Take Me Home, Country Roads…

After our first full day in the city we were back to the wilderness once more.  We traveled down from the holy mountain and were headed to the lowest place on Earth, the Dead Sea.  While in the area we toured Masada, King Herod the Great’s fortress that the Hebrew Zealots used to escape the Romans.  It was incredible to see this great fortress with all the decadence and excess and thinking how this compared to the lifestyle of the Jewish people he ruled.

Next we went to a place called En Gedi.  This was the desert oasis and cave network that David and his men used to hide out from Saul.  It was a pleasant site for us I can only imagine what finding a place like this in their time would had been like.  Pictured below is of the “youngest tour-guide in Israel”.  We came back from a side trail and ran into this group of kids.  We were talking amongst ourselves asking questions and this little boy begins to give us the rundown with directions and stories, all with an air of expertise from atop his rock.  On the way back to the bus, I found my most favorite ice cream snack in the whole wide world.  A snack that has become a diamond in the rough because I can list on one hand the times I have found it.  En Gedi, Dead Sea, Israel would never have been a place I would have expected to find this frozen treasure.

After our refreshing dip we went to Qumran, the site of caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.  There was a little village, or I guess monastery would be a better term, located on this site that housed the Essenes that wrote these epic texts.

Then we lastly had to end out trip with a float in the Dead Sea.  This was the coolest and weirdest feeling.  It was familiar and foreign, because who hasn’t ever floated in the water? But you have never floated like this!  The salt content is 10x that of the ocean!! And it tastes like it too.  When you’re in the water you dig up some of the mud and slather it on, a full body mud mask treatment.  You can only stay in the water for about 15-20 min at a time, it gets to a point where your skin begins to burn.  This is not a healthy tingle that goes away with time; you have to get out of the water and go wash off in the fresh water shower as soon as you can.  I will say though afterwards my skin felt the smoothest it had since I could remember.

Probably my favorite part of today was that I feel we finally “gelled”.  We use this term all the time at Camp Hardtner during Training Camp to refer when the group of people we have hired for the summer transition into something more than just individuals and become the Permanent Staff.  From my ten years of Training Camp experience, I have found that the average time for this process is somewhere around a week.  We gelled today.  I think it is appropriate to use this term and its connection to Camp Hardtner, our Diocesan Camp, because everyone here has a connection to it in one way or another.  Either through retreats, the summer program, children or grandchildren, or just the long history and relationship the camp has had with churches in the diocese.  If I had to sum up Camp Hardtner in two words I would use Love and Community.  Those same two words is how I would describe my fellow pilgrims.  I am blessed be able to call them my friends.  I am blessed to share this life changing experience with them.  I am blessed to have heard their stories.  I am blessed to have poured out my heart, sang, cried, prayed, laughed, broke bread, and shared this incredible week with them.  No matter what chapter we each have next, or where our next journey take us, we will always have Jerusalem, and the love, and the community we formed on this most Holy Ground.

Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory…

On our first full day in Jerusalem, I feel I walked around in pure amazement and awe.  Even though I was standing in these places it still felt like a dream.  I have seen pictures and have heard stories from pilgrims before me and yet even the best stories and pictures truly fail to express the environment and ambiance of these places.  Feeling the stone pavers worn smooth under your feet, the smell of incense hanging in the air, the prayers in countless languages all around you, the competing sounds of organ and chanting, the truly priceless mosaics that were commissioned for the Glory of God, mixed with sculptures, candles, architecture, Eucharistic processions, etc… This day was emotionally, physically, and spiritually exhausting.

We left the hotel at 6:00am in order to be among the first at the Holy Sepulchre.  The best way to think of this site is a collection of the final stations of the Via Delarosa, the stations of the cross.  It’s more of a complex with at least 10 (that I saw) chapels spread throughout the Church. Calvary was up in a top corner of the Church.  While up there we were able to be part of a Eucharist at Station XI and then able to venerate the cross at Station XII.

Then of course we have the site of the burial tomb inside and then just off to the side is the Chapel of the Apparition.  This comes from John 20, when Mary runs into Jesus and thinks he is the gardener.  The main photo of this post is a picture of the top of the entrance into the tomb.  This space is just unbelievable.  I will try to share what I can over the next few days to encompass what its like in here.

 

Next, we went to the Temple Mount.  The whole site is Islamic owned.  To get up there almost had the feeling of a border crossing.  The two mosques are beautiful themselves but the rest of the mount seemed almost barren.  Of course, there were lots of trees that had been planted and wonderful paved walking paths, but compared to the rest of the city with imagery, icons, symbols and all the rest there seemed to be a stark change.

From here we went to the Mount of Olives and walked the first half of the Parade route from Palm Sunday.  We walked down from the Mount and ended at the Garden of Gethsemane.  Stopping at two churches along the way, Dominus Flevit Church (The site where Christ wept over Israel; it looks like a tear), and then the Basilica of the Agony down in the Garden itself.  The Basilica of the Agony is the spot where it is thought Christ prayed, “May this cup pass from me”.  Just in front of the altar is a large rock with a crown of thorns around it.  This is said to be the site where Jesus prayed.  The atmosphere within this church I found to be completely different than every other church.  It was dark and quiet.  You could hear people shuffling around but there was no talking.  This stood in direct opposition to the Church of the Sepulchre for example, a place that is overflowing with sound and voices.  The Basilica also has some of the most beautiful mosaics on the domed roofs.  Even though the sanitary was in darkness I was able to get a few great pictures.

We ended our day by visiting the Western Wall and the Southern Steps, the main entrance into the Temple mount.  Besides the Mosque of the Dome of the Rock I would say the Western Wall is probably the most iconic site in Jerusalem. What struck me most of all, after grabbing the required loaner yarmulke and approaching the wall, I felt it appropriate to pray to the Father.  Here more so than ever before.  It wasn’t anything I thought about before or planned to do, it just felt appropriate.  And lastly the Southern Temple Steps.  Out of all the speculation of holy sites, we know beyond a doubt that for sure Jesus walked on these steps, as did every other Jew entering the Temple.  To sit there  looking out upon the city was quite a site.

Setting My Face Towards Jerusalem

The time has come for us to head to the holy city, taking the route Jesus and countless other Jewish pilgrims would have taken to reach Jerusalem.  We followed the Jordan River as it ran South out of the Sea of Galilee. On our way south, we stopped by two sites.  The first was Bet She’an one of the 10 pagan cities Jesus sent the disciples in order to grow the Kingdom.  The 10 cities collectively are known as the Decapolis.

Our second stop comes straight out of Judges 7, when Gideon comes to a well and there he chooses an army to fight for the Lord.  It was a powerful experience to read the passage by the stream that flowed looking to the mountain and all the other geographical details mentioned and think to yourself, “this is the place.”

Once we left the green zone of the Sea of Galilee everything slowly turned to a pale beige, the color of a desert. However, don’t think of sand dunes like the Sahara, instead think of rock and mountain and dried river beds.  This landscape is the area that the Bible refers to as the wilderness. In the Gospels, we hear several times of Jesus going into the wilderness to pray.  My favorite story of Jesus in the wilderness comes quite early in the Gospels.  It happens just after his Baptism, when he heads into the wilderness and is tempted.  We were able to see from the road the traditional place thought to be the site of the temptation. (picture below)

From here we set our face towards Jerusalem and traveled the once deadly and treacherous pass that connected Jericho to Jerusalem. Christians are extremely familiar with this road and most of us probably didn’t know it.  The setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan is the road between Jericho and Jerusalem.  It is even thought that Jesus and his disciples were traveling that very pass when he told the story.   Well, half way up we made a pit stop.  It is the site of a known inn that existed, one of the only main stops on the way up to Jerusalem.  Look at the picture to see where we were.

One of the best parts of this day is that on our way up to Jerusalem we read Psalms 120-135, the Songs of Assent.  They are called this because Jericho is around 800 feet below sea level and Jerusalem is at 2500 feet above sea level. The Bible often talks about going up to Jerusalem because you literally have to go up hill, to get there.  The psalms of assent were read and sang by the pilgrims on their final assent to the holy city.  The original road ran through Bethany, then to Bethphage and then to the Mount of Olives.  It is at this point that the pilgrims would have seen their first view of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.  It was such a welcome site to see.  I cannot even imagine what it would had been like for the original pilgrims, who after traveling so far, to finally see the Temple, the dwelling place of God.

Tomorrow I will share my stories from our first day in the Holy City.

 

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Traveling down the Jordan River Valley and the scenery takes a huge change.  More mountains and less vegetation.  I know you see crops planted here but that is only because of the arid farming techniques mastered by the Israeli farmers.
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A picture of the northern part of Jericho.  First off notice there is no wall!! Then look to the mountain and notice the flat top, that was the original site (but never finished) of the Monastery of the Temptation.  The current Monastery is located about half way down the mountain.
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The Monastery of the Temptation, owned and managed by the Greek Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.
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The name says it all.
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This picture is from the Mount of Olives, taken from the further North looking South-West.

 

Your Faith Has Made You Well…

Tuesday was our day visiting the sites around the Sea of Galilee.  On this day, all our places were extremely close to each other.  This was the area centrally located around Capernaum, Jesus’ home, that acted as a type of head quarters for his miracles and most of his teaching.  The places we visited today: Church of the Beatitudes, the Church of the Multiplication, The Primacy of Peter, Capernaum, Magdala, a lunch on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, and a drive around the sea with a final stop at the Jordan River.

Magdala is a city that I was not familiar with.  It was only excavated in 2006 and is thought to be the home town of Mary Magdalene.  It was a fishing village on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and just North of Tiberius.  There is a beautiful modern Roman Catholic church on the edge of the shore line.  Down in the basement of this building is a small chapel where the floor is rough, jagged, uneven rock pavers.  This floor is the actual road pavers that ran through the village that Jesus would have walked! If that was not enough, although they have not officially declared (they are heavily suggesting), this is the city and road from Mark 5:25-34 in which Jesus healed a woman who reached out to him touching his robe in the crowd.  Jesus, upon feeling power leave him, tells the woman, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” I made sure to get a picture with my feet on the pavers.

The rest of the places were all familiar and yet I vastly underestimated what it would feel like being there.  The Church of the Beatitudes was of course where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount.  What struck me, besides the view of the sea, was that from this spot you can see some distant mountain cliffs (which I have pictured).  In these cliffs, the zealots would hide in the caves while plotting their rebellion.  It is said that in this spot, at the time of the sermon, tensions were of course rising between the opposing forces, and it would not have been uncommon to hear forgers hammering out swords, weapons, and armor preparing for the coming war.  With that as the backdrop, Jesus boldly proclaims, “Blessed are the Peacemakers”! That revolutionary thought standing in the face of the rising zealot movement had never sunk in before.

The Primacy of Peter is the location where the events of John chapter 21 take place.  It is the beach shore where Jesus eats fish and breaks bread with his disciples and has that most beautiful conversation and commissioning of St. Peter.  While we were there, in a outdoor side chapel, a group of pilgrims were celebrating the Holy Eucharist.  It was moving and emotional to be at the location, where through the breaking of the bread, Christ is revealed to his disciples. To be at the Mesna Christi (the Table of Christ) in the midst of the same breaking of the bread and the presence of Christ was incredible.

We stopped at the river Jordan for a quick dip…ok more of a wade I guess.  Where we stopped was only a couple hundred yards from where it empties from the Sea of Galilee.  While this was not the spot of Christ’s Baptism it was still a great location because at this spot an incredible baptism venue has been built for pilgrims and local congregations to use.  The day we were there we witnessed no less than 20 baptisms!! In the words of Ben Harper, we were “blessed to be a witness.”

Lastly, the site of the Multiplication, the site of the feeding of the 5000 was probably the most moving.  If you look under the altar (pictured below) you can see a rock coming out of the ground. That rock it is said to be the spot where Christ: took, blessed, broke, and gave the fishes and loaves to the crowds gathered.  I often say that if the Last Supper is truly the last supper then the Feeding of the 5000 would be the first.  My call and discernment to the priesthood has been closely tied to a deep piety I have for the Eucharist.  Being in this place I felt encouragement and strengthened for the ministry to which God has called me.

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Standing on the actual road in Magdala where Christ would have walked.
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The view from the Church of the Beatitudes look to the cliffs where zealots hid out.
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From the boat ride on the Sea of Galilee.  First off yes that is the color of the water and not a filter (The sun was hitting it just right). If you look almost dead center you will see a gray building on the shore line with a red roof and a small steeple to the right end.  That is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter.  Then moving to the left almost 3 buildings you can see the Church of the Multiplication.  The Church of the Beatitudes is the green domed building in the bunch of trees half way up the hill.
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A sculpture at the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter
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In the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter.  Mensa Christi is “The Table of Christ”; this is the site where Jesus shared breakfast with the disciples after the Resurection.
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The truly breathtaking Church of the Multiplication.  You can see pilgrims from all over the world, all denominations here praying.  You can zoom in under the altar and see the rock Christ stood on during the feeding of the 5000.

 

In the beginning…the Word became flesh.

My roommate, Larry and I, started our day around 5:45am so that we could watch the sun rise over the Sea of Galilee.  Back home this probably would not have happened! However with the time change and not sleeping on the plane, my internal clock was off.  So, I used it to my advantage and was able to wake up and take pretty amazing pictures!

The items on our agenda today were:

Mount Carmel, – The mountain top from which Elijah tested (God actually did all the work) 450 prophets of Baal in a challenge to see whose god was real:  God 1 – Baal 0!!

Caesarea,

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Me standing in the Mediterranean Sea at the ancient Herodian port capital, Caesarea. The wind was vicious and the water was cold!

Tel Megiddo,

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The underground hand carved cistern for arguably the #1 fortified crossroad training post on the route between Egypt and Babylon.

Nazareth –  saw the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation.

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The Iconostasis within the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation

Cana – saw the Wedding Church at Cana from the road but was not able to stop.

Most interesting is the two distinctions between the places we saw.  Caesarea and Tel Megiddo are actual ruins and archeological digs.  They know this is exactly where these places are.  Mount Carmel, the Church of the Annunciation, and the Wedding Church at Cana were all just best gueses.  We are pretty sure that these sites are at least within a stones throw of the biblical location, but we can’t know for sure because Jesus and the disciples never stopped to lay a corner stone or marker saying “Jesus was here”.  However these locations over centuries of pilgrims and attaining their own traditions and stories themselves are very established and from what I saw at the Church of the Annunciation (which competes for location with the Roman Catholic Church of the Annunciation just down the street) it contained some of the most beautiful frescos, paintings, icons, etc., I have ever seen.

The most powerful thing today was visiting the Church of the Annunciation.  This is the location thought to be where the Arch-Angel Gabriel visited and announced to Mary that she would bear a child.  This is the place where the Word became flesh.  The Greek Orthodox church is situated over the original well that supplied Nazareth with fresh water at the time of Jesus.  This is the well that Mary and most likely Jesus himself would have walked to in order to gather their daily water.  The original water cooler gossip and information dispersing cultural activity.

To say this place was moving was an understatement.  The site of the Incarnation, to be there…smelling the incense, hearing the water flowing, feeling the presence of God in your midst.  While there I was thinking of the story from Luke of Mary and Gabriel, retelling in my head the prologue of John.  Thinking, reflecting, praying about what it means for God to dwell among us.  My humanity, our humanity, this earth, our earth sanctified, in a state of becoming and being because the Lord our God, humbled Himself taking the form of a servant…and doing that in this place, instilling the coming kingdom here in this place.  It is humbling, inspiring, encouraging, and fulfilling all at the same time.

It also didn’t hurt that a wedding was about to take place in the church and the wedding party was out front taking pictures.  Just an all around beautiful moment and place.

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Passage to the Grotto containing the site of the Annunciation

 

Walking on Holy Ground

We arrived in Israel, the Holy Land!  For it being only 8 hours ahead of Louisiana it took about 20 hours of travel.  That is the time from leaving the church in Sulphur driving to Houston, then a flight to Germany, our connection to Israel, and lastly a 2 hour drive to our hotel in Tiberius on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  The picture at the top was the sunrise taken from our balcony this Sunday morning.  Looking across the Sea of Galilee onto the Golan Heights.

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Our trusty steed to cary us “across the pond” a double decker (!) Airbus A380 operated by Lufthansa.

Our real tour begins on Sunday. Saturday was just a travel day and getting settled into our rooms.  Even on such an “uneventful day” I could begin to feel the weight of our journey and pilgrimage in this sacred space.  Something as simple as driving down the road inspired rich questions and deep thoughts.  I would look out and see a hill or an open field and wonder, did Jesus walk there?  Did Jesus pray here?  What undocumented miracle or teaching might have occurred here? Could Jesus and his disciples have camped out here on their own pilgramages in this land?

Maybe…possibly…

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A random village we passed by on our travels.  I believe the name of the city is translated as Paradise! it is about 500 years from the Mediterranean Sea of which it faces.  What really struck me was how much farm land there was and how green the country side is.  I expected it to be more desert like, which is just not the case.

By setting foot on this sacred ground, I can feel a presence, a reverence, and an attitude of worship everywhere I go.  By worship I mean having a connection with the Divine. There is an aura (for lack of a better word) here that is powerful, with a palpable spirituality, drenched in the transcendent and touched by the LORD.  This is truly a holy land.

Check in soon to see how this feeling of the almighty gets revealed as you walk with me and I add highlights from Sunday’s journey.

 

And we’re off…

IMG_0563We just made it to Houston.  We are sitting down for our first meal together at  Pappadeux in the airport getting a last taste of our great Louisiana cuisine.

There are 12 (coincidence?) of us right now. All from holy trinity episcopal church. What a wonderful, hilarious, beautiful group of people. I just met them and I am already a part of the family.

Im reflecting on the frequency of shared meals we find in the gospels. We read of the teachings, foot washings, anointing, welcoming of sinners and tax collectors. But I think we miss the fact that they laughed and joked, cried and opened up sharing their lives with one another. What an appropriate way for us to begin our pilgrimage.

The Holy Land

The opportunity of a lifetime has fallen into my lap. I will be spending the next 10 days on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  I will see what Jesus saw, pray where Jesus prayed, and walk where Jesus walked (except maybe on the Sea of Galilee), all while following in the footsteps of countless pilgrims who have done the same thing.

I will be there from April 21, 2017 through May 1, 2017.  I will accompany a group from Holy Trinity Episcopal Church in Sulfur, LA led by my friend and collegue Mother Ally Perry!

I am hoping to report and journal my trip.  So check back here to see pictures, insights, thoughts, inspirations, reflections and probably some goofs from my time there.

Please comment, share, and check back in.