doors into darkened narrower hallways and stairwells from which are the apartment dwellings of this Old City. A very different setting than our Moscow neighborhoods!
Last evening, we had our closing program, dinner, and most of the Australians–including my roommate–left. Several more folks left during the night, leaving just a half-dozen of us here today. We’ll have brekker together, but then will be off on our own. I’ll try to catch some sleep tonight but will leave the college at 1:45 A.M. (!) for Tel Aviv and my flight to Frankfurt/Chicago/Seattle. I’ll get into Seattle on Thursday evening (if I’m on time) and will be back in Moscow at noon on Friday!!
This may be my last posting–we’ll see how the day goes. It will be such a joy to see you all again!
 
Monday, February 8. Way of Tears, way of joy.
 
The day began very early for most of the class–that is those who are not used to getting up at 4 a.m.!–and we headed off on foot into the brilliant orange and pink sunrise. We entered the Old City through Herod’s gate–the closest to us on Salah-ha-din Street–less than a half-mile southeast. The cobbled streets of the Old City were largely empty–although the small Palestinian buses, taxis, and private cars were racing through the “new” city streets at their normal breakneck speeds–at less than normal numbers, due to the hour. 
In the Old City we encountered a few men and women, walking singly–and hastily–to work. Virtually no shops were open although there were some breakfast and other food vendors getting set up.
 
We walked the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Tears, stopping at the Stations of the Cross along this route which wends its way from near the Lion’s Gate (also known as the East Gate) which overlooks the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives beyond, to the Church of the Resurrection which is enshrined by Eastern and Western Christian traditions as the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.
 
Although I so enjoy being in the Old City amidst the midday crush of people and their noise and liveliness, it was also extremely pleasant to spend time there hearing bird songs and sharing the streets mostly with the skittish feral cats. There were the expected noises of garbage collection and early-morning delivery trucks, but this city–where more than 30,000 people live–was really very quiet.
 
After we completed the walk on the Via Dolorosa, we went to breakfast–the best yet. The same as usual (pita, hummus, hard-boiled eggs, olives, etc.) but with the addition of a wonderful, vaguely sweet bread coated with toasted sesame seeds (which I’ve seen on carts everywhere but hadn’t tried) which is baked in an oval “doughnut” shape about a foot long. AND they had REAL COFFEE–from an espresso machine–and not the (instand) Nescafe which is the norm at the college (and in many restaurants). I pocketed some leftover slices of a common breakfast sausage (which resembles “vienna sausages,” served hot or cold in sliced rounds, and tastes suspiciously like bologna) and fed a hungry “family” of feral cats–who ate voraciously and, in their wildness, demonstrated absolutely no gratitude–hissing and striking one another to get a morsel. Oh, how I miss my sweet little cats!!
 
From there we returned to the Church of the Resurrection (which, remember, the Roman Catholics call the Church of the Holy Sepulchre). The number of people increased, but even so, it was much less than I’ve seen there at any other time. Around what is venerated as Jesus’ tomb is this immense basilica with many side chapels. We went to the lowest chapel, the chapel of St. Helena (in honor of the mother of the Emperor Constantine who became an enthusiastic Christian after her son’s interest was piqued). She is purported to have found The True Cross! The chapel is built into the oldest stone of the site, which was–before it was a place of execution–a quarry outside the city wall.
 
Everywhere in the stone and brick walls of the inside of the structure, pilgrims over the years have carved small crosses which now number in the houndreds of thousands, I expect. Some are just two intersecting lines, but others are rather ornate. These were very visible as we walked up to the Chapel of the Angels (Greek Orthodox) where is enshrined what is venerated as the rock the angels rolled away from the tomb–located on what is presumed to be Calvary–the highest point in the old quarry. We waited in line to touch the rock (tucked, invisibly, down a hole under the altar where we reached an arm’s length and felt the smooth stone).
I don’t have any “spiritual” response to these sites, which although enshrined by tradition as Holy Places are no more holy to me than any other of the ground of this splendid planet. Whether Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, the sites could be moving because of what they respresent in the lives of the people of this world, but have become–for the most part–so commercialized that it’s hard to discern the holy under the veneer of consumerism.
 
We also went into a small chapel where there are several intact burial “channels”–narrow passages, just wide, deep, and high enough to accomodate a human body. That was interesting–we entered, one or two at a time–with candles and flashlights–under a very low door and into a small “room” with just enough space in which to turn around and off which these narrow receptacles were carved. Because they aren’t “holy”–there was no press of people, and that was a relief.
 
We were on our own after that. The Old City vendors were just opening their shops, so I wandered for an hour or so–bought a present for mom–and as I started to get too warm, went back to the college and did some reading. Midday I was out again–another couple of hours in the maze of streets in the Old City, just wandering. Schools get out at 2 pm and so there was a massive influx of kids clogging the streets, then, particularly at the sweets vendors! I ate a late lunch (grilled chicken and “salad” in pita) from a street vendor outside the Old City–15 shekels. A “sit-down” lunch (with the salad plates and an entree) is typically around 50 shekels–so this was a bargain. I ate it sitting on a square, overlooking the east city wall between the Damascus and the New gates. There were a few men sitting on the benches in the square–the women were on the stone edge. Men were eating and talking animatedly. The women were sitting, talking quietly, and none was eating. Maybe there is a proscription against women eating on the like that–if so, I guess I had the Western Woman’s dispensation because no one seemed to pay me any notice. It was a particularly good part of the day for me–I so enjoyed just watching and listening to the people. This is such a complex, multi-layered city.
 
Back to the college for the late afternoon–”rested my eyes” for 30 minutes, took a shower and then we had a “departure briefing” before dinner. After dinner was the final group reflection on the course, but I had time for another hour of reading before sleep at 10. I’m finishing up Karen Armstrong’s “Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths” which I’ve been reading slowly while I’m here. I also (earlier) finished Edwindge Dandicant’s “The Farming of Bones” which was very powerful and beautifully written (about Haiti and the Dominican Republic during a massacre in 1937). And I finished “The Life of Pi” which Renata had recommended. Last night I was reading Dandicant’s “Brother, I’m Dying” and found it hard to put down. I’ve also been prowling the library here for books on some of the ancient liturgies but have found it (library) to be quite dated–and very predictable: mostly cast-offs from libraries in the U.K. it looks like, although there are a number of “up-to-date” journals.
 
Today is the final day of “class” which ends before lunch. Free time this afternoon. I built in an extra day (tomorrow) so that I could do a bit of reflecting on my own, and so on, but now rather wish I were leaving with everyone else so I’d be home a day sooner. No matter–I’m sure that tomorrow will hold gifts of its own.

Sunday, February 7.  Ancient worship.

I was up early this morning to get to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City for High Mass (in Latin) at 5:30 a.m. Our Franciscan brothers use the “tomb of Christ” as the sanctuary while the rest of us sit outside in the “nave.” If you have not been there, check out the info and some photos at http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/jerusalem-church-of-holy-sepulchre. And click on the diagram of the floor plan for orientation to hat I’ll be telling you about.
There was a pipe organ somewhere. It was pretty incredible. Having heard (and sung) lots of Latin masses as a chorister, I could sing the people’s portion–and the chant tone was a Gregorian tone that we use in the Anglican church as well.  There were probably a half-dozen brothers on the raised platform, serving as “choir” and then another three dozen or so of us “pilgrims.” Most of the congregation was Asian (a tour group which I could see across from me making up at least half; there were three others from my group; and a handful of others–the man next to me sounded “veddy” British.
At the same time this Mass was happening, the Coptic Christians, on the other side of the “edicule” which is built over the shrine, said their Mass. (You can read something about the Copts0–mostly Egyptians–at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coptic_Orthodox_Church_of_Alexandria.) So throughout the Latin Mass, we could hear the Coptic one.
The Roman Catholic Mass ended about 6:15 so I went to observe the Coptic Celebration. There were just a handful of men (no women) there. Lots of bells and incense. Coming in 45 minutes into it, I couldn’t get my bearings. I think they were still in the Liturgy of the Word, though, but I left after about 10 minutes.
At 6:30 I went to the Ethiopian Orthodox Mass in the Church of the Resurrection. (The Church of the Resurrection is the same as the Church of the Holy Sepulcre, but the Orthodox Christians call it the former, and the Roman Catholics call it the latter.) The Ethiopian Mass was the best! (You can read a good piece about this church at http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2003/9/Africa%20in%20Jerusalem%20-%20The%20Ethiopian%20Church. There were about 20 or so worshippers–about 2/3 were men and the women were apart from the men. The women were wrapped in pale yellow or white flannel prayer shawls. The liturgy continued for two hours–no sermon, no instruments–and in the Orthodox tradition none of the congregation took communion (they take it only two or three times a year, and have to make an “appointment” with the priest to do so, and can do so only after a confession and after the priest is convinced they are  properly prepared).
Anyway, it was just a terrific service. I really liked it. The woman next to me spoke English, took me under her wing as I came in (the only non-Ethiopian in the house) and unbidden she explained to me some of what was happening, and I followed her lead re: posture–much bowing and kneeling and forehead to floor, etc. It really was wonderful and very spirited. In the Orthodox tradition, the consecration took place behind the curtained iconostasis, so I couldn’t see what the priest was doing, but when the curtain was open–his back was to the congregation. He had a number of brilliantly vested attendants, and there was much incense and many bells. There was a great deal of sung responsorial prayer to ancient melodies which I’d never heard.
Because the women were in very large prayer shawls, I used my shawl (thank you Harriet!) to cover my head, and was appropriately attired in long skirt and long-sleeved shirt. Shoes are left outside the worship space–so I’d slipped mine off. The chapel windows are open air, so it was quite cold–I’m sure the women were grateful for their shawls and the clergy for their vestments!
At the end, we all walked to the priest holding the processional cross and–I think–the consecrated sacrment. We venerated by kneeling and touching it with our foreheads and then with our lips. I saw what was happening and asked the woman next to me if I could participate–”Come, sister, come,” she said pulling me forward. It was surely the most worshipful service I’ve been a part of since coming here–even though I understood not a word of it. I understood a bit of the shape of it–liturgy of the Word, passing the Peace, and Eucharistic Prayer, but it was so much longer than anything to which I was accustomed that I couldn’t always tell where we were.
I hurried back to the College afterward for breakfast–and to warm up! My guess is that it was in the mid 40s outside and no more than the mid-50s in the chapel. Bright sunny day, though.
I read and wrote most of the rest of the morning. After lunch I took a nap (I’m fighting a cold!) and then went for a walk until dark. The sounds of this city will forever be in my mind.
I walked across the (former) green line into the Jewish part of the city (West Jerusalem). It was much quieter. Much cleaner. Looked very European. The laundry that was hung from the balconies was black–even the women and children here–of the predominantly ”religious” Jews–dress almost exclusively in black, brown and gray. What a contrast with the Palestinian neighborhoods.
There was a big mall about a mile into the neighborhood. I made it through security places, and once inside it was just like any American mall. Gap. Tommy Hilfiger. Versace. Coffee shops and restaurants. Nothing like the authenticity and vibrancy of the East Jerusalem (Palestinian) neighborhood where the college is. I stayed long enough to do a walk-through and promptly walked across the street into the Old City–which has become one of my favorite places. I’ve taken lots of pictures there so you can see it, but you can also read about it and see some images at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_City_(Jerusalem) and more images if you just go to Google images for “Old City Jerusalem.” I bought a couple of things for gifts (I’m going to have to buy another suitcase, I think!) and was back home by dusk. Did some reading, had some supper and now am about to do a bit more reading before bed.
I know you had a glorious celebration of the Eucharist today with Lynn. I look forward to seeing you all in less than a week!
 
Saturday, February 6. To the mountaintop and then waaaay below sea level.
We drove east from Jerusalem and then south at Jericho (about 20 miles later) and on to Masada. (Basic info and photos at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Masada.) After freezing in Jerusalem, the very temperate clime of this country along the Dead Sea (more than 1300 feet below sea level) was most welcome. It was a brilliantly sunny day. Despite my original hopes, time would not permit the climb to the top (which makes this an all day venture) because there were additional visits to Qumran and the Dead Sea planned.
So we took the tram from the visitor center (this is a State Park) to the top. Less than three minutes as compared to the three mile uphill hike. Once on top, though, my disappointment at missing out on the hike vanished. What an amazing place! It has been peopled intermittently since the Iron Age. Most famous, of course, as the stronghold for the Jewish Zealots (who “squatted” there, fleeing Jerusalem after the revolt of 66-72 CE) against the Romans, ending in mass suicide and homicide (for the zealots and their families) and a lot of work for nothing for the Romans.
It was Herod the Great who did the most extensive building here (around 30 BCE), having constructed for himself a massive “nothern” palace, a smaller palace and enough supporting storerooms and cisterns that more than 100 years later, the Zealots had no trouble accessing food and water. The cleverness of the builders is quite stunning, but too much to describe here.
In any case, aside from the historical significance, the place is of surpassing beauty in its panoramic views. It would have been wonderful to spend a goodly amount of time there–and overnight, although I’m sure that’s not permitted.
From there we drove to Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were recovered beginning in 1947, in caves near the Essene community. The Visitor Center is located at Cave 1. It was really wonderful to visit and imagine this community–perhaps one in which John the Baptist spent time before retreating alone to the wilderness north on the Jordan River. One of the things I like most about this discovery is the possibility it suggests for even more, similar finds–who knows what ancient documents may yet be uncovered, and what we may learn from them.
En route to Masada (southbound), I was on the east side of the bus, so my view was of the Dead Sea and the hazy mountains of Jordan beyond. The most striking feature was the level of the sea which has retreated hundreds of yards in thirty years, most especially in the past 10 or 15. Najati, our Palestinian guide, recalls swimming in the sea as a child 30 years ago, from bathhouses that are now more than a mile from the water’s edge. In addition to lack of rainfall, this unfortunate development is largely the result of increased irrigation northward, as the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River are being diverted as never before to support agriculture. Some predict that the Dead Sea will be little more than a mudflat within 20 years if there is no mitigation of the current trends.
On the way from Masada to Qumran (northbound) I was on the West side of the bus and had a wonderful view of the beautiful, rocky mountains. They are golden brown, craggy, and fulled with steep faces and deep caves. I have lots of pictures. I saw an ibex not far from the road, looking across the highway toward the Sea, but it was too quick for me to snap a photo.
After Qumran (where we ate lunch–nothing to write home about) and time for shopping (very touristy–I bought nothing) we went to the Dead Sea itself to give folks a chance to float in it. I didn’t avail myself, but instead talked to one of the women from Wyoming who had a lot on her mind. And did a lot of people-watching. Folks there from all over the world for fun and for the supposed medicinal properties of the mineral-laden water.
By the time we returned to Jerusalem, it was dusk. All in all a wonderful day, one of the highlights of this time in Palestine.
I was quite tired when we returned, and we had a class in the evening, so I was VERY ready for bed and snuggled in by 9:30. Which was a good thing because I was up at 4:30 to be at the Church of the Resurrection/Holy Sepulcher, by 5:15. More on that later.
Friday, February 5.  Into the crowds.
 
Although we had an early start and were atop the Mount of Olives around 8 a.m., it was already crowded and noisy. The day was still quite windy and cold–with fits of rain in the morning, and rain in earnest by afternoon. I was struck, on this high place–where Jesus retreated for silence and prayer–that there was NO silence. Below was a cacaphony of bus and car horns, bleating constantly; intermittent–but very frequent–sirens; “normal” traffic sounds; air hammers and other sounds of destruction/contruction, and all of the other noise that this city holds. Combined with the crush of people there was little opportunity to share in the spirit of “retreat,” except insofar as one was successful in engendering an “inner” quiet place.
Against the cold, we retreated to small shop for tea or Nescafe (there isn’t the proliferation of “real coffee” here–there is the occasional espresso machine, but mostly people seem to use instant!). Then we went to the “Garden” at Gethsemane.
The garden itself (about a dozen incredible, ancient olive trees) is fenced–and a massive basilica is erected near the “rock of agony” which some venerate as the spot where Jesus threw himself to the ground in prayer before his arrest. Again–the noise and press of people was almost unbearable. There was a Mass being said inside, and the priest’ (about a dozen of them!) words were drowned out by the horns of the buses and cars outside. These “shrines,” for all their historical significance have held no spiritual power for me. It is, instead, the quiet of Galilee and the movement of the everyday in this city which bear renewal  and spark contemplation in me.
Caught in a traffic jam below the Old City, we wended our way to Zion Gate and entered the wall there, making our way to the Lutheran Hospice (Hostel) for lunch (schnitzel!)
Then on to St. Mark’s (!) a Syrian Orthodox church which has continued, since the first century, in saying the prayers in the Aramaic. There is also a room below which they hold to be the “upper room” in which the Last Supper was shared, to which the friends of Jesus retreated after his crucifixion, and where he appeared to them after the resurrection. Because of the layers of construction which IS the Old City, it is not unreasonable to think that what was the “upper” room is now in the basement.
This was a wonderful old church, blessedly quiet, about the size of our St. Mark’s. It was a wonderful shelter after the crush of the crowds and their noise.
 Then to St. Peter of Gallicantu (cock-crow)–a Roman Catholic church (and gift shop, of course) built on what is purported to be Caiaphas’ palace and the “prison” where Jesus was held, outside of which Peter denied him three times.
I sought and obtained permission to leave the group at that point and while the bus returned them to the college, I walked and walked and walked until dark through and around the Old City. Just looking and listening–wandering and wondering.
Most of the folks gathered before dinner in the common room and over snacks and a dozen bottles of wine, had a spirited, laughter-filled “cocktail hour.” I returned about the time it was getting underway, and found myself more in need of quiet and solitude, and so put on dry clothes, sat on my bed–half-burrowed under the warm blanket–and read before dinner. Lovely. And after dinner the same. Lovely, again.
 
Thursday, February 4. Into the winter weather.
 
The Australians among us have come from the middle of a hot, hot summer, so the windchill today (about 25 degrees F), the icy rain, the sleet, the snow, and the hail were not welcome! Even the locals are complaining. For us Idahoans (and for the folks from Wyoming) it was just a day–although I wished I had brought gloves.
We started out at the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock. The platform is open outside of prayer times, but we are not allowed into the mosque or the Dome. Nonetheless, it was easy to see why this is holy ground to so many people. It was quite empty while we were there. In keeping with the understanding (of all of the Abrahamic traditions) that God’s paradise is a “garden” there are lovely trees everywhere. I guess I’ve seen them in photos, but I hadn’t remembered that there were so many.
We went next to the Western wall (the second time as a group).  Interesting that both the Wall and the Platform–ancient parts, restored parts, “new” parts– are still alive, bearing all of these centuries of peoples’ spiritual landscape and history. I did go to the wall to pray and my prayer is for a just and lasting peace in this wounded land.
We had our “usual” lunch of salads and entree (chicken & rice, and falafel) in an underground restaurant in the Old City. We were all grateful for the warmth.
The bulk of the afternoon was spent at the excavations at the Southern Wall. There are still some of the ancient steps to the Temple Mount. Also a  miqvah and some other of the structures from below the Temple. What was most moving for me, though, was the pile of massive stones, left in a heap, from the destruction(s) of the Temple. What a graphic symbol of our disregard for one another, and the tragedies that engenders among us.
In the evening, Naim Ateek from Sabeel joined us and talked about Sabeel’s work toward a just peace in this land. (I thank Karen Batroukh for introducing me to Sabeel some time ago–we at St. Mark’s will be hearing more about and participating more in this organizations work!). You can read about Sabeel at http://www.sabeel.org/. The Rev’d Dr. Naim Ateek (Anglican) is the founder of this body which embodies and applies Liberation Theology to the struggles of the Palestinians here. (Probably the most famous advocate of Liberation Theology, for Episcopalians, is Desmond Tutu in the South African struggle–which followed the struggle for integration and civil rights in the U.S. in the sixties.)
From its website: “Sabeel strives to develop a spirituality based on love, justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for the different national and faith communities [in Palestine].  The word ‘Sabeel’ is Arabic for ‘the way‘ and also a ‘channel‘ or ‘spring‘ of life-giving water.
 
Wednesday, February 3. Into the desert
 
We were up for the sunrise and after our final German cum Palestinian brekker were off to Mount Tabor. It’s at the east end of the Jezreel Valley, about 20 miles West of Tabgha where we were staying. The weather had turned, and the top of the mountain–fittingly, since this is the mountain identified with the Transfiguration–was “overshadowed by a cloud.” More info (and a couple of pictures) at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Tabor.
 
At the foot of the mountain is Shibli, a Bedouin community, built onto the hillside. Quite picturesque. Clearly a weather community than the Bedouin encampments East of Jerusalem. Lots of big, multi-story houses–the dwelling places of extended families–the way most Palestinians choose to live–wonderful!
The Bedouins are contracted by the State to provide transportation up the very narrow, steep road–all switchbacks–by minivan, so we left our big coach there and ferried up in the vans. There was much slamming of brakes as the vans encountered one another coming and going on the Very Narrow Roadway. This is a National Park, and there are also pathways to the top, but our group has many folks for whom this would not have been a possibility.
 
By the third century, the mountaintop was a pilgrimage site, and apparently a basilica was built there early on, but must have fallen to ruin at some point, to be rebuilt by the crusaders in the early 11th century. In the early 1920s, the Franciscans rebuilt the church in its present form. Big. A main nave and two smaller chapels representing the “tents” Peter proposed to erect for Moses and Elijah–and the larger one that the Franciscans figure he planned to put up for Jesus. We celebrated the Eucharist in the Moses chapel–smaller that our Chancel at St. Mark’s so we were packed in.
 
When we came out, it was a bit clearer, not raining, and I got some photos.
 
Remembering the good dates at Capernaum, I bought some from a vendor as we boarded the bus, but there were already drying and were much more like the ones we get in the states. A minor disappointment.
 
We drove from there to Jericho. It is such a sad community. It was captured along with the rest of the West Bank, during the Six Day War (1967). The drive to get there was wonderful. First through more rich agricultural land with “the usual”–banana plantations, olives, etc., but as we got closer to Jericho there were more squash plants (of various kinds, we were told) just now–in February!–in bloom, aubergines (eggplant), tomatos, etc.  To the west, as we drove the major north-south road, we could see the mountains of the east bank (Jordan). There is no “tourist” access to the Jordan River which is heavily guarded by Israel. The western side of the highway was “protected” by a security fence. To the east were many close, rocky hills–the highway obviouly ran just to the west of the ridge.  (You’ll have to wait to see the photos!).
There were Jewish occupation settlements here and there and lots of signs of the “keep out” nature–directed to the Palestinians–who were awarded this land in 1948, but lost it by force in 1967. Along with the Gaza Strip, it was placed under Palestinian Authority per the Oslo Accords. It was recaptured by Israel during the 2001 Intifada, although is once again under Palestinian Authority (I’m not sure when that happened). It’s clearly a very depressed community. Great empty swaths and damaged, inhabitable buildings. Were it not for the sadness, one could imagine how starkly beautiful it must have been. Najati, our Palestinian guide remembers coming here for summers as a child and describes it as the Palm Desert of Palestine. All, now, lost.
 
The north entrance to Jericho is closed, and we had to circumnavigate and enter via the southeast. We saw our first camels here (yes, I got photos!). There are many caves in the mountain to the west (enshrined as the Mount of Jesus forty days of temptation) which were inhabited many thousands of years ago. Jericho is considered one of the oldest constantly inhabited communities on earth. It’s about 10 miles northwest of the Dead Sea (where we go on Saturday, February 6 (?–my dates may be wrong–but it’s this Saturday, tomorrow for me). Jericho is located about three hundred feet below Sea Level.
 
We had lunch in another open-air restaurant (just a little on the cool side) with the usual assortment of wandering cats (I fed them some of my chicken kabob and was very popular). Because of the restrictions on the Palestinian to get their goods to market out of the area, they rely entirely on tourist dollars. We stopped at another cooperative marketplace (like the one in Bethlehem) which also sold wares from Nablus (another deeply wounded Palestinian city). I bought a set of communionware of the blue and white enameled sort that is very common in Palestine–a reproduction of this design http://www.arabamericanmuseum.org/umages/catalog/160016Loaves_general.jpg.
 
We could see St. George’s Monastery on the side of the Mount of Temptation, but did not visit. We did, after leaving, go a bit closer to the Dead Sea to visit St. Gerassimos Monastery–a 16th century monastery on the site of an ancient one–one that was home to some of the Desert Fathers, presumably. A windstorm blew in as we were there, and I was happy to get back on the coach.
 
We went westward toward Jerusalem, and got out at one point on a high overlook above the Judean Desert. It was the perfect time of day, with the desert ridges and ravines lit dramatically by the setting sun which was obscured (while we were there) by a Big Gray Storm cloud. The wind was blowing like mad and it was quite wonderful. It gave me a completely different understanding of the experience of Jesus in the desert–and of the experience of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
 
From there we headed to Jerusalem, passing Bedouin encampments that were just lean-tos and canvas. I can’t imagine how they live. We’ll learn more about it tomorrow en route to the Dead Sea.
 
That day ended in cold and blustery rain in Jerualem. Which is how the next day began. But that must wait for another entry.
 
February 2–Tuesday. Full immersion!
 
Okay, it was freezing here today. High thirties or low forties I’d say with a brisk wind (gusts up to 25 mph according to the weather folks) and rain, sleet, and snow at various times throughout the day–and it was a day when we were outside most of the time! Did I have an umbrella–no. But it was too windy anyway. I stayed reasonably warm in layers–but nose and toes got pretty cold! But–I want to give you an update on the days I missed telling you about. So I’ll backtrack to Tuesday.
 
We went early from Pilgerhaus to the Mount of the Beatitudes–the location assumed to be the one where Jesus gave his famous–Beatitudes charge to the disciples (Matthew 5). It’s not far from Galilee–just up! It’s a Roman Catholic settlement: basilica, convent, etc. Quite lovely. Palm trees. Olives trees. “The usual” for this part of the world (and yes, thanks to Mary Bostick lending me her camera I’m taking lots of pictures which will be available when I download them when I’m back home). And as usual with these shrines, quite busy–one busload after another.
I’m happy to say that all-in-all we Americans and the Australians are much better behaved than most of the other groups of other nationalities which we’ve encountered. Quite interesting. No ugly Americans that I’ve seen.
 
The highlight of the Mount of Beatitudes visit was that a group of Polish (we think) Orthodox Christians came into the basilica and began to sing I don’t know what but it was incredibly moving. Obviously unaccompanied.  All of those low basses. The women were singing too. All by heart. All from the heart! It sounded like it was probably Psalms or Canticles or something because there seemed to be antiphons that included recognizable “alleluias.” I was almost the last on the bus because I lingered to listen to them–but it was wonderful. The acoustics in these basilicas are wonderful–so that made it even better.
 
From there we drove back down to Galilee and went to the Church of St. Peter’s Primacy–commemorating the “on this rock I will build my church” moment re: Peter–it’s a Roman Catholic shrine (naturally!). (http://www.sacred-destinations.com/israel/tabgha-church-of-primacy-of-peter.htm). The had a poster prominently displayed which showed the apostolic succession from St. Peter to Benedict XVI. I didn’t see Katharine Jefferts Schori or Rowan Williams anywhere on it!
We celebrated the Holy Eucharist there and renewed our baptismal vows after hiking a few dozen yards to the Sea (Lake) of Galilee–and wading in. So that was nice for us–and you know how much I love Baptism and renewing our vows. What a joyful thing to do in that place under that sun. There was a wonderfully funny moment when we were singing (a Church of England hymn) about the “beautiful sight” and the “awesome sight” when right in front of us a middle-aged man with a very large belly and a very small Speedo, splashed into the water without inhibition and frolicked and laughed to entertain someone(s) on shore. None of us could keep a straight face–and I doubt that God did either. Awesome sight indeed!
 
We went on into Capernaum–just maybe a mile or two down the road–(east) and looked at the ruins/excavations there. Lovely views of the lake and interesting sights otherwise. The old village (some from the 1st century) had been uncovered, and there was a house that has been identified as Peter’s house–so the Roman Catholics built a church over it and (of course) charge admission. There was also a 2ndcentury (?) synogogue. You can read more about the excavations at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capernaum — and I could get my dates right if I looked at it–but there’s a line at the computer, so….
 
On to lunch, then, al fresco–absolutely pleasant. We had fried, whole “St. Peter’s fish” (tilapia zilli–fresh caught) about six or so inches in length from nose to tail fins–it was served absolutely whole, but gutted–and not deboned. And it was bony. But the bones were sturdy enough that they were easy to avoid–one could sort of debone it holding the tail and “zipping” the spine upward. It was quite tasty. But the even better part was a dessert of fresh deglet dates. Soooo yummy. And not nearly as sweet as they are when they are dried. Smooth, firm, and slightly juicy. Most people didn’t seem to think much of them, I so rolled a dozen or so into one of the paper napkins and took them with me. A lovely dessert after supper!
 
From there we went back down the west side of the lake about 10 miles to Ginosar. It is a kibbutz (founded in 1937) which was an agricultural community, but its income is now primarily tourism because it’s home to a fishing boat dated about 100 BCE that was uncovered in a drought in 1986. Quite interesting to look at–fascinating story about how it was excavated and moved–you can find more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sea_of_Galilee_Boat. It was featured not too long again in National Geographic, too. We went out on a tour boat from there for an hour or so. It was quite pleasant. Me. On the Sea of Galilee. In a boat. Where Jesus was. (No storm arose, though….)
 
Back to Pilgerhaus (which is in Tabgha) for the late afternoon. Another fellow (the Rector at Lynn’s old church in Jackson Hole!) and I went for a walk almost back to Capernaum–needed the exercise. Lovely! Caught the sunset as we walked west on the return trip, and having worked up a bit of a sweat, I took a “full immersion” dunk in the Lake! Ahhhhh. In the Sea of Galilee. Me. Where Jesus swam (presumably).
So, you see, I’m getting caught up–perhaps will have done by the end of the day tomorrow.
Oh, yes, and I did some shopping today, and yesterday, and one of the days before and have bought some lovely things for St. Mark’s–and for the Sunday School kids!!!
Now–off to hear an Arab presenter talk about the Peace Process. He’s the founder of Sabeel–Karen Batroukh knows him–so she’ll be tickled that he came to talk to us.
More tomorrow.
 
Since I’ve been out of email contact for a few days, I will be a while “catching up” but I’ll continue to go day-by-day. So….
 
February 1–Monday. Westward, ho!
 
We drove from Jerusalem first to Caesarea Maritima–one of Herod’s palaces (Herod the Great, that is–father of Herod Antipas of Jesus’ time) on the coast of the Mediterranean north of Tel Aviv.
The drive took us first across the “green line” and into ”West” Jerusalem–the Jewish sector. Housing here is expensive–one-bedroom condos for $250K. We learned from a Jewish presenter in one of our seminars that because the Arabs are no longer allowed to work in (West) Jerusalem, the Israelis “import” non-Jewish labor from China, Rumania, and sub-Saharan Africa. This is, understandably, causing more social dislocation in in the Jewish-controlled city. There is a lot of new construction. This part of the city looks more European than Palestinian.
Just when I think I have a grip on the complexities of life here–the struggles among the Jews and Arabs to share the land–I learn something new and instead of making things clearer, they just become more complicated in my mind. I have a growing appreciation for the immense challenges of finding a just solution to the questions of Nations (and nations).
 
We continued westward beyond Jerusalem through the Judean Hills (lovely) on a four-lane highway–with new road construction visible at many of the interchanges. Lots of olive groves. Kosher McDonald’s and Burger King at the exits!
 
At Caesarea Maritima there have been some significant excavations revealing a huge spread including hippodrome, theatre, and a palace proper which extended over the Mediterranean itself and included a sweetwater swimming pool. It is just one of Herods six (?–I think that’s right) palaces. He used local sandstone, but plastered it over and painted it so that it would look like marble (although for some construction imported real marble).
 
The day was sunny and mild, a breeze off the water. I gathered some shells, a few pottery shards and so on, and found a moment to depart from the group and run down to the water’s edge where I walked in up to my knees–just to be able to say I’d been in the Mediterranean! It was VERY warm.
 
Caesarea Maritima has a big tourist hotel and Israel’s only golf course (water is too dear). From there we drove up to Nazareth where we visited a shrine and small basilica at “Mary’s Well.” The Eastern Orthodox tradition is that God’s messenger visited Mary (The Annunciation) at the well as she was doing her daily chores. The Western tradition is that God visited her at home (presumably between chores!) and so the Roman Catholics have built a BIG spread over the cave that was “Mary’s House” and that’s what they’ve enshrined. Most pilgrims visit both (as did we) to cover all the bases!
 
Each was interesting, but far more so was the path between the two down the steep and narrow streets of Nazareth. As in all of these “Holy Places” there are hawkers and vendors lining the paths to and fro. “Pashmina [scarves/shawls]–10 shekels!” “Ten postcards–one dollar! Only one dollar!” “Rosary–Holy Land Olive wood–never seen so beautiful–only five dollar! Five dollar only!!”
 
We had lunch in Nazareth. The menu is becoming a much enjoyed tradition for us–appetizers of fresh pita with plates of hummous, baba ganouj, marinated aubergine [eggplant], and other vegetable salads. That’s followed by an entree–in this case it was spaghetti (!) with tomato and ground meat. Dessert was a lovely coconut maccaroon.
 
From Nazareth we drove to the German Benedictine-run Pilgarhouse on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. It is next to their monastery and Church of the Multiplication–in remembrance of the multiplication[s] of Loaves and Fishes. Very Western in accommodation. Delicious meals that were a unique blend of Middle Eastern and German! For example, breakfast included fresh feta cheese, yogurt, and yogurt cheese with pita–but also bleu cheese and slabs of rye bread! Although they gave us fresh coffee (good!) and tea at breakfast–all other beverages (including water–bottled only) were available for purchase only.
 
I spend the waning daylight of our first day there sitting on the rocky shore (basalt, rounded stones) and just listening to the gentle lapping of the water (no wind). It was very pleasant.There were a couple of smalling fishing boats (one person in each) less than a hundred yards away. They were putting nets over the side not far from shore, and getting small catches now and then. As it grew darker the lights of Tiberias lit up to the south.
 
The drives on that day–from Jerusalem to the Meditarranean to Nazareth and finally to the shores of Galilee took us through wonderful agricultural  land. Very pleasant drives, crossing the verdant Jezreel Valley–a broad agricultural valley. Even in this season there are ripe bananas on the trees–the bunches in big blue plastic bags and the whole orchards covered in netting to protect the fruit from the birds, we were told. There is a lot of green-house farming and farming under plastic. Some farming is done individually, of course, but most is done on sprawling kibbutzes. We crossed the Jezreel Valley which is perhaps the country’s “breadbasket” it must be 10 miles wide in places.
 
More later about our stay on the Galilean Lake! Now it’s off to more exploration of the Old City.

31 January 2010. Sunday.  Into the countryside.

  
Yesterday was  quite a full day with many and varied impressions.
 
We went first to Ein Karen (various English spellings). It is noted as the birthplace of John the Baptizer and of the place where the meeting between Mary and Elizabeth occurred when both were pregnant, and Mary (it is reported) sang the Magnificat–the ancient hymn she borrowed from Hannah. It is a southwestern suburb of Jerusalem now–in the Judean hills. Quite beautiful. Ancient terrace gardens.
 
The flora here is so lovely–especially for January.  There are many succulents and many actual cacti (which look like the ones in the southwestern U.S.). And there are many rose bushes–much like the ones in the traditional gardens in Moscow, but some of hues and scents that are quite new to me. There are many variations of “trumpet vine”–some with red, some with yellow, and some with orange trumpets–some with the little trumpets (smaller than my little finger) and some with larger ones, such as I’ve not seen before. Of course olive trees everywhere (harvested in October and November) and almond trees (currently in bloom). Grape vines and fig trees, too, but at least so far not as many as I’d expected. That will likely change as we go into other rural areas.
In Ein Karen, at the two “holy” sites are built quite lovely cathedrals. Some parts quite ancient, but most of the current structures is 19th century.
 
From there we drove southeast to Bethlehem. The most significant thing, for me, was the passage through The Wall. The stories of the impact on the residents in Bethlehem are innumerable and deeply moving (and angering!). Families separated from their ancestral olive orchards, for example. Now, even during harvest, only one member of the family may go to the trees to harvest–friends and others can’t come and help, so inevitably the harvest goes to waste or the family has to hire Palestinians from elsewhere, but then they have no profit. The system for applying for passes out of Bethlehem is very slow and expensive in any case. If one wants to work outside Bethlehem, one must be back inside The Wall by 7 pm–there are severe penalites (usually a huge fine and or supension or revocation of the license) which means–of course–that the person loses her or his job. There is no “industry” in Bethlehem except the tourist industry.
 
Traditionally the men have been masons and stonecutters, but the wall separates them from their quarries and few of them are able to work outside the wall. Thus, they have only tourism to support them. I spent scads (for me) of money there. I bought a creche for St. Mark’s–which I’ve long been wanting to do. They’re going to ship it home for me–it will arrive before I do. It’s made of olivewood, hand-carved (most of the pieces) and the faces are smooth–no features–and are, thus, powerfully suggestive. There are many individual pieces, and the Baby is separate from the “baby-holder” so it is well-suited to the children bringing the pieces forward–and the wood is non-breakable!
The shop where I bought it is a “fair trade” cooperative of about six families and they sell everything from gee-gaws to icons, olivewood to gold jewelry.
And we stopped at “Star’s and Buck’s”–a conscious imitation of the Starbucks colors and logo. Quite fun. The back story is that that owner used to have a big shop near Masada at the Dead sea, and he employed many many family members from Bethlehem and elsewhere. However, once the wall was built, he lost his business and now has set up this much smaller shop. Our guide (a Palestinian) is friends with so many of the folks there and so steers our business to them.
 
We ate lunch in a restaurant in a building with a stone facade on one side, but the other sides and roof were canvas. The floors were dirt and covered with canvas and rugs. It was huge–probably three or four times the size of the parish hall. The lunch was pita and about a dozen “appetizers” of various veggies. (Martha, you’d have loved it!) When we arrived there was one large table only of men (probably a dozen or so and all smoking and drinking coffee) and a few smaller ones of families. We were there about an hour and as we were leaving more families and groups of young adults were arriving.
 
Also, as we were leaving the restaurant, a storm blew in–a few raindrops, but mostly just wind and fog/sand. It stayed warm but was quite windy.
 
We went to the “holy sites” at the Church of the Nativity–the purported birthplace of Jesus and the “manger”–both in a cave over which a huge facade has been built–over and over since the fourth century–and is home to an Armenean monastery. It was quite “touristy.” We waited on line for about 30 minutes and then were herded down a very narrow stairway, to the two grottoes in a crowded and stuffy room. There was much noise of guides calling out directions, and lots of flashes bursting as people photographed one another for the “I was there” shots. There was nothing about it that seemed even remotely holy. But since I wasn’t expecting anything–it didn’t disappoint–just interested and amused me. I’ve encountered the presence of God here in the daily–and that is more than enough.
 
We were delayed leaving Bethlehem and had to show our passports. My heart went out to the ones who live there, and my anger toward the Jewish State rose in my gorge as I thought–it was only two or three generations ago that THEY were forced to live behind walls in Warsaw and throughout Eastern Europe. There are those still alive who were in the camps! How can they do this to others!
 
This morning I went to an Arabic language Anglican service at the cathedral at 9:30. The community had a number of single women my age and older, a few couples and a smattering of very bored looking teenagers. It was absolutely traditional in its liturgy using the hymnbook that the COE uses (words only, no tunes) and a liturgy that was based more on the COE liturgy of 1662 (still in use) than on some of the more “progressive” liturgies of the past 50 years.
This is a Diocese that does not ordain women. (A cultural impossibility for decades to come, I imagine.) I’m told that the current dean of the college (younger than I by five or 10 years I’d guess) who is from England also does not support the ordination of women. Of the clergy on this trip, equally divided between men and women, only the male clergy are invited to celebrate. I’ve been asked to give a “reflection” when we hear the story of the Annunciation, and have been asked to be the intercessor (offer the prayers of the people) at one of the Eucharists. It’s all very British, very conservative, and very male dominated.
 
We have a free afternoon. I’m going to finish the reflection (to be given tomorrow) and and will go for a walk in the Western (Jewish) neighborhood.  In the later afternoon I’ll go to a Compline service at St. Sergius (Greek Orthodox?) which is unchanged, I’m told, from the sixth century.
 
Tomorrow morning (Monday) we leave for three days and two nights in Galilee. I don’t believe I’ll have access to a computer. So don’t expect to hear from me again until Wednesday evening (Wednesday morning, for you) or Thursday morning (Wednesday night).
 
I’m thinking of you all and Michael going to celebrate in just a few hours and then have the Annual Meeting. I rejoice with you, pray with you, and share with you God’s blessings.
 
29 January 2010. Robin the sponge.

 

Yes. I continue to drink it in. Another full day. 

 Good night’s sleep–almost 9 hours!
 
The “usual” brekker (olives, pita, eggs) and the cheese was a fresh soft yogurt cheese–quite tart and tasty. Then we were off the the national museum–which (we knew in advance) was closed for repairs. But two parts were open: the model of the Old City in 66 C.E.–which sprawls outside over several thousand square feet–and the exhibit of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Both were very interesting. We were there for a couple of hours. I took photos of the “old city” but not of the Scrolls. The staff pointed out that the city changes constantly, as the result of continuing excavations and other discoveries. Fascinating to look at now having spent many hours there.
Once we crossed the “green line” and were into “Jewish” Jerusalem, the city was much finer–much new construction, clearly wealthier, apartments and condos galore. We drove past the Knesset–behind many obvious layers of security.
 
Lunched at the college and then I went back into the Old City. Just wandering and looking. Listening. Smelling. I did buy some halvah–yum! There are old women who sell greens and herbs from brown paper bags and boxes. They set up at what seem to be designated places in the market–this is in the Moslem Quarter–and outside the Old City in the commercial streets–but they don’t do the same kind of hawking as the men do. Unseemly? They are all much older than I, very leathery faces and hands, often in some kind of traditional dress–some in headscarves, but not all. Are some Christian? I wonder about their stories. Widowed? Do they grow what they sell? I must ask.
 
I intended to be back in time to do some laundry (by hand–although I could pay $5 to have it washed and $10 to have it washed and dried) but dawdled and so arrived just a few minutes before our class on Jewish Spirituality and Identity. Very basic. Waaaaay too basic, I thought, for an introduction to such an important subject. But were were assigned some pre-reading (and I appear to be one of the Very Few who actually did it) which would have been helpful to those who know little or nothing, so maybe the prof expected (unrealistically it turns out) the folks to have some background.
After that we walked back to the Western Wall for the beginning of Shabbat and watched. Hugely emotional for me. I feel still so connected and yet feel so little entitled to such a tie since I’ve returned to Christianity. A “betrayal.” But it was such a formative time for me, and so rich, and several of the practices–having become a part of my fiber–are with me to this day: i.e. saying the brachot many many times a day; doing Taschlich as a symbol of repentance; striving for tikkun olam, etc. Anyway, it was a fairly complicated response. And I was very happy to be there. I lingered there longer than the others simply drinking in the joy of the people welcoming Shabbat! And even as I left (about an hour after sundown) there were still folks rushing through the narrow streets of the Old City to get there.
 
I came back after dark–my first time out alone past sundown. But the streets were very busy and I was completely safe.
 
On to dinner this evening in about 15 minutes and then more reading for me, and to bed by 9. We go to Bethlehem tomorrow! That will be very interesting, no doubt.
 
I am having an absolutely wonderful time.
There are three others in my “small group”: all Aussies–the Bishop of Grafton (Keith); the Canon at the Cathedral there (Donald) and a retired priest from the Cathedral (Doreen)–good bunch. 
 
More tomorrow. I will continue my delighted “sponging!”
 
28 January 2010. Exploration continues: I don’t speak the language, but I hear the message.

Very good day. Wandered all around the Old City–explored all four quarters. I felt the similarities of the peoples, watched the children come out of their schools; heard the vendors hawking; smelled chicken being grilled on braziers everywhere in the city. And saddened by the anti-Jewish response of some in this group–not being critical of the actions of the Jewish State but coloring all of “them” with the broad brush of oppressor–and other ugly stereotypes. And describing Jewish people as “money-grubbers,” and “pushy” and all of the other adjectives expressive of prejudice. As one fellow ranted on at dinner about the Jews coming into Israel and pushing the Palestinians off their lands–I asked him to consider the parallels between this action and what we “Europeans” did when we came to the Americas and exterminated the indigenous populations, or put them in reserves, or enslaved them. 

If we condemn the actions of the Jewish state, then we must (pot calling the kettle black and all) look very long and hard at what steps we have taken toward reparations for our own sad history. The tragedy is that those who are oppressed in one context then turn out to be the oppressors in the next. Why can’t we learn from history? Oppression does not end well. Oppressors never “win.” It’s particularly difficult to hear such an “anti” sentiment from those of us who claim to be faithful Christians or faithful Jews or faithful Muslims–our God is big enough for all–our God does not need to be defended by our enclave against another. Okay, off the soap-box.
 
Impressions of the beauty of the day. Rich and vibrant colors in the textile art in stall after stall in the markets. Intricate textures in the stones of the streets and walls. Wonderful music: from the mosques at prayer time, from the various Christian churches, from the folks singing at Bar Mitzvahs at the Western Wall, and in the laughter of children behind the schoolyard walls. Evocative odors from the frying falafel, from the mounds of spices in tiny stalls, from the smoking frankinscense and myrrh, and yes, from the harsh cigarettes still smoked by many of the vendors and the men (not women!) on the street.
 
I was tempted to buy so many things, but don’t have either the money or the room in the luggage for much. I bought some saffron which is so dear in the U.S. and much cheaper here. And I’ll probably pick up some little things for a few friends and family (emphasis on little because of the luggage). There are some optional (i.e. not covered in the gift) trips, too, and I want to take advantage of them: Masada and the Dead Sea for one. So since I have one day here after the program is completed, I’ll head back to the market and buy then with whatever money I have left.
 
I’m still just overwhelmed by the sights and sounds. The drivers here are completely crazy. Almost every car has dings and scrapes. There is much horn-honking and “middle-finger” flashing (or the equivalent). The sidewalks are narrow and shopkeepers and friends have chairs and stools set up outside the shop door and there is much animated conversation at all times! Women and girls in head-scarves of all possible colors and patterns and textures: from utilitarian black or gray to shimmery beaded pastels and some “electric” colors. Matted, skinny feral cats scrounging in the dumpsters, slinking away in distrust if you try to approach.
 
Today our group of four had lunch in an Armenian restaurant. I had an appetizer sampler that turned out to be all sorts of little dumpling-y things: some deep-fried and some baked with a dipping sauce that was seasoned (I swear) with chili powder! My dining partners were all Australians and they wouldn’t touch it, saying it was “too hot.” I’d give it two out of five stars. I also had some dense and syrupy “Arabian Coffee.” (It made up for the coffee at the college–which is instant.) We’ve had tasty breakfasts (which I think I already described) and dinners at the college. Last night there was roast beef, baba ganouj, and steamed veggies. I passed on the roast beast and filled up on baba and broccoli–yum! Tonight it was grilled chicken stewed with veggies (very interesting squashes, carrots, onions…) in a really tasty tomato-y broth on couscous.
 
So, I’m eating healthily, drinking in the sights, walking miles daily, and getting more than six hours of sleep per night. All is good. I might even have a bit of sunburn on my nose. The Australians (coming from a hot and humid summer) still complain about the cold even though it was a sunny 60 F today. I was basking! 

Happily–to be continued…. 

27 January 2010. Bearings got and exploration begun. 

Well, my laptop isn’t working (not a problem with the laptop, just a connectivity problem that I hope will be resolved tomorrow). And my brand new phone card isn’t working either–that’s more complicated….however–here I am, briefly from the college computer lab. Dinner in just a few.
 
Yesterday I wandered all over the neighborhood. We’re in East Jerusalem–the Palestinian side–across the former green line.  I walked both sides of the line.
Today we took a bus ride around outside the old city. Crossed the Kidron Valley, and went to a Roman Catholic convent, Beit Abraham, which overlooks the Mount of Olives and the Kidron Valley to the North–and looks to the south wall of the old city and the Hinnon Valley (Gehenna). And also overlooks an illegal settlement just being built. What a terribel conflict this is.
Then we went beyond the Mount of Olives to Mount Scopus and looked eastward to the Rift Valley and the Dead Sea beyond. And we got our first glimpse of the wall on the highway below. Awful. Awful. Awful.
 
Tonight I went to the Armenian Orthodox Cathedral in the Old City which was hosting today’s service of prayer for the Week of Christian Unity. Amazing. No electricity. Lit by lamps and candles. Ancient. Balconies three stories up. An amazing dome. The choir (all men) singing the great old chants unaccompanied. Wow!!!!!! I went by myself–it was about 4 pm when I left the college, but got lost in the maze of streets in the Old City. Finally asked a woman who turned out to be a Roman Catholic nun and she walked me close by.
Fascinating in the old city. Amazing. What a blend of ethnicities and a blend of the ancient and modern. These ancient walls and buildings and everyone’s talking on cell phones. Anyway, on the way back, I walked with some folks from our group because it was dark and I absolutely wasn’t sure I could find my way.
 
Tomorrow we spend the whole day in the Old City.
 
I had another good night’s sleep last night–9 hours. I think my clock is reset. No jet lag that I can tell. Folks say that may be because I’ve been outside so much and walking so much.
 
If I had an empty suitcase and a few hundred more sheckels, I could fill it easily with wonderful ethnic clothing and gee-gaws. Just the stuff I love. It’s probably a good thing that I have neither. I am taking pictures with a digital camera friend lent me.
 
All is well well well. Still pinching myself.
(Thank you, Mary, for the camera. I used it over and over today.)
 
Love to you!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 
Robin

26 January 2010. In Jerusalem at St. George’s–getting my bearings. 

I’m here. Arrived at the college about 14 hours ago.  Blessed sleep for 10 of those 14 hours. The delays in Moscow were harbingers of things to come, as it turns out–but likewise, it ended well. 

The flight from Seattle was fine, but were delayed (snow!) landing in Frankfurt, and so almost missed the flight to Tel Aviv. Literally ran through the Frankfurt airport, and made it through security to the gate just as they were shutting the doors. Whew. 

In the airport in Tel Aviv, I made my way around just fine, got my passport stamped, picked up my luggage, got $500 changed to shekels, and was outside in less than 45 minutes. It was overcast in Tel Aviv. On the road outside the airport are orange and lemon groves. Beautiful. Hit heavy rain and fog as we got closer to Jerusalem, and the traffic was awful. It took more than 2 hours on the shuttle for what should have been a 45 minute trip. I didn’t mind, of course, because I was just drinking it all in. The shuttle had mostly Orthodox Jews aboard, and as the driver dropped them off, I saw some really interesting neighborhoods. 

St. George’s in near the old city, quiet close to the Damascus gate, in a Palestinian neighborhood. My roommate is a 20-year-old from Australia. She thinks the weather here is awfully cold (55 or 60) while it seems very mild to me. She’s bundled up and I don’t even have a coat on. 

At breakfast this morning I met a bunch of folks from Jackson, Wyoming who know Lynn Wright! Small world–smaller Anglican world! Although there was “cold cereal” at breakfast–mostly it was the Aussies whom I saw eating it–there was also a delicious spread of olives, pita, feta cheese, tomatoes and cucumbers. 

The college is in the Palestinian neighborhood near the old city. It’s in the same compound as St. George’s Cathedral which you can find on Googlemaps. 

They “advise” that women don’t go out alone, but since I’m here alone, I don’t want to always have to “crash” a group (most of the folks are here with grous)–plus I don’t really want to go out en masse. I hope I find some other singleton to hook up with for walking today.  Classes start tomorrow. 

I’m in the library typing this. Somewhere, out of sight but close by someone is typing on an old typewriter. I hear its familiar clacking. Outside the window are yellow and orange roases and a climbing vine with yellow blossoms that from this distance look like potentilla flowers, but the greenery is very different. There is some kind of cawing bird, similar to a crow in sound, but clearly a diffeent “language.” From my bedroom window, I look past the compound driveway and wall to a commercial street (i.e. small shops) and saw several soldiers and their automatic weapons on patrol. The college staff is all Palestinian, so I’m sure I’ll see a different side of life here than if were here on a Jewish “tour.” 

I slept for 10 hours last night (9 to 7) so I’m hoping I’ve come some distance to re-setting my biological clock. I do hope I can find someone to go out with. We’re right close to the Damascus gate into the old city and the markets in the old city are supposed to be very interesting. I think I’ve remembered to bring everything I intended, but I’ll look around for litte keepsakes. 

I could write so much more, but it’s fairly slow on this little keypad and I want to get out, if possible, and do something. I’m well, almost rested, and happy to be here. 

23 January 2010–Day 1 of Jerusalem Adventure: En (circuitous) route 

Well, the great travel adventure has begun as only it can if one is scheduled to fly out of the Moscow/Pullman airport…which seemed like a good decision at the time. But here’s how it played out. 

I was awake and puttering by 2 am (after a wonderful Burns’ Night–thank-you Cory and Jay!) and saw that it was snowing…now how many weeks have we gone with no snow? But the weather forecast showed that it was to stop by 7 am (flight to leave at 6:45). Barbara O’Donnell–an early-morning saint–came by to get me at 5 am. The flight was a go per the Horizon website so I paid for my one bag and printed out my boarding pass before we left for the airport. 

Just about 5:30 they announced the flight was cancelled due to the weather. But I had a good novel (The Help by Kathryn Stockett–I commend it to you) and the staff said the snow was supposed to stop by 10 and they expected the 11:20 flight to be on time. In the next five hours I drank two cups of vending machine coffee (bearing little if any resemblance to the real thing), ate the one Balance bar I had in my bag, read, and watched the crew plow the snow off the runway. It had stopped snowing by daylight. Things were looking good. About 10:30, security opened. Things were looking better. 

I was one of the first through security–eager beaver–and just as I was getting my shoes back on, they announced that because of the low ceiling the 11:20 flight was cancelled. BUT if we hurried to Lewiston, we could catch the flight there (which they’d hold until 12:10). Mid-day saints Harriet Hughes and John Fellman came to my rescue, and we headed for Lewiston. Despite their best efforts, I just missed the flight. Next flight?–3:50 to Seattle via Boise. 

No worries. I read, took an almost-nap in the almost-deserted airport stretched out on some seats by baggage claim, read some more and had another cup of coffee. 

That flight came off without a hitch. I finished The Help, worked a NY Times crossword I’d clipped before I left, likewise a Sudoku, ate two of the Horizon Airlines snack packs against my increasing hunger, and started The Life of Pi, long recommended by my daughter. and I arrived in Seattle at 7:10 pm, just 12 hours after my originally scheduled flight! Tired. Hungry, but safe and sound (as is my one bag). 

Arrived at the Hampton Inn about 7:40, showered, and at the advice of the solicitous desk clerk, ordered a pizza from Bella Luna which should be here any minute. I’ll have some–and save some for breakfast, and hope to be in bed by nine. 

Tomorrow? Jerusalem! (Well actually leave on the 24th and arrive on the 25th.) 

Goodnight. Good prayers and sweet dreams. 

15 January 2010 

I can’t stop thinking, praying, grieving about the families, the children, the old ones, and the animals in Haiti. How can we ever do enough? But we can do something. Each of us. Many little somethings. If you’re an Episcopalian, you probably know about Episcopal Relief & Development. You can make a donation on line at www.er-d.org. I know from my Facebook community that many, many people are praying and giving, praying and giving, praying and giving. Thank you. Lord, have mercy. Blessed be. 

12 January 2010 

We’ve entered a new liturgical season–from Christmastide to Epiphany and now the Season After the Epiphany–the season in which we think about all of the ways we can radiate to the world the Dawning Light. 

Today, I’ve had three contacts with people who are interested in coming to/becoming members of St. Mark’s. These enounters reflect on all of the ways in which the people in this parish family demonstrate to others that all are welcome. Who is welcome? In the words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “All, all, all, all, all, all, all!” 

This is such a different message than that shared by many denominations and congregations–too often the message is about who is “in” and who is “out” and the ways that we have of excluding the ones we want to exclude. I’m really taken of late (as those who heard the sermon at the baptism on Sunday may recall), of the image of church as The Welcome Table. And judging by the responses of people who come through out door, it is an image that is shared by the St. Mark’s family. 

Now I’m thinking about Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf; The Ongoing Feast by Arthur Just; and The Feast of the World’s Redemption by John Koenig. Time for reading break, I think, even though I have Lots of Other Things to do! 

4 January 2010 

Greetings, friends. 

I’m starting this blog now in anticipation of my trip to St. George’s College in Jerusalem later in the month. I want a place to be able to reach all of you at once, and this seems like a very good way to do it. 

Meantime, I’ll try to get on here every day or so with tidbits and links and such which I think you might find interesting, but which don’t need to be on the main page. 

I hope you enjoy the remaining couple of days of Christmastide, where ever you are.