WALKING WITH AIDAN
Thoughts while on sabbatical
On May 12 I will leave for a sabbatical that will end on Sunday August 6 for that Sunday's services. Below are the plans for the sabbatical. I will be posting thoughts from this sabbatical as I explore Jerusalem with other pilgrims from St. George's Anglican College, while visiting Celtic sites including Lindesfarne while in England and finally while on the Camino de Santiago. For the Camino the posts will depend on internet access which is not always assured. Also watch the church's Facebook page for pictures and other updates. This may be easier than updating this page.
My Spiritual Director told me, "Hold the reins lightly and let the Spirit guide you." As I said in my sermon on April 30, this is not only good advice for a pilgrim, but also for all of us as we walk through life.
Why Walking with Aidan?
I have chosen to name this blog "Walking with Aidan." I did that very intentionally. Aidan was a great teacher and evangelist. He walked everywhere he went. He walked because that was how he encountered people. There is a famous story about a king who gave him a magnificent horse and saddle. He gave it to a peasant and when questioned by a rather angry king he said, "The peasant needed it more than I." On horse back people would have stood aside to let him pass and he would not be able to encounter them in the way Aidan liked.
304 kilometers down 490 to go: A turning point in my walk
I have finished stage 12 of the 32. I'm in Burgos and have 490 kilometers left of the 760 kilometers that make up the Camino. This is a break point in the walk and many people take a full day of rest here and that's what I'm doing.
The heat and foot issues that everybody seems to have has slowed me down a little so I'm two days behind the plan in the book, but I had allowed some extra time and it looks like I can make up at least a day as I set out on the area called the Meseta. This is a long plain which I think is much like some of the western states. Lots of long flat hiking through a major agricultural production area. Think miles and miles of wheat and other crops.
It is hard to describe what walking the Camino is like. I have met a fascinating group of people and have helped some people through some difficult challenges as they have encouraged me. Many are folks I may never see again although I've exchanged contact information with several. I've had a couple of folks I've spent a lot of time walking with and for various reasons this little group breaks up here in Borgos. So I set out on this stretch as I did on the first leg, by myself. Reilly who I met that first day has had major blister issues and needs a couple of days. As an artist he is going to take two days off the Camino and head up to see the Guggenheim museum. Terry who I've been walking with the past several days is running into time issues with her sisters who got behind and they cannot complete the entire walk. So she is taking a bus through the Meseta to Leon and will continue her walk there. So I embark Tuesday on the long and I hope quiet walk. It's amazing how little quiet there is, but the albergues are usually quite busy and many of the churches along the way have been locked when we came through town. So I've had to adjust.
I've talked theology in depth with many people especially some young college students who are walking after graduation this spring. I met a young Israeli woman who didn't know that Palestinians can be Christians not just Moslems. Two Irish lads who are walking but struggling to believe in the God that was presented to them as children.
One night in particular was very special. We stayed one night at a Cistercian monastery. When I commented on that John Baldwin commented on my Facebook page that I should go on the next day past the normal stop and visit Tosantos and stay at the parochial albergue there. Run by the church it was very simple. Mats on the floor of two rooms on the third floor of the building. 20 of us in all. We made a communal dinner. I'm fairly certain this albergue was in the movie Six Ways to Santiago.
Reilly, Terry and I arrived and claimed a mat on the floor and got our showers. John had also told me to see if I could get into the cave church up on the hillside. Now I asked and was told the road was closed. So after dinner was put on to cook I went to the base of the hill to at least get a picture and noticed four people standing by the church entrance. So I went up the hill and after climbing around the barrier I met the man who had the key and had opened the church up for several people. He gladly let me in and I got some great pictures but also got some of that quiet I was seeking. So a little prayer was answered.
Well speaking of prayers answered one of the young women at the albergue really wanted to have mass but this little town is so small they only see a priest once a month in their church so that didn't seem likely. Then who should walk in but a young Polish priest working in Madrid who is walking the Camino. We knew he was a priest since he arrived dressed in a full black cassock carrying his pack. I have no idea how he did that in the heat we have had. Out of his pack came a communion kit, alb, stole, everything needed for a service. So between putting the soup on and dinner we had a beautiful service complete with Taize chants since several people there had been to Taize. After the dinner that we all ate together at along table we then had Evening Prayer and read prayers that had been requested by other pilgrims who had stayed there. He keeps them for the next 20 days.
This is the kind of special thing that happens on the Camino. Sometimes wrong turns become the correct turn. Coming into Burgos we turned one foot bridge early and walked a block into the city. Tired and very thirsty we came across a whole line of antique cars that looked ready for a parade. Which is exactly what was happening. So we got a table on the side of the street at a little cafe, ordered beverages and watched a parade for the Fiesta Day of San Pedro that lasted two full hours. If we had crossed the correct bridge we would not have known the parade was happening. That my good people is the Camino. Challenge, joy, fatigue and always surprises from God.
i have no idea when my next post will be written. The next several days will be in the wilderness and internet may be spotty. So until I write again, keep me in your prayers.
INITAL THOUGHTS ON WALKING THE CAMINO
So early Monday I started out in a fairly heavy fog. Orisson was my destination and is about 30% of the way to the end of the first leg. I was worried about the steep climb and chose to follow the advice of the others to stop here. While I probably could have continued I had already paid for the room so I was done for the day by 10:30, but that's ok. The refuge Orisson has 22 beds in several rooms. I've met several interesting folks and suspect we may all continue on as a group tomorrow. The worst of the climb is over although we still have an ascent of 500 ft to go and the other two thirds of the distance. About 15 kilometers.
Walking through the fog as fascinating. Some people passed me, but I'm trying not to be in a hurry. I knew I only had a 3 hour hike this morning and to be honest on a couple of the climbs really needed to stop and catch my breath. The ones that are hard are when it goes on for almost a full mile with no level spot to recover, but that's the nature of the first section.
At one point I heard something through the fog in the distance and stopped to listen. (One of the reasons people kept passing) I realized what I was hearing were the bells worn by dairy cows. The fog opened up for just a moment and I could see them. I also stopped at one point and realized that I heard a stream rushing down the valley even though I could not see it. This happened a couple of times and I thought yes sometimes we have to get quiet enough to hear what's there through the fog. Now if I was pushing to do this entire first leg today, I could not afford the time to stop and listen. I'm hearing Bruce say, loose reigns, don't rush.
One side note, while on Lindesfarne I picked up a new Celtic cross, looking very like many of the crosses in the graveyards. I bought with the intention of wearing it on the Camino. I've not worn a cross on a regular basis especially since losing the nail cross on the leather band. This one is larger than that but seems just right. It is big enough that at least now I notice I'm wearing it periodically. But that was the intention.
It's the end of my third day on the Camino. It has been an amazing experience already. The wide variety of people I have met and the friendships that have already formed are wonderful. Now a bunch of us met the first night at Orisson which is a albergue about 3 hour hike from St. Jean where the Camino at least this section starts. I have met a woman age 69 who started walking April 15 from Austria. I met another man in his 40s who left Amesterdam in early April and has already walked across Europe down to this part of the Camino. There were the 20 some Germans who have been walking the Camino one section at a time from Germany covering about a week each year for the last six years. They plan to keep doing this until the finish. What was really fun was when they sat after dinner in Orisson and pulled out a song book of Peter Paul and Mary songs and started singing them in English. It was a night of 60s protest songs that many in the room knew. Yet there was quite a connection there.
I met and have been walking with Reilly for the past few days. Reilly is a member of an Episcopal Church in Central Florida. We just paired up in Orisson at the end of the first day. He's an elementary school art teacher who is spending the whole summer touring Europe and has planned 45 days for the Camino so our schedule is similar. I've met numerous other folks and had many interesting discussions. What is interesting is that these are for the most part people who have some spiritual depth of some sort even if they are not sure about their faith. Now maybe this is just the folks I've met and/or attracted but it has been quite fun.
As I walked alone at the first day I got to thinking what a great metaphor this is for our faith. We hear or see hints but never see clearly. It's much like 1 Cornithians where he says now we see in a mirror dimly. Now while i would really have liked to see the scenary on the way up that first day I found myself content with using my other senses to experience what was going on.
It is actually the end of day 7 as I post this but this is the first really good internet connection. More later as I am anticipating taking a short two days to prepare for a really long
A visit to Lindesfarne
Wendy and I did get a chance to get up to Lindesfarne to see the Holy Island which is literally what it is called. I was surprised at how large it was. You access the island via a causeway. Many of you who have visited will know that it is only open during low tide. The first evening we were there was very wet and cold. The next day while cold in the morning was bright sunshine.
Aidan was sent from Iona to reintroduce Christianity to England and set up his first monastery on the island. There has been a church of some sort there ever since then so somewhere around 1400 years. As luck who have it we arrived in the evening just in time for Evening Prayer in the current church which is called St. Mary's. That stone structure was started by Cuthbert who became the bishop after Aidan died. Cuthbert really expanded the monastery and in some respects is the more important person as you visit, but when I mentioned I was the rector of St. Aidan's in Va Beach the folks were more than happy to talk to me about Aidan.
There is something about praying in a place that has been prayed in for so many many years. It is hard to describe, but calling it the Holy Island makes lots of sense because there is a feel of something special there. It is more than just a tourist destination, in fact it is part of a pilgrimage route in Northern England.
That is something I am experiencing consistently on this trip. The sense of holy places made holy because maybe there was something there to start with, but the fact that so many people over the years have prayed there, sought God's assistance there.
As I arrived Sunday afternoon in ST. Jean de Pied for the start of the Camino I made two stops. One was to the pilgrim center but then down the street to the church in the center of the town. The Camino goes right past the front doors. There was a steady stream of people many obviously pilgrims like me (the backpack tends to give it away) but also others who were just there. In the side chapel to Mary that all Catholic Churches have there was a huge number of candles lit. Mostly by pilgrims and I lit one as I start my trip as well.
The first day's climb is exactly that. I am doing the first stage over two days since the total elevation change is up some 1400 feet and it is strongly suggested that you stop partway and I've made a reservation at the only place to stay. Which I learned talking to some other pilgrims is already booked. Speaking of other pilgrims I road in from teh airport with three sisters one of whom is an Anglican priest from England on a sabbatical as well. She's also married to an Anglican priest who is retired but covering for her while she is gone. I did spend an afternoon learning about the Church of England and what is going on there, but that's for another time.
Now I need to go try out my translation program on my phone as I'm the only one at this B&B and the owner doesn't speak any English and my junior high French is non-existent. So away I go on the adventure of a lifetime. Holding the reigns loosely and seeing what the Spirit has in store for me.
Manchester, London and violence: thoughts from the center
We've been in Manchester for about a week. We arrived a week after the bombing at the concert and I wasn't sure what effect the bombing may have had. Wendy and I headed downtown from Atrincham where James and Hannah are living with her mom while they sort out jobs, school and other stuff. It's a suburb about 20 minutes by tram from the center of Manchester.
We road the train in (and I'm reminded of how much I appreciate good public transportation and a town center where just about everything you need is located) and started to visit a couple places. We eventually ended up at St. Anne's Church and I was surprised at how busy it was on Wednesday afternoon. Lots of prayer candles lit, probably 50 people milling about and we talked with a priest there to find out about the church. She explained that she was helping out by serving as a chaplain, but this was temporary since she worked at a different church. I didn't really understand what she was talking about until we walked out the side door of the church and there were hundreds if not a thousand people all standing around a huge display of flowers and candles along an avenue that was pedestrians only. We had stumbled onto the central memorial for the bombing victims. It was up the road from Manchester Cathedral since it turns out the cathedral was closed for 2 days because it was part of the crime scene.
I was caught completely by surprise by the power of the emotion I experienced. My eyes welled up with tears at the sight of all these people gathered around this incredible display. The square almost had the hush of a church as people came up and put more flowers down or just stood there holding the hands of others. There however was no sense of fear nor have I noticed that in the rest of the time we have been there. No it is a sense of pride, of unity and a sense of we will not be defeated, we will not give in.
Fast forward to Pentecost (or Whitsunday as it is called here) and we went to the Anglican cathedral in Manchester. We had visited the cathedral earlier in the week but things were in disarray because of construction and renovation work. Lovely and very old church altough all the stained glass windows had been blown out in 1940 by a bomb from the Luftwaffe. We were given a delightful tour by a docent when she found out we were visiting clergy. She told us that the organ had been rebuilt at the cost of 2.3 million pounds and had been put back into use on Easter. It was at that point we decided to make the trip back dowtown for Pentecost services.
Now first of all the organ and the organist were magnificent. At one point when the psalm the choir was chanting in proper Anglican chant became very forbidding he kicked in some of the huge peddle pipes and the building fairly shook. Very effective addition. One of the canons was preaching and the night before had been the London attack. Needless to say he had to do a bit of a rewrite for Sunday morning. He spoke in terms of the need for all of us to realize that there is one Spirit and we all are blessed by it. He spoke of joining last week with the imams from the mosques in the city and rabbis from synagogues who all made a pilgrimage from the cathedral to the square where the memorial had been set up. He said the crowds parted like the Red Sea and then applause started coming from the crowd in appreciation of this sign of unity. The bishop of Manchester gave an impromptu speech that was all about unity and not surrendering to fear and the reaction was more support from those gathered.
That afternoon after a delightful lunch at a pub by the cathedral we noticed that the trains back to Alterincham were packed and running every 3 minutes instead of the usual every 12 on a Sunday. This was because the One Love Manchester concert was at the cricket stadium that was about 6 stops away from our stop and somewhere around 50,000 people were headed there. So the train was packed with people going to the concert. Tickets sold out in 7 minutes and free tickets were given to everyone from the concert that was bombed, along with police, fire and emergency workers. They were all in a festive, but decidedly defiant mood. Nobody is going to do this to us, we will not let the terrorists win and we will not be afraid. Thankfully in many respects this has unified this city rather than divided it. Now that is a great response and one we can learn from. The cathedral clergy and bishop reached out to people of all faiths and helped unite them and all called this attack and the one in London an abomination and abhorrent to the God we all worship.
Yes there are calls for more security and the mayor of London went on the BBC telling people that the increased presence of police was not anything to be worried about. With an election on Thursday it has quickly become a campaign issue, but I was impressed by the reaction of the British people. We can learn much from them that on the whole they are not letting the politicians turn them into a fearful group. Yes you have pockets of people who want severe restrictions on immigration but overall, that is not the reaction I was hearing as we talk with people we encounter. There is a sense of we are better than this and that is a message I pray we in the United States can adopt. I pray that we can let the better angels in us win and not turn on each other. When that happens the terrorists win. England will not let that happen and neither should we.
THOUGHTS AS WE LEAVE JERUSALEM
We had a quiet morning as we prepared to fly out Tuesday afternoon. Most everyone else left at the crack of dawn or before. So a leisurely breakfast, packed the suitcases and then headed into the Old City one last time in search of an incense vendor we had seen the first day or so. Now if you haven’t walked the Old City you really have no concept of what a tangled web of narrow streets and tiny shops that spill out into the streets when they open. We almost walked past him because it was early, not even 10:00 and many stores including this one were just opening up. The huge table that we had photographed the first day was still inside the shop. However we got what we were looking for; half a kilo of finely ground frankincense and a chunk of myrrh. Then up to the Yaffo street shopping area for a pastry and a cappuccino. These folks do love their coffee.
This has been a very busy two weeks. We gathered as a group to talk about our most significant moments and learnings. Most of us, myself included, have a new found understanding of the complexity of the situation here in Jerusalem, Israel and the occupied territory. There is no easy solution until both sides learn to respect the other. As Wendy and I walked through the Rockefeller Archeological Museum yesterday and realized that this area has been an area of battle for 8000 years or more the challenge seems all the greater.
To walk literally where Jesus and the disciples may have walked has been incredible. Not so much in the Old City for the streets that Jesus and the disciples would have walked are buried 6 meters under the current streets. The Old City is the sense of all those years of the faithful wandering the streets visiting the holy places for three different religions. The church that really grabbed our attention was the Church of St. Ann, the mother of Mary. Very plain by the standards of churches here, yet in that simplicity was a profound sense of the holy. We and several others went back a second time just to sit in the space. Fr. John the chaplain at the college said it was his favorite place in the Old City.
For me the time in Galilee was where I felt this sense of being where they had been; the beach where the breakfast on the beach passage was set, Capernaum where Peter and Andrew threw their nets into the sea and James and John fished with their father Zebedee. Those places really grabbed my attention.
I had always looked at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher with some doubt. This trip erased that doubt. Once I understood a: the layout of the city in Jesus’ time which put Golgotha as a stone quarry just outside the city gates and that there were numerous tombs nearby all built out of the same poor quality stone. B: Golgotha was there because of that stone which could not be used for construction but that same defect made it easy to cut tombs. The scripture speaks of the tomb being nearby and in fact it was. Many do not know that through one of the chapels off the area under the dome where the Holy Sepulcher is, lies a chamber that contains several of these tombs. The other thing people don’t know is that in 300 BCE the entire area of the caves by Jesus’ tomb were cut away and destroyed to discourage this new found religion. Ground level would have almost been at the top of the Holy Sepulcher in Jesus’ time. Seeing that changed everything for me. It all made sense.
There is in the church complex multiple other chapels one of which is the Golgotha Chapel. You can go under the altar and put your hand down into a hole and touch the stone and feel the grove cut in it for a cross to stand in. That had more of an effect on me than going into Jesus’ tomb.
Of course while there we saw some of the complicated dance of the church, which is jointly controlled by 6 different denominations and Anglican’s are not one of them. Although, the Greek Orthodox have proposed to the others that we be allowed to celebrate a service there. We could not do the final several Stations of the Cross in the church because we are not part of the 6 and did them on the roof where the Ethiopians have a small monastery. (Yes you can wander up stairs thinking you are on a street and all of a sudden find yourself on the roof of a building.) A visiting Anglican bishop from Ireland was hassled trying to come to the church because he had earlier that morning accepted an invitation to visit the Dome of the Rock. So again there is the politics thing. If we as Christians can’t get along how in the world are we going to resolve the issues with three different faiths?
I am very aware of what a gift St. George’s College is to the Anglican Communion. Set in East Jerusalem an area many fear (and they shouldn’t) the staff here gave us access to places and people that your average tour group would not be able to do. Our chief guide has a PhD in theology, the coordinator for the logistics has been doing this for 20+ years and has worked for the state department. They have contacts within the Palestinian community that are unique. I have already begun some discussions with the assistant dean about planning a storytelling version of one of their current trips. I will work on that later when I return home. I sense the start of a relationship with this place that will go on for a long time.
BLOG POST #5 HOLY PLACES NOT SO HOLY CONFLICT
I have tried to keep these posts away from the political world but Wednesday that world intruded in a powerful way. Wedensday was one of disruption. So here are my thoughts on what we have been living these past 10 days.
Wednesday from the Jewish perspective is the celebration of the liberation of Jerusalem in 1967, 50 years ago. For everybody else it is less than a celebration. We were supposed to spend the morning at the Dome of the Rock and the Al Asque mosque and then go to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount. Because of the relationship the St. George’s College has with the entire Palestinian community we were granted permission to not just visit the area, but to enter and see both the Dome and the mosque. The Dome of the Rock is the 3rd holiest site in Islam. Non-Muslims do not get to enter for the most part. As a group we had to adhear to their customs about dress especially the women. It was a wonderful visit but the tension on the Dome of the Rock/Temple Mount was really high today.
Today was the celebration of the Unification of Jerusalem. 120,000 settlers were expected to descend on the Old City. While in the area of the dome of the Rock/Temple Mount we say numerous settlers escorted out by Israeli security. The Israeli government does not allow Jews to pray or celebrate on the grounds of the mosque. (As I write this in the Palestinian sector just across the street from the pre-1967 border line I hear the last call to pray from a mosque around the corner) Our guides were not allowed to speak of the signs of the second temple that are there on the platform where the Dome of the Rock sits. As a result of the protests we could not go to the Western Wall as we had planned. Even just trying to go to a shopping district we had to change routes because of the demonstrations and celebrations that were going on. In fact by afternoon the Old City was in effect shut down to all but the settlers.
I don't know what the next few days will bring because today or tommorow starts the holy month of Ramadan and thousands of Moslems are expected. They were setting up huge covered areas around the mosque area for the people to come and pray. Fresh lines were being painted on the stones that so no matter where a person stood, they would know which direction to face for Mecca.
I am having trouble wrapping my brain around the fact that we can’t all agree that this city is a holy place. A holy place to several faiths and everyone should be able to come and pray.
We heard a Jewish scholar come and talk to us this evening about Judaism. I would love to take an entire course from her. Yet I find myself thinking as she answered questions about the current situation here in Jerusalem and Israel that she is speaking from a place of privilege. From the standpoint of being the one with the political power and to be blunt in the words of another of the Episcopal priests on the trip, the ones with guns and the army when she talks about how open she is to Palestinians. St. George’s College was not in Israel until after the 1967 war. The line is just outside the gates. That changes many things. We are experiencing life from the Palestinian view.
My rector in Cleveland sent me a private Facebook message that really grabbed me. I know he has been here often and is planning to come back this fall. He said, “There are many naïve Christians from the US who come to St. George’s and get their eyes opened.” Well that is both Wendy and I. To hear and now experience what happens to the Palestinians is life changing. Part of me wants to say Israel you are not helping your cause by what we experienced today.
However I am aware that this is me, an American speaking. I have never had my home land taken away from me or denied to me. I think the Anglican priest in Nablus has the right idea. Until we can see that we are not that different, until we can see that each of us deserves justice, respect and love, the situation will not change here or anywhere else in the world. I guess the big difference for me is that I believe that all the faiths that claim Abraham are in fact worshipping the same God. We all have a piece of the truth, but none of us has an exclusive franchise. My God is too big to say, you and your small group are right and the majority of humanity is wrong and will burn in hell forever. Sorry, but that image of God has never and will never work for me. I suspect that most of the people here would disagree with me.
By the way, take a moment to read the series of articles in the Washington Post on what is happening here. The article about what it is like to commute from the Occupied territory and Jerusalem or into other parts of Israel is exactly what some of the staff at St. George’s must do every day. We have to be finished with dinner by 8 so they can get back through the checkpoints by 10 or risk arrest for being in the Israeli sector after curfew.
BLOG POST #4: Thoughts on holy places
I have now visited some of the holy places especially around the Sea of Galilee. First of all I’m really aware of how the church in its official creeds give little attention to this entire portion of Jesus’ life. As Hector a deacon and one of the staff here pointed out in his opening talk the Nicene Creed says “born of the virgin Mary. Was crucified and died under Pontius Pilate.” Yet there is so much in that period between his birth and his crucifixion and we are spending most of this class on the period, on his ministry. This for me has always been the important “bit” as Hector who is English would say.
Our first stop was the wilderness and that was covered in the previous post.
Our second stop was the site of Jesus’ baptism. For my St. Aidan’s members this is an entirely different place than you visited when you came here with Peter. When the group came with Peter this site was cut off by a minefield planted by the Israeli defense forces to protect from invasion from Jordan following the 1967 war. This site was finally opened in 2010 at the request of Pope John Paul and many other Christian leaders. Land has been given for churches to build worship sites and some of the landmines have been cleared near the river to make the site safe. There are still landmines on both sides of the entry road and seeing the warning signs was quite depressing as we drove to this holy site. In fact most of the west bank of the Jordan River is protected by a double fence and landmines.
Because this site has just been recently re-opened all the facilities are quite new and something didn’t feel quite right. I will say that standing by the river if you could shut out everything behind was profound as our group reaffirmed our baptismal vows. Sadly the river is so polluted at this point with runoff from farming and sewage that we were warned if we got into it we needed to wash to get the bacteria off. I did at least put my hands in the water.
So as we continued north around the Sea of Galilee we stopped at several important places. On our way through Tiberius a large town by the Sea of Galilee that was an important Roman city even back then we passed Magdala. A tiny little spot, which has a roadside stop, a small shopping area and a relatively new church dedicated to Mary Magdalene. We continued on to several significant places where Jesus and the disciples lived and ministered. I was amused at several places to see where you can rent kayaks, wind surf or camp right by the sea.
Our third stop of the day was the Church of the Multiplication of the loaves and fishes, in other words the site of the feeding of the 5000. Now I’m amazed at how recent many of the churches built on these sites are, all within the last 100 years or so for the most part. Many are built over the footprint of a Byzantine church that had been destroyed. Now this church has under the altar what is claimed to be the table that Jesus used for the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. Now I don’t read anything about a table in this story and find it hard to believe that Jesus would have used a wooden table let alone a stone table. I left that site somewhat disappointed that it all felt artificial.
Our fourth stop was the Church of the Primacy of Peter. Now I was wondering what was this and then we walked out to the shore of the Galilee and there was the beach where Jesus made his final appearance to the disciples in John. Yes this was the “breakfast on the beach” site. We read the story and the chaplain did a meditation. Wendy and I went right out to the water, took of our shoes and stepped in. It was relatively quiet and we sat on a rock and I pictured this story, which I have told several times. The shore is not like our beaches along the ocean or the bay, but a rocky shore with rough sand. Yet I could see in my mind’s eye the boats there setting off from shore. I felt for the first time like I was in a holy place. I could have sat on the rock with Wendy for a very long time, but we had to move on. I took a quick look at the church on the site and it was nice, but it was the beach itself that said, “This is holy ground.”
As we were sitting there both Wendy and I remembered a sudden storm that blew up on Cape Cod Bay one day when we were kayaking. I had seen the storm coming and told Wendy to paddle as fast as she could. We just got to shore and Wendy looked behind her to see this huge thunderstorm about to break with large waves and lots of rain. That is now my image of the stories about storms and the Sea of Galilee.
Then it was on to a convent where we had lunch including what they call St. Peter’s fish which was an interesting experience. It was a whole fish caught in the Sea of Galilee. The church was nice and people were quiet and there wasn’t a huge crowd. The grounds were closed except for us and two other groups. We were able to spend some quiet time there after lunch, but again something was missing.
One issue is that the lake has dropped quite a few feet because of all the water that has been taken out. The occupied territories have 80% of the water in the state of Israel, yet Palestinians only get 20% of what is pumped out. The rest goes to the Jewish cities and especially the farms. The current day tensions are never very far away during our trip. It is in part because of the fact that the college is run by Palestinian Christians who have been part of this community for a lot longer than Israel has existed and the older border line from pre-1967 is just across the street.
We stopped at Capernaum and here the water issue was very evident. What I thought were platforms to walk out towards the lake to observe were in fact docks that had been left high and dry as the water level drops. I was told it is down a good 10 feet over the past several years.
Now Capernaum, this is a sight that really grabbed me. There is a modern church built over the site of what they think is Peter’s house and you can look through the floor and see the foundation of the house. There are remains of a 4th century synagogue built over the synagogue that was probably built by the centurion in the first century mentioned in scripture. It is a small town and right at what had been the waters edge. Literally 100 feet from Peter’s house would have been the shoreline where Peter and Andrew would have waded out into the water. Where Zebedee and his sons James and John would have been mending their nets when Jesus called them. That was another of those special places because I could almost feel their presence. Something in this site, just like the beach said, “Yes this is where it happened. This is where Jesus and the disciples walked.” Nothing rational, provable or anything else just a sense of the holy.
I am very conscious of holy places in the Holy Land not necessarily contained within the structures of a church building. To be honest some of these have churches have felt more like tourist places and tend to be very busy. I am finding the moments of quiet in the midst of the chaos are where I am encountering the holy, encountering God and Jesus. More in my next post as we headed for Nazareth and a very interesting day.
REFLECTION #3 WANDERING IN THE WILDERNESS
Today and some of yesterday was spent in the wilderness. I had one idea of wilderness. I knew in my mind it wasn’t forest type wilderness, but I had in my mind desert, arid areas like out in Utah or some of the places out west. Lots of scrub vegetation etc. Well this wilderness is one of the most barren places I have ever seen. Rocks, dust and occasionally a little vegetation. The only relief is where there is some water like the Wadi Qelt where we stopped for a time of bible storytelling by Wendy and then some quiet time. Although part of it was interrupted when a herd of goats came wandering through and the Bedouin street vendors followed us up from the parking lot. However I walked a ways a way and sat in the shade of a cross that marks the boundary of the monastery that is built into the side of the cleft in the rock that goes down to the wadi.
Legend has it that this monastery is built around a cave that was first used by Isaiah when he fled into the wilderness and here was fed by the ravens. The second legend it that this is the cave where Jesus lived during his 40 days in the wilderness. This is in the hills above Jericho which has been at least a town of some sort since 8000 BCE. It is not far from the place in the Jordan river where Jesus was baptized by John.
Now whether this is the exact spot is not important, the wilderness the utter emptiness is what is striking. You can see forever over the hills. The terrain is rugged. That and the heat today was oppressive. It was close to 100 degrees as we walked around there and I don’t care if it is dry heat, it’s hot! Any shade was valuable and unless it was man made there really wasn’t any to be found unless you got down into the wadi.
I have often thought of wilderness as a place of refuge and solitude. Well this has solitude, but I can’t see this as a place of refuge. This would be a challenging place just to survive for long even with sufficient water and food. Fasting in this seems impossible to me. Yet in this place at least two biblical figures did in fact not only survive but went on to great work.
Sometimes we find ourselves in wilderness where there doesn’t seem to be any refuge. Yet even in this barren desolate place, God is there. Monks and desert fathers in fact went into this wilderness to seek God and found God. So what wilderness seems to forbidding, so barren, that you fear going there?
I will not post anything until Sunday at the earliest since we will be away from the college in Galilee for the weekend.
Reflection #2 Tuesday afternoon
As I write this I am aware of conflicting emotions. I lived in Shaker Hts Ohio for many years with many Jewish neighbors. Some were the only survivors of their family from the Holocaust. Some were survivors of the Holocaust and I’ve seen the tattoos on their arms from the death camps. So as I listen to my Palestinian Christian guides I find myself with my feet somehow straddling both sides. What all this reminds me of is that war really is never the solution. Breaking conflicts into an us and them, black and white situation is never the answer. True peace will only come when we find the ability to see the holy, the sacred in each other. Jesus said, “Peace be with you.” Shalome, peace is more than absence of war or conflict. It is a sense of calm, well being, that things are right in the world. My prayer is for all that are locked in this dangerous and sad conflict.That said, here are some reflections on day 2.
As I was sitting at the guest house at the college Monday afternoon. I was reflecting on our walk through the Tower of David museum. Now ironically David probably never lived in this particular complex of buildings and what is called the tower is actually a minaret leftover from a mosque that was on that site at one time. A visitor in the 19th century saw it and named it David’s tower. That is in some ways a metaphor for what we are encountering. This happened here and that happened there. Walking through the streets there are lots of people who will tell you anything they think you want to hear especially if they can make a buck from it. Experiencing the Holy City may be much like reading the Bible. Not everything is factual. The challenge is not to miss the meaning and what is holy even when it is often hidden in the clutter.
I remarked to Wendy as we were walking around that outside of the walled city that outside of the Jewish quarter this is an Arabic city. In the area where the college is located the signs are all Arabic and occasionally English. Very little Hebrew is seen except for official signs and the buses which list destination in three languages, Arabic, Hebrew and English. And you do not hear Hebrew being spoken. Now I am certain there are areas in the new part of the city that are heavily Jewish but that is not in the areas where we are right now. Tomorrow we take a bus tour of Jerusalem and I will be interested to see what we encounter.
We went to Mount Scopus to take a in a panoramic view of the city. Like the view from the Tower of David museum, which is in a fortified area dating back to the earliest times and rebuilt and expanded multiple times by different groups who held control you realize how small the Holy City is. Our guide an English deacon from the college pointed out a wide variety of landmarks and spoken of the valley on the far side Gehena where in the time of Jesus was where the city dump was and from which we get the concept of hell because of the perpetual fires that burned there.
The more profound view was when we went around to the eastern side of the mountain next to Hebrew University and looked out into the desert and the wilderness. I can’t imagine spending any time in this wilderness especially back in the time of Jesus. We could almost see the Jordan River in the distance and the Dead Sea. Our guide pointed out the Jericho was just over a hill in front of us and that next to the highway were the remains of an old Roman Road, one that Jesus may well have walked on. He pointed out the just over the hill to our right was Bethany, just two miles from Jerusalem, yet it would take us an hour to drive there because of the wall that has been built to separate Palestinian lands from the Jewish settlement that has been built in their sector.
I was stunned at the size of the settlements. I was thinking houses and shops but the settlement we were looking at had highrise apartments and offices in it. This is a real city not just a settlement. The thought that came to my mind is, these people are not planning on ever withdrawing from what they have built. There I am afraid is the heart of the problem.
I’m very aware that in the states we don’t hear about this side of the conflict very much, but we are going to experience it multiple times over the next two weeks as we will pass through check points multiple times to get to the various sites that we will be visiting. Right in front of us was a highway with a huge dividing wall down the middle. One side was Palestinian and the other was one of the settlements. The view from the Palestinian side (which includes the Christian population) is that the settlements are being built in order to make a two state solution impossible.
The Palestinian congregation at the cathedral is called the Living Stones congregation. They are at the cathedral because their church ended up on the wrong side of the line in the last conflict. We will be learning more about them as our time goes on.
Upon arriving in Jerusalem May 15 reflections
Our (Wendy and my) first full day in Jerusalem began with the Sunday Eucharist at the cathedral, which is on the grounds of the college. The diocese serves Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. Being here I was struck with what a challenging job the bishop of this diocese has in caring for his people in such a conflicted part of the world.
The cathedral serves several communities. Primarily they serve expatriates who speak English and are Anglican or Episcopal and an Arabic speaking congregation of Palestinian Christians. The other part of the congregation are people like us who are studying or on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The service is conducted in both English and Arabic. The dean preached this Sunday and the sermon is delivered in both English and then again in Arabic. The service is a mixture of the two languages.
This Sunday’s passage from John contained both the in my Father’s house are many rooms(mansions) and the I am the way, the truth and the light. No one comes to the Father except through me. The dean spoke both on the exclusionary way the second part of the passage is often used and on the concept of home. Of particular interest was to hear him speak to his Palestinian congregation about the concept of home as the 50th anniversary of the 6 day war is approaching in June. The dean is Palestinian and there is a Youtube video out there that he has made. I’ll link it when I find it again.
He spoke about the fact that there were those in the congregation who have houses that are not their homes. Their homes are now in occupied areas some as a result of the building of settlements. So while they have a place to live, their homes are gone, closed off sometimes behind walls. We don’t often hear this side of the story in the U.S. We forget that Christians here are also considered Palestinians and have suffered greatly over the years.
The other thing in the service that really grabbed my attention was hearing Allah spoken in the context of our liturgy. I knew in my head that Allah is simply the Arabic name for God. However as we were singing the Sanctus in Arabic during the consecration there it was. Allah, God. For some reason the reality of Allah being simply the name of God in another language really hit me. I think it was because it was in the context of our Anglican/Episcopal liturgy that the power of this really grabbed me. It was in the context of worshipping with people for whom this is simply how they refer to God that made it carry such weight. The dean spoke eloquently about the need to get past differences that divide. However he speaks also for a group of people who are refugees in their own land.
I cannot get past that even as I wandered through the old city again today Monday. As expected there was heavy security as we approached the Temple Mount and the famous Western Wall. However his words were profound as we watched a video at a memorial to the Jewish fighters from 1948 when the entire Jewish quarter was destroyed during the intial war for independence by the young Israel. The Jewish section was in ruins pretty much until the 1967 war when Jerusalem was captured (or liberated depending on your point of view) from the Palestinians. The rebuilding of the Jewish quarter dates from that period and that section has a very different feel to it. It seems ironic that the some of the newest construction in the city is literally built over some of the oldest ruins.
We visited a museum that is under a large area of the new construction. It is the site of what they believe to have been the home (more like palace) of one of the high priests. This was a huge building with mulitple ritual baths, spaces for entertaining and for guests to stay. It would have faced the second temple of Herod. It gave the sense of the grandeur that would have been Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. One can almost feel the longing that the Jews would have had after the destruction of the city in the revolt of 70.
More on the constant conflict that seems present when I write about my visit on Monday to the Tower of David. This is a museum that takes you through time from Solomon to the present. Needless to say, each time period is marked by another battle and the changing hands of this ancient city. Now it is time to have the opening Eucharist of our class.
OVERALL SABBATICAL PLANS
Episcopal clergy are supposed to take a sabbatical every 7 years. I have been ordained now 13 years and have never had a sabbatical. The bishop pointed out to me that I have been at St. Aidan’s for 9 years so at the minimum I am 2 years overdue. My plan has two parts.
The first will be for Wendy and I to travel to Jerusalem in mid-May to take a two week course at St. George’s College. We fly out of Norfolk May 12 and hope to spend a couple days in a kibbutz staying with friends of a resident that I met through my work with Seton. The class starts the following Tuesday and runs for two weeks.
Some of you have been there with the trips that Peter planned. This class will travel to many of the famous biblical sites and is something I have never done and something I have always wanted to do. I’m a priest who has never been to the Holy Land and I know this will make a difference in my preaching and teaching. I also hope to do some of my storytelling there with the class and begin to develop a plan for a trip for the parish over to Jerusalem where we will visit the sites and I will tell the stories on location.
After that class we will head for a visit with James who by then should be living and working in Manchester England. I hope to visit some significant church sites there and may try to get up to Lindesfarne. Vacation is also a legitimate part of a sabbatical.
Mid June, Wendy will return home and I will head to southern France to walk the Camino De Santiago. This is a 500 mile pilgrimage that has been walked by the faithful for centuries. I have been in conversation with two other clergy including John Baldwin who walked it in the fall of 2015. There is a group in Norfolk of people who have made the pilgrimage and I am planning on attending their meeting. While walking I hope to spend more time learning bible stories and plan to talk with my spiritual director prior to leaving to come up with a plan for meditation during the walk. Mostly this pilgrimage is about being open to the spirit. I am sure I will have many fascinating stories and experiences to share with you. I know it will make me a better priest for having gone in the footsteps of so many other faithful Christians. So don’t be surprised if you see me in the coming months walking around King’s Grant with a pack on my back getting in training for the 10-15 miles a day I will have to cover.
I will return to the states the last week of July and spend some time with my older son and recover from the pilgrimage. The first week of August is the Biblical Storytellers Festival in Washington DC, where I will be part of the epic telling of Luke and lead a workshop on Ignatian meditation techniques and how the inform my storytelling. Then the first Sunday of August I will be back with you.
John Baldwin, Gywnn Mudd and Fred Poteet will be supplying while I am gone. This is paid for by money the vestry has set aside over the past two years to fund the sabbatical. Most of the cost of the travel is being paid by myself. I look forward to coming back and sharing with you this fall the many experiences I hope to share with you.