Staying in a pilgrim house on the shores of the Sea of Galilee I was awakened to the sound of birds
singing, different kinds of birds; although I thought I heard the sound of a common robin in this mix of birdsong. I thought, “what lucky birds to live on this inland sea!” No wonder they were singing. And could they know how great it was to live in this holy and historic place.
The sounds of the morning got louder in Bethlehem as I was awakened to the sound of the Muslim call to prayer. As daylight was breaking this mournful sound was coming from the minaret just up the hill from the Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity. In Bethlehem they were celebrating the Armenian Christmas on January 18. There was an enormous Christmas tree in Manger Square, lots of activity day and night at the Church of the Nativity, and the bells in the bell tower of this, the oldest church in Christendom, seemed to be ringing at all hours.
Two days later we were in Jerusalem. In the morning I heard the now familiar Muslim call to prayer, along with the ancient enormous bells of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which have a very unique sound. Also I could hear a more distant call to prayer, and a carillon of a nearby church and in between these sounds the birds were still chirping, doves cooing. At the Western Wall, only when I got close could I hear women softly weeping.
In Jerusalem it seemed like all of creation was competing for the ear and attention of God. And while the sounds were beautiful, they also seemed mournful like a cry of longing that could not be satisfied.
This pilgrimage to the Holy land was designed as a familiarization tour, and for those that followed my journey in pictures on Facebook, you could see that we visited as many places as possible. I feel I haven't even begun to process all that happened there. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in such an amazing journey.
Some of the holy sites are contested, for example there are two sites that claim to be the mountain from which Jesus ascended into heaven. Many of the holy sites in the Holy land are also fought over, sometimes violently. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is shared uneasily by Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Roman Catholic. The unease is understandable because these places are so precious and in our longing for God we can become like little children fighting over a toy. Or competing for God’s love.
Yet the Holy land is indeed holy. The presence of Jesus is everywhere. My journey to the Holy Land made my faith more real, tangible, physical. I hope to lead a trip there next January for St Luke’s parishioners.
The idea of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which we may be indifferent to, would surely provoke unrest and violence in this place that teeters in an uneasy peace. So let us continue to pray for peace in Jerusalem.