Recent events in Gaza have brought my thoughts back to the time when I was privileged to spend several months living in the Holy Land. We visited Gaza as part of our seminary pilgrimage. It is without a doubt the poorest place I have ever been. As I have been watching what seems like a never ending conflict heat up again, I have been brought back to memories of ten years ago and the many people I met in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza and the hope that both sides have for peace. My friend Chris kept a journal of our pilgrimage in the Holy Land and I would like to share some of his reflections of our time there that he gathered as a prayer just as we were leaving. My hope is that each of us will continue to pray for peace. Above is a picture of my friend Chris, our friend Jim, and myself at our favorite debriefing place in Jerusalem….a little internet bar in the Russian Compound called Strudel. Below is the the prayerful reflection he wrote ten years ago as we were about to return home. Thank you, Chris, for allowing me to share it here.
Soul of Christ, Sanctify me.
This is the land that formed the Soul of Christ. Christ was a Jew, with zeal for the Temple. With zeal for the Holy places. He had a keen sense of the collective memory of His people. Many days when he walked past Megiddo, did he stop and think: “What great people lived here? How long did they hold out? How bitter was their defeat? What kind of oppression overwhelmed them? Is it the same as overwhelms us now? Is it the same that makes them say of me: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Is is the same that some suffer today, those who have been displaced? This zeal and this deep sadness exist side by side in the soul of Christ. They exist today before our eyes as we see these people who live in the land now. May their desire for holiness and their desire for justice inform our own souls, and sanctify them.
Body of Christ, Heal me.
The Body of Christ also exists here. Two percent of the total population. And even they have trouble with each other. But there is a unity that exists here in the face of an overwhelming majority. They participate fully in the dialogue of life. They, like Muslims and Jews, need to eat, to have a place to live, to make their children secure and offer them a future. As they break what little bread they have among themselves, and share it with us, may the way in which we share with them heal the Body of Christ in our land. May it make us more able to live together in spite of division. May the wounds of mistrust and misanthropy be healed.
Blood of Christ, Drench me.
How many times a day is the blood of Christ spilled on the stone streets that we walk over so glibly? How many members of Christ have shed their blood here? Surely more than the 400 martyrs at St. Sabbas. Crusaders, who, for whatever motive, came to be a part of this land. Pilgrims who have died here, thus coming literally to the end of their pilgrimage. Those whose blood is spilled senselessly each day, “for security reasons.” Fransiscans who were beaten as they arrived to take charge of the holy places. Those we are reminded of throughout our world who lose their life-blood every day for the sake of others. May we spend a little of our lives doing the same; and as our own blood is spent, may it mingle with the blood of Christ that flows so freely here.
Water from the side of Christ, Wash me.
How often have we been here and simply longed to be clean? Recall the group of us sitting on the patio outside the Morgenland dining room, beating the dust out of our pants legs as we waited for lunch. Remember chewing on the dust that had gotten in the bread at the little Bedouin tent. Remember how badly you wanted a drink of water the first time you walked through the old city as you ate the dust and breathed the fumes of the trucks inside. Remember the sweat that just kept pouring off our faces as we walked up from Siloam, from MarSabba, from St. Catherine’s. Remember the squeegie showers at Bet-Arram. Then remember the water flowing from Christ’s side: by way of the sweat of the brow of the sisters in Gaza; the pastor of the parish in Taybeh; the Christian Brothers who work so hard here. Remember the sweat of the volunteers at the children’s hospital in Bethlehem. It is by this water that we are cleansed. It is the water flowing from the side of Christ that we can touch now. Let us touch it and bathe ourselves in it. May it wash us clean.
Passion of Christ, Strengthen me.
I am a weak person. I had a hard time walking down from Sinai just carrying my coat. How heavy was the wooden beam across the shoulders of Christ as He twisted and turned His way toward Golgotha? Recall how our desire to see these places has gotten us up again and again. One more walk. One more thing to see, and then it is dark. One more hill, and there is rest. One wrong turn, and it’s an extra mile. Yet strength is perfected in weakness, and as we grow weaker with each step across the slippery stones after the rain, each carefully placed step across the shifting sands, each had we grab as we walk up another flight of steps, and each blister we had to cover and hope for the best with the next day, the desire we have to see these places grows stronger, not only for our own eyes, but to be eyes for those who cannot see.
Sweet Jesus, Hear me.
How can my cries to God be heard amid all this noise? At 4:30 in the morning, can they be heard over the minaret? Should they be, as those are cries to God as well? The trucks and jackhammers start early here and show no signs of stopping. Can my cries to God be heard over all the complaining I do about the dust and the noise? Yet the Lord walked amid as much or more noise. He heard the cry of the lepers on the side of the road; he heard the children he called to come to him. He heard the protest of Peter when he called him. And he hears our voice today as we ask him where he can be found in this land, and reveals himself to us.
In Your Wounds, Shelter me.
I haven’t had to depend day to day on someone to provide shelter. I ask shelter for all those who have no home. Who live where they do not want to live. For all those Jews who desire to live here, who are not home until they rest in Zion. For all those in the refugee camps who long to return to the houses they left behind. For all those caught on the wrong side of an imaginary line on a map. And I ask only to share the same roof with them: to sleep in the shadow of your wings; to share with them as your suffering is perfected in their suffering; to put my wounds fully in yours, and to hide there for just a little while.
From falling away, Keep me.
Although Christ is so hard to see in some of these places, may my desire to see him never go away. Is Christ in the rusted out shell of a car on the road to Jericho? Is Christ in what used to be a village, until it was bombed out 51 or 32 or 26 years ago? Is Christ in the bronze star over Golgotha, or in the Nativity grotto? Is he in the olive-wood carving for sale outside? He is here somewhere. The trick is never to tire from looking for him, to walk away with awe, and not disgust. To venerate the Lord, not the stone floor, or the dubious painting. Let the desire within us to see the Lord never let us be still.
From the Evil One, Protect me.
How many yards of concertina wire cordon off how many acres of land? Why can’t we go to the point on the Jordan where John baptized? Why, when we were at Susita, was the wind blowing through the Golan Heights so spooky? Was it because of the Syrian bunker we had just seen? Or was Legion still lurking, looking for a herd of pigs to be sent into? It was the Lord who kept us safe in our journey. The photos at Yad Vashem should dispel any doubt that the Evil One is alive and well, and well known among the people here. Hopefully one day soon, the marks of the Evil One here will be erased.
At the hour of my death, Call me.
The Kidron Valley is almost full now. Over the past 3000 years, everyone has wanted these 50-yard line seats for the last judgement. A man in the Jewish quarter pays $400 a month, and has left his sons behind just for the opportunity to die here. Rabbi Milgrom cannot sing with a sincere heart that he wants to “live and die in Dixie.” He wants to die here. Old men and women come here just to die and rest near the Holy-of-Holies. Last week, John was called at the hour of his death, just down the hall from here. As we come to the end of this pilgrimage, let us remember all those who have finished their pilgrimage on earth, and have gone home.
Into Your Presence, Lead me.
I finally got to the Western Wall and went through the metal detector. The little courtyards, on both the men’s and women’s sides, were packed with people. I had no trouble, however, making my own way up to the wall and reciting Vespers. The beautiful thing here is that everyone is here doing their own personal prayer. They can be as loud as they want, and no one disturbs anyone else. It is indeed a very solemn moment. As I read the Psalms, I couldn’t help but listen to those around me chant Hebrew, and I added my voice to theirs as quietly as I could. At the intercessions, I took a list of people I have promised to pray for and stuck it in one of the cracks of the wall, according to local custom. I started with a pretty short list, but as I began thinking about it, it grew longer and longer. I put all those people who have meant a lot to me over the years. I placed them in a crack in a wall where the presence of God stood for so long among his people. The place where, if one asked where God was, he was told, “There.”
To worship you with Your saints forever.
Every name we spoke aloud at Naim got us here somehow. How many more people got us here through their prayers and intercessions? How long was our list that went into the cracks of the Western Wall? Let us call to mind all those who got us here, whose prayers we have received, whom we have promised to pray for, and whose concerns, hopes, and prayers, we have carried over here in our hearts.