There is an old tale (which also shows up in early maps) describing Jerusalem as the center of the world, a city visit by kings and prophets, pilgrims and mystics, rulers and conquerors. Today we know it as a city claimed by three faith traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Physically, it is a divided city into four quarters that somewhat blend into each other as you cross from one quarter to the next: the Jewish Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, the Christian Quarter, and the Muslim Quarter. All areas are a mix of secular and religious. More than 4,000 years old, its walls were rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah following the Babylonian captivity, the Romans (1st century), Diocletian and Aelia Eudocia (Byzantine 4th century), and Crusaders (11th century). The actual “cardo” from Roman times is actually about 15 feet below the cobblestones we walked on today.
On our various days visiting the Old City, we entered through a variety of gates. The current walls around the Old City (which have spread out since Jesus’ time) were built by Sulieman the Magnificent in 1542. Most of the gates we entered were built by Siran, an Ottoman-Turkish architect who lived in the 16th century.
Entering the Damascus Gate (Nablus Gate) is a different experience depending on the time of day. At 7:00 in the morning it is quiet with shops boarded up, trash being collected, and cats everywhere scurrying to find the last scrap to eat. By mid-morning and throughout the afternoon the gate (as well as the “main street”) is a bustling enterprise of merchants selling their wares from grape leaves, bread, spices, t-shirts, Disney knock-offs, and within the city we even came upon a shop for University of Alabama fans. We used this particular gate frequently, built upon an older gate built in Roman times. The gate’s name in Hebrew is “Sha’ar Shkem” since one travels away from this gate southwards; in Jesus’ time one would have passed through the city of Shkhem (North/Nablus) north to Damascus (Zion Gate). The street was designed by the Romans in the 2nd century CE after the city was established and rebuilt by Hadrian, which razed the city following the failed Bar-Kochva’s revolt in 136 CE. Another route split from the north gate from this main street to the Valley Cardo, which ended near the dung gate.
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.
Over the past several months, The Way of Love has always been on my desk in one form or another. As part of the Presiding Bishop’s Working Group to create resources for the Church based on the seven practices of following Jesus. It’s been fun (and quite a ride) working with a creative bunch of Christian educators from across the Episcopal Church. I’ve created two particular resources for Church Publishing: The Way of Love for Families and An Intergenerational Gathering for the Way of Love. I was also excited to work with Mary Bea Sullivan of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Birmingham, Alabama in bringing her Living the Way of Love: A 40-Day Devotional to publication in record time.
Many have asked for children and youth ministry resources for The Way of Love. You can certainly adapt the Families and Intergenerational materials I created above to fit your needs. Gratefully, many of you have been creating your own, or tweaking what exists to fit your ministries. Keep checking back to The Way of Love “official” website where seasonal resources are continually being updated and offered. Much of The Way of Love is created for “open space” sharing, meaning if you have created something – submit it to The Way of Love email addressor through this form. Those of us (myself included) on The Way of Love Working Group will review and be in touch if this is something shareable on the website so others can learn and use also.
Are you aware of these newly posted resources? Chris Sikkema has been Traveling the Way of Love. His first episode focused on Bless. Join him in the second episode from Jackson Hole, Wyoming where he focuses on Rest. Love the Tetons!
Resources for Eastertide are now available, with a focus on Go. Here you will find images to use as well as ideas for evangelism – yes, going out into the world to spread the Good News of Jesus in the neighborhood. If you tapped into any Way of Love resource during Lent, there is a “Test Kitchen” of Life Transformed on Facebook, where you can share how you are practicing Go and hear what others are doing.
Church Publishing Incorporated’s editorial team now has a Monday Facebook posting (around 9:00am ET) entitled “Mondays with the Editors.” So every three weeks or so I’ll have a post there (which in the past I would have written here). Follow CPI on Facebook to keep up with me and my colleagues to see what inspires us. These were my recent posts:
As Advent begins, it has become my tradition to review what has occurred over the past year, including projects worked on and events that have impacted my life. I gather favorite photos, remember trips taken, and the joys and challenges that have gone before. I begin to write my family’s annual Christmas letter which has become a way of my husband and I to reflect and give thanks. As an editor who has had the privilege of caring for the words of others that will be shared in the form of a published work, I am grateful that is role has taken me on a journey with so many, learning their story as well as developing collegial relationships and sometimes building upon friendships that began long before a book was even a dream.
Such is the memory from November, in which I was honored to “vest” Jenifer Gamber as she was ordained to the transitional diaconate at Washington National Cathedral. I was a friend and colleague long before co-writing (Call on Me) and editing (My Faith, My Lifeand Your Faith, Your Life). And to my joy, many other Christian formation friends also attended; that’s what we do––show up at life’s moments to support one another. And so now I have another photo to remind me of how grateful I am to have friends that I also get to “work” with; women who lead the way in helping make the Church (and the world) a better place. Alongside Jenifer, Wendy Claire Barrie (Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents), and Emily Slichter Given (Building Faith Brick by Brick Iand II) together we have celebrated many milestones in our lives. Being their editor is just icing on the cake, being a friend is what I value most.