Saturday, January 23, 2010

Home :)

Well, after an amazing 3 weeks abroad, Alan and I have made it home safely.

We were warned that the security out of the Tel Aviv would be a long and drawn out process- complete searches of checked bags right in front of you, major x-rays of bags, personal searches, etc. However, we actually made it out of Tel Aviv without any major holdups.

When you first walk into the Tel Aviv Ben Gurion Airport you go to zone A, B, C, or D depending on the company you're flying. We entered and headed towards Brussels Airline- section A. A security person, a young female (there were a number of young employees, a lot of them women, and we wondered if this is a possible site to learn security if you are in the army. That being said, any Israeli citizen aged 18-40 has to do 2 years in the army at the age of 18 and then stays in reserve until 40.) She asked us all the usual questions: how do we know one another, who packed our bags, did we receive any presents, and then she congratulated us on our engagement. It was a very friendly and pleasant encounter.

Step number two: take your checked on baggage to these GIANT x-ray machine. This machine was definitely bigger than an MRI machine. They had two of these machines in our zone. We plopped in our checked baggage and they shot out the other end :) My bag cleared and was good to go. Alan's, on the other hand, had to be checked for further examining. We figured that would happen because.....

We stepped up to the counter and the young woman asked: "do you have Dead Sea products in your bag?" (Yep, they're good alright...She had her own personal computer screen with Alan's bag on the counter in front of her. In Alan's bag, we had a pop bottle's worth of Dead Sea mud (Come on, it costs like 35 bucks for packaged mud! There was no way we'd actually buy that!! haha) and then we had a pop bottle's worth of salt we got from the bottom too. There was also two zip lock bags of salt crystals that were really cool and scavenged from the bottom of the sea. He told her where they were exactly in the bag, along with the location of his shaving cream, razor and any other soaps or shampoos, and we were all cleared. She didn't even open up the bag!

After we got our tickets, we were on to round number 2 of security- the classic carry on baggage x-rays with metal detectors. They were also very friendly there...and Alan got a little smile, which turned into a bigger smile from the one young woman when he pulled a bright pink lap top from his bag...hahaha...poor Alan.

After that though, we were good to go!!

We jumped on our plane at 0 35 (1230, love it!) and we took off around 120.

This is where the night gets long...haha

Even though we stayed in the terminal, we had to go through another carry-on screen.
Both of our bags got pulled to be hand searched.
The bag that I was carrying that got searched got pulled because of a metal menorah hahaha. That would be a real low if you had to stab someone with that!
As we were closing up that bag, the airport workers said, 'this sure is a holy bag!' hahaha. Yes indeed. Although, it did make me think, it was like an interfaith dialogue conference in my bag with crosses, rosaries, and then a menorah!! Love it!
Alan's bag got pulled because we had water in it (we didn't realize we had to go through the check in because we were not leaving the airport). But the guy was really nice and asked if he could dump the water, but he wasn't allowed. At that point, he let Alan go out and dump it and come back through.
Well, on his 2nd way through, he got pulled for a random search! (poor Alan haha) So, he got frisked and underwear checked and shoe bomb checked and he was good to go! The man was very apologetic though and said that the machine beeps on say, 1 in 5 people and that person is the one to get searched further. Although, what we were seeing, it seemed they were going through a lot of bags and personally searching a lot of people.

At that point, it was 530 in the morning in Belgium. The airport was great and had these couch lounge areas with no lights on. We found two love seats next to one another and each laid down. We slept until about 9am. It was really wonderful!

At 1030 we made out way to the gate. We got in one line- turns out since we had a transfer into the airport, we had to get new boarding passes. Blah. After waiting for 25 min in the 2nd line, we had to proceed to another line for questioning!

This woman was cruel to us. She grilled us for about 10-15 min on our lack of flight itinerary (we didn't print one, we simply printed our boarding passes), on how we even got to Israel, on who's passports she was holding and questioned whether we had another set of passports, on why we didn't get them stamped in Zurich on the way over (we never left the airport so we didn't have to go through customs until Israel), on who bought the tickets (Alan) and on what site (Cheap tickets. com). She was going nuts on us! Who knows what she was getting at, and I understand that they really have our safety in mind, but it was a bit much.

After that grilling, we were selected to go through another search! Bah! So, we waited for 30 min that line. There were only 3 people (and only 1 woman!!) searching/frisking. For a huge flight, they were severely understaffed for our flight. We got our carry-on bags hand searched and ripped apart (for the 2nd time in that airport, mind you) and then we got frisked. Now, the thing is, we all went through the first screening to get to that terminal. But only the people who transfered in to that airport had to go through the next search and frisking. It just does not make sense! If you're going to search half the people, why not do all at that point?!
Ugh, anyways, we left 35 min late because of that. But, we still arrived at time in DC.

We arrived around 240pm Friday and had a friend pick us up. We had no problems in customs. We came back to the seminary (45 min drive from the airport) and threw our stuff in the car and began our journey north.

Once we got to Franklin, we started unloading- both our physical things and then our memories.

There seems to be so much that we have yet to learn from this trip-
the spiritual aspects, the questions of the historicity of holy sites and then the consumerism at the sites
the complex situation of the Palestinian/Israeli conflicts within Israel and the West Bank and the Gaza strip
how we're going to integrate our reflections and transformations into our lives at home
These are just the very beginning of unfolding this trip, fleshing it out, having grist for the mill, or whatever metaphor you want to use for reflection hahaha.

I'm so glad that all could have a chance to read a bit into what we were experiencing. Thanks for all your prayers and kind thoughts over our journey.

Oh Jerusalem, Alan and I were so blessed to have seen this earthly one, as we await for the heavenly one...Jerusalem, my happy home! Name ever dear to me; When shall my labors have an end, In joy, and peace, and thee?...

There's a song we sang in Jerusalem:
10 measures of beauty, God gave to the world, 9 for Jerusalem, 1 for the rest. (Repeat 3x)
10 measures of sorrow, God gave to the world, 9 for Jerusalem, 1 for the rest. (Repeat 3x)
So prayer for the peace, pray for the peace, pray for the peace of Jerusalem...

Blessings on wherever you might be in your own journeys...It's great to be home...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The final days...

Apologies for not updating lately...the trip seems to be winding down and so does my blogging enthusiasm :)

Monday Morning: We got up early and prayed the stations of the cross. We walked with our cross to the first station and ended up on the roof of the Church of the Resurrection/Holy Sepulcher. Because so many denominations already split it, you cannot do the final stages inside the building (something like the remaining 4 or 5 (?) stations). After that, we ate breakfast in the Old City and then went into the church to see Calvary, the stone of anointing and then the tomb. Pretty cool stuff.

After that, we had a free afternoon. Came back, and well, napped hahaha. It was cold and rainy and gross outside. So, we got pizza and ate and relaxed the rest of the afternoon. It was much needed. At 6 we had a debriefing on how to get out of the Israeli airport. Apparently it's a pretty serious thing: individual interviews, questions, things like that. Then din din and then we had a final lecture on pilgrimage. LONG day....

Tuesday: We got up and headed off to Emmaus- Now, it turns out there are 4 Emmauses, so we chose one and headed off in that direction. The plan was to walk the road to Emmaus like those at the end of the Gospel of Luke but as mentioned before, it had been raining for about 24 hours straight, so it was flooded... : ( So, we had Eucharist at a monastery and headed back. After lunch, we napped again (you can tell it's near the end of the trip haha). Then, we headed out for the ultimate search to finish buying souvenirs.

The market here is one of haggling, and I hate it. There are no prices on things, so when you ask a price, you enter into a commitment and conversation which pretty much assumes you'll buy on the way out. So, we went into one store and they started very high and since it was a gift for my mother, why were we being so stingy in buying gifts for her. We walked out.

Next stop, he started out even higher, and tried to offer us two pairs. He chased us out of his store and was holding onto Alan's arm....yet again, a corridor of Old City we can't go back in, hahaha. Good thing we're leaving in a day...

So FINALLY, we went into a shop that said 5 shekels for pair. Wow, about a buck a pair?! Yes please! So we found a pair, 65 shekels?!?!?! WHAT! No, no, no, no, no, this would not do. So, in the end, with them getting pissy we got two pairs of earrings for 20 shekels...not bad when they started out at 65 each, right?

So, we were done. DONE shopping. We love everyone, but this is too much hahaha, I can't wait to get into America where know prices and that you can look without buying!! grrrrrr.

After that, we had a reception/hymn sing/skit time at the Deanery. It was nice- we received certificates for the program and tiles from St. George's. :)

Then, dinner, and bed......

Wednesday morn- another incredible day that I didn't think would be incredible haha

We started off to just wander...BUT, we ended up going into a Russian church which had the most and best archaeological remains of Constantine's basilica. This coupled with AMAZING icons and the Russian's own Calvary made this a winning find.

NEXT- the holy sepulcher. Supposedly, in the Armenian church, there is a 1st century inscription in one of their hidden chapels. This is one from some of the first pilgrims to Jerusalem. In Latin, it says: We have arrived.

We went into the Armenian's office. At first, the young priest didn't seem to go for it, but our fearless leader Sally talked him into it. We were in!!!!!!!! We headed into the Armenian altar...he opened a locked door, we headed down into the quarry that existed since who knows when and is what the church is built from, we then headed further down into another church, and there it was!!!

It is this boat on a wall with the Latin written under it. Wow, I mean, WOW!!!! Not very many people get to see this!!! Then, the priest gave us a blessing in Armenian!!! How cool is that?!?!

I mean, just incredible!!!

After that, we headed off to check out some Armenian pottery. We ate lunch in the Jewish corner and then, headed down to the Wester Wall tunnels!!!

This is also a site to see- one that you have to call and reserve and sometimes it takes two month to get tickets! But we were in!!! I can't really even explain this!! We were under the newest renovations to the Western Wall. Now, this is the continued section of the Wailing Wall- same wall....

Inside, we saw the biggest stone in the wall! It was'll have to ask Alan the measurements hahaha. Apparently, it started out taller though and when the Romans came to destroy the temple and city, this block was so big they just started chipping away at the top, and then eventually gave up, but not before taking off 4 feet...

Then, there is this tiny section of the wall that is proved to be the closest section to where the Holies of Holies would have sat on the Temple Mount. Just a beautifully moving section to be in...
Then, we walked through this narrow tunnel of wall space, we saw 20 feet down into more wall, we saw cisterns, and pools of water and then we were done. I mean, one of the best things we've done here! (Although, at this point, I could say that about a lot hahaha). The tunnels were just over an hour with a tour guide.

We headed back to the college and hung out and began packing and wrapping all our valuables. We got some crosses for churches that are special to Alan and I back home and the one already broke!! :( These were hand made and supposed to be of wonderful quality...lame. But, it was just the end, so we'll fix it with wood glue....and it will be as good as new :)

We then went out to din and now I'm catching up this ole blog.

Tomorrow, we plan on getting up at 445am and heading into one more quiet time at the Holy Sepulcher. Once you get past 6 am, it's tour groups galore and super annoying when you're trying to pray...So, we'll take all the rosaries we bought and rub them on the stone of Christ's tomb. We'll also take some more candles and lights them on the Holy Fire.

Besides that, I'll spend the night packing. We have some Dead Sea salt we pulled from the bottom of the Sea to package up :)

I might not blog tomorrow, so, if not, I'll see you in the states! Our flight leaves at 130 am Friday, and we'll leave from the college at 845pm to get to the airport. Good night!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sunday 1-17

Today is another day off- thank goodness.

Alan got up at 315am and headed to the Holy Selpucher for some alone time at Calvary, rock of the anointing and the tomb. He also worshiped in a Latin Catholic mass. Fun stuff.

We have a lecture at 430 today on the Way of the Cross (Via Dolorosa) in which we are participating in tomorrow at 6 am (to beat the tourists).

Besides that, the time is winding down here. Crazy fast!!

We're going to hit up Hezekiah's Tunnels for sure today and whatever else happens happens...


Saturday 1-16

This Saturday, there was an optional trip to Masada, Qumran, and the Dead Sea.

We drove an hour and a half to Masada first. The views going along the Dead Sea were just beautiful with the early morning sun shining.

When we got to Masada, we waited for a cable car. (There is a path up the mountain called snake path, but it takes an hour to hike, and being with a group made that impossible.) So we rode up the cable car and landed on top of King Herod's palace. King Herod built a variety of palaces to get away from all of his enemies. After the construction, Herod did use it to entertain, but probably not as much as he hoped because he died shortly after the construction. Another story is that a group of Jews were living in Masada and the Romans came to attack. After months of building a ramp to get their war machines up the mountain. The Romans did indeed make it up the ramp, burned the doors, took down the walls, and retreated to start afresh and attack the inhabitants the next day. Legend has it that instead of becoming slaves, their leader convinced them to all die. They had drawn lots for 10 people to kill everyone. They drew another lot for the one out of the 10 to kill all the other nine people and then that last guy killed himself. This story is debated (eh, I'd believe it) but they have found archaeological evidence of the lots of names.

Although this place was pretty much a ruins pile, they had rebuilt various buildings like the bath house. Alan really liked it because it is an engineering marvel. He really liked the system that collected flash floods that would supply Masada with water for the year. (It would also supply the bathhouses, swimming pools, etc. So much for being in a desert hahaha.)

After that, we headed off to Qumran. This was pretty disappointing, as you can only see one or two of the caves in which they found the dead sea scrolls. Also, the closest cave was about 200 feet away and you couldn't even explore. But they did have the ruins of the Essenes settlement...ritual baths, scriptorium, more ritual baths...(They REALLY like purifying themselves.)

Next up, and FINALLY (yay!) THE DEAD SEA!!!!!!!!!!!! Alan noted that the beach we were on was surrounded by land mines...oh well, just can't wander too far off the beaten path haha.

I could've spent all day relaxing at the Dead Sea. Now, there are a variety of health precautions to this because of the uber high salt content- don't shave the day of, don't get the water in your eye (really don't even put your face in the water), don't drink it, and inhaling it can kill you. Lovely.

But, besides that, it was an incredible experience! It was crazy just floating around with no effort. You can only stay in for 15 min max and then wash off with fresh water. So, we stayed in for 15, I coated myself with dead sea mud and sat out until it dried. Washed off, and then we hopped back in to collect dead sea mud and salt. (Now, of course they sell this stuff, but it's ridiculously priced!!, we collected our own :) ) There are just giant salt formations out there that you can collect from.

That was just wonderful. Loved it!!

After that, we came back home around 330 and relaxed, did laundry and other practical things. (One among them was to take a long shower....and I still felt like I smelled like Dead Sea...haha)

We had dinner and then we walked into the Old City and wandered to the Wall and the rooftop walk.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Friday 1-15-10

Annnnnnnd another wonderful day in the Holy Land :)

We hit up 6 churches today...and had 4 reflections mixed in on various topics.

We started off in the place where Jesus told his disciples to get the donkey for Palm Sunday.

The juxtaposition of barbed wire and cross still gets me...

Next, as we were on the Mount of Olives we heading down the hill to Dominus Flevit. (And Jesus Wept.) Not to be confused with Jesus weeping over Lazarus. This is the Jesus weeping over the city scene- as Jesus longed to gather up the flock like a hen over her brood...Beautiful beautiful views of the city, particularly the temple mount was right across from this site. (Makes sense crucifixion wise...) I spoke with the monk here- he originally came from California and he said he was called by the Holy See to come to Jerusalem. He's been here for 21 years and it is still a joy to be here in this land. What an amazing man and conversation.

After, we went to the Garden of Gethsemane. This was by far my absolute favorite church and we did not have enough time. As evidenced in my blog and the pictures, I LOVEEEEEEEEEE mosaics. This church was covered, floor to ceiling, in mosaics. And it was dark, and lovely. This is the place where Jesus asked God 'to let this cup pass from me, but be it your will, not mine...' We touched the rock in which Jesus wept over.

Next- Mary's tomb- It was orthodox- Greek and Armenians split it. It was neat. Besides a bunch of people cutting in front of us before the tomb and then consequently took FOREVER in there. But alas, I need to be more sensitive and patient for those ahead of me. Hahaha. But it was cool- walked down maybe 40-60 feet underground into this cave of Mary. The entrance to the plaza of the church was probably about 20 feet below and then the 'cave another 40. Love it.

Next up- lunch at the Lutheran Hospice. Also good stuff. And the most AMAZING cake ever! It was a giant ho-ho. We counted and alloted ourselves 1.5 piece each. When the time was done, there were two pieces left, so 6 of us played a game to win them. I won!! (With a classmate.) In the end, we split it up between the remaining 6 vultures, aka us, that wanted the dessert, but it was a lot of fun.

We also saw some of the most beautiful stoles I've ever seen- handmade by this man in a tiny shop in the street.

Next- St. Mark's Syrian Orthodox Church and the place of the Last Supper. A sister of the church, named Justina sang the Lord's Prayer in Aramaic for us. She also told us stories of the Holy Spirit and how she still comes and makes it able for communication between understanding different languages. (This is the site of Pentecost...and the first church...) The Upper Room Down is what she kept referring to the place of the Last Supper as. And, since it's from the olden days, it is down archaeologically. So we headed 'down' in the 'upper room.' Very cool. It was this tiny room, about the size of a dorm room. Also fun fact, you can't 'cross' body parts in the Syrian church. You can't cross your legs and things like that because you're only supposed to cross yourself intentionally. (But my roommate informs me, as with anything, there are 3 of any 'holy site' hahaha.

After that we went to the Church of St. Peter in Galicantu (means the cock crow). This was a modern church, built in the 1930s :) Once again though, a stunning display of mosaics and stained glass. THEN! Underneath this church is the supposed tomb of Jesus. Going down one level is another church. Going down two levels are tunnels of rock formation and the tomb of Jesus. On the outside of the church is most certainly proven a 1st century staircase.

We returned to the college around 430 and have been relaxing, updating/uploading until dinner at 7.
At 8 we have yet another lecture on Christians in the Holy Land. I can see how this will go- there really aren't any left here...however, it'll be good to study some more root causes and explore the complex issues of the land.

Tomorrow- big day! Optional (but of course we're going!!! 12/17 are going) side trip to DEAD SEA, MASADA, and QUMRAN. This will be incredible! Alan just said, we owe your parents a huge thanks for these tour guide, here it is, Dad and Mom, your books and maps have aided us greatly in this land. :) Love you!!!

PS, tomorrow night, we might spend the night in the Holy Sepulcher (you can get locked in!!)'s not like Alan or I to be late night people, as most who know us know...however, this sounds like it could be an amazing spiritual experience!

Hope everyone has a lovely weekend- pray for us when you go to church on Sunday ;)

Thursday 1-14-10

After today's adventures (Friday), Thursday looks relaxing!

A run down of Thursday:

Went up to the Temple Mount!! I think I mentioned this before, but this holy site has been inhabited by a number of the different religions over the years. It is currently owned by the Muslims and the temple on it is called Al-Haram Ash Sharif. The other mosque on this site is Al Aqsa Mosque. As non-Muslims, we were not able to enter these holy sites. And side note, this site is owned by Muslims but controlled by the Israeli govt. Very interesting and complex land...

Back to the main temple, the decorations on the outside are just beautiful- very ornate and colorful.
We saw from the inside the golden gates- these are the supposed gates that the Messiah will walk through when the Messiah comes (according to Jews).
We also talked about the context of Jesus 'cleansing the temple.' This would have been where it happened.

Next site: the Pools of Bethesda. This would have been where Jesus healed a man that has been sick for 38 years. Good stuff. The ruins were phenomenally well preserved. The rainwater of Jerusalem would have run right into these baths. We also checked out the crusader church St. Anne's which is right beside the pools.

After that, we had lunch in a French monastery named Ecce Homo. Good stuff.

Then, onto the Wailing Wall. I placed my prayers in the wall. This place is simply powerful, and I still do not know how to explain or articulate why. Some spots are holy and sacred, and the wailing wall sticks out to me as one of those.

After that, we moved into the southern excavations. They have proved in the last 20 years that this part of the wall is also Herod's Wall just as the Wailing Wall portion is. The blocks were huge, and I can really imagine being shocked as a disciple when Jesus said not one stone will be left upon another.

Also, on a wedding note, a bride and a groom with their two flower girls were getting their pictures taken on the steps that would have led into Herod's temple. Pretty sweet. How amazing would those wedding pictures be!?!

After that, we went on an extensive search for stoles. It looks like the best price is 20 dollars, and if we are getting a bunch, we're hoping to haggle 'em down- all in good fun, and of course the search for the cheapest goods in the Old City...

After din, we had a lecture from a man that worked for the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Well, to be sure, he certainly was not balanced at all, as the Israeli professor was that came the other night. However, it was great to hear another side of the story. But, alas, he went on forever and at 920 the leader FINALLY called it and said, thanks for coming, if you wanna stay and ask more questions, please feel free. So, we booked it. After a full day of touring, come 8/9, you're really beat.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Wednesday 1-15-10

Note to those reading, sorry for the typos or confusing sentences...I do not proof before I post...

On to the next day!

We departed from our lovely hotel at 745 for Mount Tabor. This was the supposed site of the Transfiguration.

We took taxis up this huge hill (they said it would take 2 hours to walk up) and first had a Eucharist. I was the chalice bearer. It was nice- in little covered enclave in front of the church. Inside the beautiful church (complete with mosaics :) ) was the side 'tents' (mini chapels) for Elijah and Moses.

After that, we headed into Jericho. Someone commented that after visiting Jericho, no wonder Joshua wanted to destroy it. The context of that is: Jericho is in the West Bank- a Palestinian city (Just like Bethlehem). So, what we're learning is (and skip ahead if you know a lot about this situation): the Jews and the Palestinians have been fighting for ages over this land. The Palestinians right now have the West Bank (of the Jordan River) and the Israeli's have basically closed off a bunch of there cities by something like over 200 checkpoints and have stop imports and exports and have basically destroyed their economies. So, Jericho was the worst place I think I've ever been. The outskirts of Jericho is literally in a desert hell. When you get to the middle, it is an oasis in the desert with plants and trees, but it is simply tragic what oppression leads to.

After Jericho, we stopped and looked over the desert. You could basically draw a straight line to Jerusalem of where we've been, and they suspect Jesus walked somewhere down their to get to Jerusalem haha. The desert was stunning though. (We don't have those pics up yet, but we'll get there :) )

When we headed back into Jerusalem, we read Psalms. It gives a whole new meaning when you read about ascending the holy hill and you're really doing it!

We got back and although I wasn't a huge fan of the city of Jerusalem before (dirty, busy, loud, all big city stuff...) it was nice to go 'home.'

Later on, we went to the Garden Tomb. This is where the Protestants believe the Crucifixion happened (as opposed to Holy Sepulcher or also called Church of the Resurrection). However, it has been proved these tombs found here were not of Joseph of Arimathea, but rather 3rd century tombs.

Well, I think that's it. I know it's not very deep, but it's an idea of what we're going through (to match pics) and it's a start to processing all of these feelings and emotions over here.

I pray all our well. Prayers for Uncle Bruce and Family- May he rest in peace and rise in Glory. You will be missed.

xxoo. Mel