Wanting to visit the many sites of the Holy Land where Jesus lived out his life and ministry is usually why Christians make a pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine. Seeing the places noted in scripture changed what had resided within my imagination from the years of childhood to that of adulthood. My trip to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth, and the surrounding areas in Judea and Galilee shattered my idealized pablum version of biblical times while confirming the realism that he lived and breathed as a human.
Located in the West Bank, today Bethlehem is a town surrounded by separation walls in the Judean hills about 5 miles south of Jerusalem. Rising above the valleys below, it isn’t hard to imagine how magi traveling from the East might see a bright star “above” this city. From a distance, a star might appear as if it was resting atop a hill. Pilgrims have been visiting Bethlehem since the 1st century, so something had to have happened here. Visiting the Church of the Nativity, one has the expectation to stand where Mary and Joseph had sought lodging, giving birth to a son whom they laid in a manger since there was no room in the inn due to an overpopulated city because of a Roman census. Don’t get too excited. Yes, the church that commemorates the spot is beautiful: mosaics, oil lamps, icons. There are also hordes of people pushing and cramming into the little “cave/grotto” where the precise spot is marked by a 14-pointed silver star. Yes – X marks the spot. I climbed down into the claustrophobic space as my fellow pilgrims sang “Away in a Manger.” I bent into the niche on the floor and touched the star with the little window (plexiglass?) that showed the rock below. Not exactly a holy moment for me.
One of the main reasons I wanted to be a pilgrim in the Holy Land was to visit the various sites that are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the Gospels. And I wasn’t disappointed. Often beginning with a wake-up call at 5:00am and returning to our room around 8:30pm, we walked many miles each day (or rode a bus to various locations, where we did more walking) taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the Holy Land.
Arriving at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, it was dark as we made it by bus to St. George’s Guest House in the West Bank of Jerusalem. It was an uphill drive, following a similar route the Romans would have taken, coming from the east coast. (When entering Jerusalem, Jesus and his disciples would have climbed to the City from the west. See Marcus Borg’s book, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem). Jerusalem really is a city high on a hill – 2,000 feet above sea level with many surrounding hills and narrow valleys. Limestone rocks and cliffs abound. It is a forbidding land, nothing like “the land of milk and honey” I expected.
Day 1 started with Morning Prayer in the Chapel at St. George’s where we began to get acclimated to our new environs scripturally: Psalm 122 and Luke 13:34, and musically in four-part harmony: “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” to Land of Rest. We donned sunscreen, hats, scarves, and cameras to walk to the Damascus Gateand Salah Eldin Street to get the feel of the distance and view the wall of the Old City and how it had been built up from Roman (1st C) to Byzantine (4th C) to Crusader (11th C) times.
From Monday, June 9th through Sunday, June 23rd my husband and I joined a group of pilgrims from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut to visit our Holy Land for the first time. I use the word “our” because it is a land that belongs to all of God’s people. While I have been home (a bit jet-lagged) for four days now, I am still coming to grips in my mind what I experienced and what I am going to do about it.
My expectations were simple: I wanted to walk in the places where Jesus and other people from scripture had been. I wanted this to be something other than a vacation to another part of the world, especially since we’ve travelled so much abroad in recent years. My expectations were rewarded, but they were also challenged, enlightened, troubled, comforted, and so much more. I went as an American Christian from the Episcopal tradition who happens to be from Connecticut and is a Christian educator. I returned the same, but different; more cognizant of the rights I have as an American citizen and a person who can freely worship (as well as travel) anywhere I choose. Not so for most of the people who call Israel/Palestine home. Jerusalem could be called the “center of the universe” for many faith traditions. Whose land is it? It’s complicated.
The Christian Century is the only magazine that I continue to subscribe to via snail mail. Another words – it’s a paper magazine I get delivered by the mailman every other week. I don’t always read ALL of the articles, but I enjoy reading the “faith” news, snippets, lectionary reflections, editorials and several of the regular contributors. I also follow CC on Facebook, which alerts me to articles that will be coming soon.
Today I got such a sneak-preview of an article that I think many of you involved in ministry with children – as a parent or teacher – will be interested in.
The simple fact is that the Bible is not a book fit for children, neither in its unsavory parts—murders, rapes, genocides, betrayals, mauling by wild animals, curses, divine retribution and apocalyptic horrors—nor in many of its neutral or even uplifting parts, including statutes and ordinances, proverbs, genealogies, geographies, prophecies, censuses and pretty much all of the epistles. It’s no surprise that most of these sections get dropped from children’s versions altogether, though at some point we may begin to wonder with what justification they still call themselves Bibles. Scripture is definitely something to ease the little ones into, not drop them in cold. So what’s the best way to go about it?
I’ve written and shared numerous articles and other people’s blog on how to choose a bible to use with children. And how to be truthful in sharing biblical stories – not candy coating them. I don’t agree with everything stated in it, but it will get you thinking, for sure. Read this great article here – and think about subscribing to The Christian Century!
I recently posted an article on Building Faith regarding the importance of teaching hymns and church music to children as a means to teach faith while creating memories that last a lifetime. (Building Faith is the new on-line community that I administer, which is probably why my postings on this site have diminished in recent months). For many of us, the Christmas season brings back lots of memories, and they are often triggered by music. Music brings us together and can create instant community; the recent flash mob in the mall in Philadelphia singing Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus has been a YouTube and Facebook phenomena.
This past Sunday my congregation held its annual Service of Lessons and Carols. We listened to the readings of the prophets as well as God’s announcements to Mary and Elizabeth. The church was filled as together we sung familiar hymns such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Come Thou Long Expected Jesus. The choir was was comprised of voices of all ages, some perhaps singing songs just learned and others singing ones learned long ago. My parents attended with us – and yes, my Alzheimer-stricken mom was singing away. Sometimes with the words – but definitely la-la-ing in her falsetto right on key. Music is a memory that stays with us.
The previous week my parents were at our home for the usual Wednesday night dinner. I don’t remember what our conversation was about; probably joking and talking about when grandchildren would be home for the holidays. Suddenly my mom began singing, I Love to Tell the Story.
Now this hymn was not part of my childhood repertoire and I did not learn it until I was an adult involved in Christian education. It’s not even in Hymnal 1982. (However, it is in Lift Every Voice and Sing II: An African American Hymnal for the Episcopal Church.) The hymn had its first impact on me at a ground-breaking Episcopal Christian Ed conference in 2003 in which I participated as part of the design and implementation team – Will Our Faith Have Children? Christian Formation Generation to Generation – in Chicago. Bishop Michael Curry of the Diocese of North Carolina was keynoting, and sang the song with a passion. I can still picturing him bouncing around the stage, his Bible (or Prayer Book) held high in his hand. The importance of being able to share the Christian story – the story of Jesus and His love for us – is at the core of what it means to pass on faith to the next generation.
Jump ahead 10 years, and my mom’s singing this song at my dining room table. We never knew she knew it. She was adamant that she learned it in Sunday School . . . the tiny Baptist chapel she walked to in her neighborhood (that part was from my memory of her stories from my childhood). The chapel still stands today in our town, now someone’s home. Whether it be Away in a Manger or Hark the Herald Angels Sing, wouldn’t we rather have our children sing these songs to the next generation instead of Jingle Bells or Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer?
How do you love to tell The Story?
How are we teaching our children hymns of their faith that will remain with them when we have long been gone?