Monday, December 29, 2008

What to say?

Erez Crossing into Gaza

I have been hesitating about writing for this blog over the past 48 hours. I think I might be more inclined to take little interest in Israel's bombing of Gaza if I had not so recently been in Israel and Palestine. If I had not had Israeli guns pointed at me as I crossed the Kalandia checkpoint and experienced the frustration of Palestinian brothers and sisters (many of whom are Christians) as they seek to live with Israeli occupation, I might be less inclined to weep at this new misery. I have been interested in our news reports compared to the news I am receiving from both Israeli and Palestinian organizations who are saddened and angered by this new assault on the people of Gaza. Here are the words of a young woman in Gaza about the attacks.

Dear all. Here's an update on whats happening here from where I am, second night of Israeli air (and sea) raids on Gaza. Israeli warships rocketed the Gazas only port only moments ago, 15 missiles exploded, destroying boats and parts of the ports. These are just initial reports over the radio. We don't know what the extent of the damage is. We do know that the fishing industry that thousands of families depend on either directly or indirectly didn't pose a threat on Israeli security The radio reporter started counting the explosions, I think he lost count after 6. At this moment we heard 3 more blasts. "I'm mostly scared of the whoosh", I told my sister, referring to the sound a missile makes before it hits. Those moments of wondering where its going to fall are agonizing. Once the whooshes and hits were over the radio reporter announced that the fish market (vacant of course) had been bombed. We just heard that 4 sisters from the family of "Ba'lousha" have been killed in an attack that targeted the mosque my their home in the northern Gaza Strip. Peace, Safa

There are more e-mails describing the chaos and misery of those who live in both the West Bank and Gaza right now. There are many issues to consider of course. Hamas' unwillingness to negotiate, the shelling of southern Israel by Hamas rockets, the starvation of the people of Gaza by Israeli blockages of relief shipments, and the ongoing siege of Gaza for months now, and the overall occupation and demands of Israel on the Palestinian people. It is a complicated situation. Perhaps I will be able to write more about my own experience in Israel and Palestine but right now I am aching for the people whose lives continue to be ripped apart - both Palestinians and Israelis. Praying for peace comes quickly now; with each breath, as I see the faces of those I met and spent time with. I encourage this prayer among us all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

All I Want For Christmas

An Abundant Olive Harvest
Reading for pleasure is a great balance to some of the "heavier" books I have been making my way through. One of those pleasure books is The Lady in the Palazzo: An Umbrian Love Story" by Marlena de Blaisi. The story is about a couple who are looking for a home in Umbria - a place to restore and make their own. It's a delightful story about food, and relationships. The author begins the book by describing the festival of St. Anthony in an Umbrian village. It is celebrated in the town plaza with a huge bonfire, enormous quantities of food and an invitation to all of the surrounding villages to come and feast. There is even a raffle and the drawing for the winner of the prize is done with great ceremony.
"The Bishop, divested of his official purple in favor of corduroy pants and down-filled vest, is calling for attention. The drawing of the winning ticket for the evening's prize is near. A wheel-barrow -- a glossy black number, on loan for the evening from the ferramenta, the hardware store -- is lined with a tablecloth, faded yellow and nicely ironed. It is precariously stacked with salame and prosciutto and cheese, necklaces of dried figs and bay leaves threaded on kitchen string, pomegranates, persimmons still on their leafless branches. Nests of homemade pasta wrapped in kitchen towels are leaned up against the dried kind in paper boxes. Breads, cakes, jam tarts, biscotti shed sugar over all of it. And there are jugs and jugs of housemade wine. Each item is a donation from a villager, his "tariff" for the evening. Additionally, the villagers each buy a raffle ticket... I like that nothing in the wheelbarrow is separate from the other things, how the fruit lies on the unwrapped cheese, how the cakes totter as they will, the whole of it an artless study in abundance.

Another study in abundance is the winner. He is a small, round boy with great chestnut eyes and red blooms over his olive cheeks. He seems shy at first, puling at his mother's hand, wanting her company as he goes to claim his prize. Noting his hesitation, the bishop steers the barrow to the boy, and the crowd screams its approval. The boy's brown -mittened hands take over the cart and, after some small consulting with his mother, he pushes it about the piazza. Having decided to distribute his riches to the crowd, he asks people to choose what they'd like. Sometimes, the boy stops to tell someone how to cook a thing, how to slice it, what to serve with it...

Of his preening mother, I ask his age. He will soon be ten. She is flustered and teary, pulling at her sweater, running a hand through the curls of her thick black hair. No one, least of all she, will talk about the circle of grace just closed by her son here in a small town in Umbria by the light of Saint Anthony's fire. (The Lady in the Palazzo: An Umbrian Love Story, Marlena de Blaisi, pages 17 and 18)

The pictures of abundance described by de Blaisi in this section of her book are what I think of at this time of the year. We are the recipients of this "wheelbarrow of abundance." Our task is distribution. I hope this Christmas you will consider ways to share the abundance in your lives with others. Like everyone, I love to receive gifts; but I know that I do not "need" anything. My life is full of treasures beyond measure in my family, and friends. The incredible beauty of creation is like opening a new present each day. So this year what I want for Christmas is to carry my wheelbarrow of abundance around to give to others.

I have some suggestions if you are looking for ways to empty your wheelbarrow. I just received a part of a pig from a friend. It is a gift through Heifer International. The pig will be a "living savings account" for a struggling family somewhere in the world. You can access their gift catalog of animals at or by clicking the link on the right side of this page.

Habitat for Humanity is another way to share the abundance in your wheelbarrow. Donations can be made to their program called "A gift from the heart." These donations will be used to build affordable houses for people all over the world, including the places where you currently live. It is a wonderful organization found at or by clicking on the link on the right side of this page.

Lastly if you are into planting things you might want to plant an olive tree at Daher's vineyard near Bethelem in Israel. These olive trees will greatly increase the value and quality of the Nassar family land and offer a greater means of income for them. You can read about this project at Just click on the Projects: Land and People window to learn about the olive tree project and others. This link is found under Friends of the Tent of Nations at the right side of this page.

Whatever abundance is in your wheelbarrow this Christmas I urge you to share with any of these worthwhile projects or your local church's outreach or local food pantry. In these days of world wide financial crisis most of us in the western world can still consider ourselves blessed with abundant resources. Fill up your wheelbarrow and start sharing.

Meal Shared at a Palestinian Home in Israel

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What Can I Give Him?

Today we went to Christ Episcopal Church in Sparta, NC. There was a little bit of everything in the service - incense, a Nativity pageant, Eucharist and lots of music to go with it all. The children's pageant was tender and at times really funny. It was a combination of joy and drama, exactly as it should be. I just happened to have my camera with me and caught this picture of a very "reflective" little Mary. And this picture of the whole cast:

Christmas Pageant at Christ Episcopal Church
The children sang the last verse of "In the Bleak Mid-winter." The words come from a poem by Christina Rosetti:
What can I give Him,
poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd,
I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man,
I would do my part;
Yet what I can give Him:
give my heart.
Christmas is (in our culture) all about giving and getting and Rosetti's poem points to the best of this - we receive the priceless gift of God's love, shown to us in his Son Jesus; and in return what can we give but ourselves? These words sung sweetly by children with bright expectant faces filled me with new hope. That is the hope for opening more of my heart to Jesus. I think that there is within each of us a bright expectant child who is willing to offer the the best that we are and the best that we have to God. So many "adult" things often get in the way of the heartfelt gift of myself. So many "taught or caught" prejudices interfere with my more childlike desire to love God in every person. And I have accumulated so much stuff - both materially and emotionally that complicates loving God with all that I have and hold. I love feeling the hope of this day when I desire with all my heart to "do my part."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Gift of Visiting

Holy Trinity Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, North Carolina
My body is definitely still on Italy time! I keep waking up at 1 am thinking it is time to get up. Little by little the jet lag is beginning to clear. I am now in the Christmas mode and that's good. I will leave this part of North Carolina to go "home" to the mountains for Christmas. I have loved visiting here in Fayetteville and seeing the new sanctuary at Holy Trinity pictured above. The labyrinth in the floor of the church is wonderful and the windows give the feel of being outdoors.

I've spent time just "visiting" with wonderful friends here. Catching up on what is happening in the lives of the people who are part of God's family and mine in this place makes me feel old! But it also makes me extraordinarily grateful for God's grace. I came to Holy Trinity in 1992 with many doubts about myself and ministry. The people of this parish were a healing presence to me and they "loved" me back into ministry.

I've been reading selections from the book, I Have Called You Friends: Reflections on Reconciliation. It was written in honor of Frank Griswold, our previous Presiding Bishop in the Episcopal Church, and it is a collection of writings by notable people. In her reflection, called "Taste and See," Ellen F. Davis talks about gratitude. This is a portion of what she writes in a meditation about Psalm 34:

"An Arabic proverb sums up all human experience thus:

One day for you, one day against you.

A well-known religious teaching amplifies the proverb:

When time is for you, give thanks to God.
And when it is against you, have patience, endure.

That wisdom comes from seventh - century Arabia, but it might as well have come from ancient Israel, because it exactly captures the thought of our psalm. In the terms of the Arabic proverb, the psalmist is speaking on a good day, when things are for him. So he begins by giving thanks to God :

I will bless YHWH at all times
his praise shall ever be in my mouth. (Psalm 34:2)

I am spending time with these words because it is so easy to make the "days that are against us" all about us...or all about someone else! The truth is that if we live long enough some days will "be against us." Some days will simply not go well. What we choose to do with the days that are against us is important. Praising God may come at the end of a long reflection about life's hard days. One of the other reflections in this book is written by Desmond Tutu. He writes about Nelson Mandela. Mandela's 27 years in prison on Robben Island could have strangled him with bitterness. Instead he chose to fill his life with forgiveness. He invited his white South African jailer to be a VIP guest at his Presidential inauguration. His witness of forgiveness advanced the cause of reconciliation. Like St. Francis of Assisi he let his actions speak louder than any sermon or speech could ever speak. And so perhaps the essence of reconciliation is found in what we fill our lives with on even the days that are against us.

Trinity symbol on the chairs at Holy Trinity

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Coming Home

Map of the eastern part of North Carolina
So many images, sounds and even smells are crowding my mind and competing for space as I write this first "blog" from the USA. On this third Sunday of Advent the writer to the Church at Thessalonica exhorts us to "Be at peace with one another." In Rich Lischer's book, The End of Words, he quotes Miroslav Volf in his book, Exclusion and Embrace. "...Volf asks the critical question, which might be paraphrased as follows: What is the defining mark of human life - is it the undeniable fact of that special identity that makes me me and you you, and our group what it is and their group something other, or is it the equally undeniable fact of some wider bond of humanity that we hold in common? Must identity trump community?" (Lischer, page 141).

Blair and I arrived in Rome on Thursday to stay near the airport for our Friday departure. After getting settled in our room we walked over to the airport to familiarize ourselves with the terminal. It was such a feast for the eyes and ears. All that "human community" of various shades, languages, and dress gathered in one place. There were several Chinese families whose lovely Mongolian features were distinctive. They were small and sturdywith dark hair and eyes and rounded faces. Their children were so beautiful! We saw one young mom in what for her was likely a traditional position of squatting. She was cradling her young child and giving it milk from a bottle. I so envied her limber knees! Languages came at our ears from all corners of the earth. I looked around and thought, "This is my family." This is what Volf means when he says that there is a wider bond of humanity.

We travelled for close to 21 hours by the time we arrived in Wilmington, NC. We missed a connecting flight in NYC because the plane left an hour later from Rome and then suddenly we were loaded into Blair's car with her dear partner Inza driving us through the eastern North Carolina fields. I felt totally jerked back into a different existence! Sights, sounds, and smells that have not been a part of my world for 5 weeks and even years. The sights of clean, modern buildings, SUVs on the road, Christmas decorations on every post and corner; the sounds of Christmas music, English language being spoken everywhere; and the smell of the cash crop of East Carolina - hog lagoons -- all this and more coming at me very, and sometimes, too fast. I am sure some of it is jet lag but tears seem to come to my eyes quickly as I realize, with a grateful and somewhat embarrased heart, the abundance that I live with.

And so as the journey continues I hope I can put more of the pieces together, but first comes washing clothes and visiting friends from this part of the world.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I am reading Richard Lischer's book pictured above. The subtitle is "The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence." Rich Lischer is one of those people who you want to listen to. He teaches homiletics (preaching) at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC and he has written several books. My favorite book by Lischer is "The Preacher King: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Word That Moved America."

In "End of Words" Lischer writes, "...Contemporary preachers cannot help but notice a growing dissonance between message and sensorium, between gospel and the all encompassing sea of words, images, and ideologies within which we attempt to communicate it [the gospel]." I am connecting these words of Lischer's with my own pondering about how ministry or creativity can happen in the midst of the barrage of media, and "busy life distractions" which fill our days. Perhaps our Italian friends have the right idea - close everything in the early afternoon and rest, listen to our interior life, visit oneanother, or create something before going back to work.

How can we hear Jesus saying "Blessed are the peacemakers" in a sea of violent images which come our way day after day? Can we hear St. Catherine of Siena saying to Pope Gregory XI, "Act like a man, go against your advisors and do what is the right thing?" Really hearing these words in the midst of an overwhelming culture of greed might encourage me to stand up to what is wrong. Rocking the boat is scary. Is there any way left in our self - focused culture for going against popular opinion? Can we hear St. Francis saying, "Where there is hatred, sow love?" The fields of my own heart produce more and more reasons why I shouldn't love. Sowing love is dangerous because it might yield change in me. I might have to be forgiven by someone I don't want to like. Or I might have to forgive someone and then find that I do like them! This is scary stuff and I believe it is the work of reconciliation.

This is a picture taken from Mt. Subasio above Assisi. These are the snow covered mountains north of us (thankfully).
And, as I sort of tidy things up to get ready to fly back to the US tomorrow, here is a poem I wrote about our rainy day in Siena. It was evening as we made our way back to the car and hard to find our way.

Bowed heads;
stone steps slick with rain;
missed turns.
Out of the stormy evening
she appears with hand extended.
Long skirt
sweeping our way;
covered head
lifted to the right.

Lost is broken;
the missed street found -
straight ahead.
each time with “grazie” on our lips;
in each hand offered that St. Catherine
is alive
in her people.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Blair Both, Guest Blogger

Sculpture of St. Francis from St. Damiano

I invited Blair to "blog" and she has graciously offered her reflections about this Italian journey. Blair and I have been friends for 25 years. She is an ordained Episcopal priest living in Wilmington, NC with her partner Inza Walston.
10 December 2008, Assisi

Wonder and gratitude encompass me.

+ For the “long obedience in the same direction” which I have come to see in the life and work of Michelangelo. The energy escaping from marble and the figures in the Sistine Chapel.

+ For the unspoken words of St. Francis which are heard inside and out as one walks in Assisi.
+ For the devotion and courage of St. Catherine as I imagine her preaching to popes and cardinals in Siena and beyond.

I wish I knew the Italian word for “thin places” as the Celtic Christians called holy ground. Tuscany and Umbria have their share.

Wonder and gratitude are magnified by being the invited traveling companion of my dear friend Martha for the Italian part of her sabbatical. To have an Advent filled with Annunciations and Nativity scenes of Giotto, Fra Angelico and many others has been a nice change from the Christmas decorations since Halloween.

Traipsing up and down endless stone stairs, making the baptismal sign countless times on my forehead in yet another chapel or basilica, being welcomed back to our Montalto castle-home each night by Leo, the gentle German shepherd. Wonderful, rich images and such lovely people.

So many images pointing to God, Source of Wonder and Gratitude
who grants to us God’s children wonder and gratitude.
Dear Loving Creator, please keep opening up my eyes and heart.

Blair Both

Sculpture of St. Francis at St. Damiano

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Assisi...and Florence again!

St. James Episcopal Church in Florence, Italy

This weekend in Italy is a three – day holiday. It is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (of Mary). So the banks are closed tomorrow. Today we went took the train to Florence to go to St. James, the American Episcopal Church. It, like St. Paul’s Within the Walls in Rome, is a beautiful church and both are what I think of as “cathedral sized churches.” It was a lovely and lively service.

From the looks of Florence today the holiday was being utilized for Christmas shopping! The stores were brightly lighted with Christmas decorations and people were rushing by with their purchases. Blair and I went to the Galleria dell'Accademia . Just like our experience with the Uffizi, we were able to walk in and get tickets without waiting. While the museum had a goodly number of visitors we were able to feast on the art without crowds. One of our main goals in going was to see David, Michelangelo’s astounding sculpture. Seeing it for the first time at a distance was breathtaking! The closer we came to the sculpture the more awe inspiring it became. It is much larger than thought it would be. The details that Michelangelo was able to carve from stone were phenomenal. David’s hands, and especially his right one along his side, were so beautifully worked. His hand curved around the stone was so detailed it seemed to move. The limited tools of these artists, gives evidence to the limitless energy invested in bringing images to life in all forms of art.

The Church of San Francesco in Assisi, Italy
Yesterday we took a short trip to Assisi. We will go back this week for a couple of days to explore the life of St. Francis. We did visit the Church of San Francesco. In fact we took several hours to go with an audio guide through the many frescoes in the church. Many of these frescoes depicted Francis’ life and ministry. Francis, like Catherine of Siena, listened to God with ears that were finely tuned to hear holy things. Like the artist’s work that we have seen here, the devotion of the great saints of God seems to come at a great price to the ordinary things of life. Their attention to creating and/or ministry rendered so many other things in their lives as secondary. Being immersed in this world leaves me wondering what things are so important in my life that I will set aside the “stuff” of life that gets in the way so I can be more focused in listening to God and being creative. Both Catherine and Francis heard and responded to God’s call in radical ways. It was, one could say, a time when the world needed great saints to overcome enormous struggles in society and in the church. And I wonder about our time. Who are the people who are willing to “tune out” the noise of the world in order to hear God’s voice in new and unpredictable ways? Who will create the great images of art that will render the next generation speechless in their presence?

Friday, December 5, 2008


Yesterday we were out early to ride the train to Florence. We went immediately to the Uffizi Museum. With unheard of speed we bought our tickets and entered into the world of art. We had done some work the night before researching this huge gallery so that our energy would be spent on the pieces we particularly wanted to see. Isn't it interesting that the piece that particularly caught my attention was not a major piece of art on that list!? The particular painting (pictured above) is by a little known artist Lorenzo di Alesandro la Sanseverino. It is entitled "Pieta" and was painted c. 1491. What caught my attention in this painting are the faces. The grief of John, the beloved disciple (on the right), Mary and Mary Magdalene (on the left) is so evident. Their hands on Jesus' body are tender and loving. I was very moved by this painting.

Pieta by Michelangelo

After the Uffizi, which was like eating triple fudge cake with chocolate ice cream, we rested our eyes and brain before trying to "digest" any other pieces of art. We enjoyed the beautiful buildings of Florence and the store fronts decorated for Christmas. Christmas decorations here are really low key but they are beautifully done. Being here in cooler weather and experiencing the holiday festivities is nice. There are not as many tourists and walking is easier without the crowds. After lunch we went to Museo of the Duomo (Cathedral of Santa Maria dei Fiori). Here we found the above sculpture of Michelangelo. It was done by him when he was 80 years old and meant to be the piece for his burial crypt. The Pieta is of Nicodemus holding Jesus with Mary while Mary Magdalene looks on. Nicodemus is a self portrait of Michelangelo and Mary and Jesus' faces are incomplete because Michelangelo lost interest in the sculpture before finishing it. I sat for some time looking at this sculpture. As I looked at Nicodemus' face I kept wondering, "What is it that Nicodemus wants me to do?" Michelangeo's talent was to free the images he saw from the stone. Nicodemus seems to be asking me to free Jesus from some of the ways that we cast him in stone and keep him from being alive in our hearts. I'm not sure I came away with the answers to these questions but these two pieces of art, both Pietas, have stayed with me.

Today is a very cold and rainy day. The rain has come in driving sheets. We are staying at the castle today to rest, clean, cook and read. It is a great day for all of those activities.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Siena and St. Catherine

St. Catherine of Siena 1347 -1380

at her home and sanctuary

Yesterday we had an early start to Siena. The sky was partly cloudy when we started but by the time we arrived in Siena a steady cold rain was falling. Undeterred by the rain we found our parking spot and up we went into Siena. Our first stop was The Church of San Dominico. This church was Catherine's family church. San Dominico was begun in 1225 and completed in 1226. Later additions included vaulted ceilings, a tower and the crypts below the church. The crypts were first built in order to accomodate the massive columns which support the weight of the building. Later these crypts were burial places for the people of the parish. Catherine's entire family (she had 22 brothers and sisters!) are buried here. San Dominico sits on one "edge" of this walled hill town. It looks out over the valley below with majesty. Catherine is prominently displayed throughout San Dominico. While her body is enshrined in Rome, one of her fingers and her head are displayed here. There are many chapels in this church - my favorite is the Madonna chapel and I loved sitting there to pray yesterday.

From this massive church we walked a short distance down the hill to Catherine's home. Her home is a Dominican Convent and it incorporates a museum of her life including a wonderful sanctuary which is quite feminine and ornate compared to the huge, stark nature of San Dominico. In the sanctuary is the huge icon cross of Jesus. It is in front of this cross that Catherine received the stigmata (the wounds of Christ) on her hands, feet and side. There are so many wonderful pictures of Catherine. In one of the pictures she is standing before a group of people clothed in her Dominican habit with her right hand raised in blessing. It is said by her biographer that the Dominican priests and monks often deferred to Catherine's spiritual guidance.

So I found myself praying with St. Catherine yesterday that a spirit of unity might prevail in the Church. Catherine was a great reconciler. In her 33 years of life she accomplished much. Of all her accomplishments perhaps the most notable was her ability to reconcile the Papacy to its home in Rome. What many historians call the "second schism or Western schism" in the church (the first being the division betwee the eastern and the western church in 1066) involved a dispute between the Pope and the Roman Emperor about who would be the leader of Christendom in secular matters. In 1305 the Roman Curia (the Pope and his Cardinals) moved from Rome to Avignon France. The next 6 popes were French and their appointed legates were also French. The issues involved in this schism are complicated but at its center is the question of who will have power over the Italian cities and people. In 1374 Pope Gregory XI issued an embargo against grain exports during a food scarcity. The government in Florence organized a league of cities in Italy against the Papacy. In turn severe policies were instituted against these cities by the Papal legate. Florence came into open conflict with the Pope and in 1375 he issued an interdict against Florence to excommunicate the entire city. As a retort Florence stopped paying Papal taxes. These actions severely inhibited trade and solutions were sought. Catherine writes her first letter to Gregory XI imploring him to come back to Rome and end the conflict with Florence. The magistrates in Florence send Catherine to Avignon in 1376 as their ambassador. She reaches Avignon in June and meets with Gregory in August. On September 13 both she and Gregory start their journey back to Italy. She goes to Pisa and Gregory XI restores the Papal residency in Rome. The conflict between the Papacy and the Roman government did not end until the Council of Constance in 1417. Catherine was instrumental on many occasions in seeking an end to this conflict.

The incredible gift of Catherine's ability to reconcile people to God and oneanother came from her love of God. Her greatest love was Jesus. She had no need of any other and yet her life was full with the richness of people and events. When faced with the chaos, whether it was the plague or Church schism, Catherine turned to the sanctuary she trusted most - the place in her heart where Jesus resided. Her great abilities to heal sickness and division came from that place. Here is a poem attributed to Catherine:

The Sanctuary

It could be said that God's foot is so vast,

that this entire earth is but a

field on His


And all the forests in the world

came from the same root of

just a single hair

of His.

What then is not a sanctuary?

Where can I not kneel

and pray at a shrine

made holy by His


Outside St. Catherine's Sanctuary looking back towards the tower of The Church of San Dominico

Monday, December 1, 2008

Montalto Home

Montalto Castle in the distance
Friday we arrived at our next home in Italy. We left Rome after picking up our rental car around 11 am and we drove north in what can only be described as “pouring down rain.” As we rounded the curve around 3:30pm the castle of Montalto rose up out of the misty Tuscan mountains taking our breath away.

Montalto is technically Castello di Montalto della Berardenga. It dates back a thousand years. The earliest document found regarding the castle is dated in the year 1004. It has passed through a series of families (including the Berardenga family), destroyed at least once in 1208, and is still a working farm, producing olives for olive oil and many crops. The owner now is a cousin by marriage of the last family to own the castle. Giovanni and his American born wife Diana are gracious hosts. Diana met us in the courtyard of the castle and after looking around a bit, we settled into our apartment. It is lovely with a small fireplace for coziness.
The Annunciation by Fra Angelico - c. 1432
Yesterday (Saturday) we went to Cortona to see Fra Angelico’s painting of the Annunciation. The painting is at the much understated Museo Diocesano. Everything in Cortona is either up a hill or down a hill. After a lovely lunch we “strolled” over to the Museo Diocesano and stood before the incredible painting of a bigger than life angel announcing to Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus. It’s hard to know the intentions of the artist as the painting began. Did he begin with the small figures of Adam and Eve in the upper left hand corner of the painting? He pictures them being ushered out of the Garden of Eden by an angel. Did he begin the painting with the angel who is more central, elaborate in detail and glowing with gold leaf? Or did he begin with the small, almost imperceptible face of God in the column? Whatever began Fra Angelico’s journey to the Annunciation, he pictures this event as a part of God’s reconciling love. The angel is on the same plane with Mary in the painting and the angel’s hands draw the drama. One hand points to God and the other to Mary as if a holy transfer is taking place. Over her head the dove representing the Holy Spirit oversees this encounter. “God is in Jesus reconciling the world to himself.” That’s the way Paul talks about Jesus in one of his letters. In another he refers to Jesus as the “new Adam.” This Adam will not be exiled and in fact he will bring us into the Father’s kingdom with him. This is a powerful painting.

The Abbey Church of Saint Antimo

Today we went to the Abbey of Sant’ Antimo near Montalcino, a drive of about an hour and a half. We encountered almost every kind of weather on the way over – rain, hail, thunder and lightning and even sunshine! The roads were “S” shaped, and in a few places “Z” shaped. But oh my, the incredible views of the Tuscan country where vineyards and olive trees rule! There were also fields of winter wheat just beginning to green a bit. How the farmers keep from falling off of (or out of) their farm equipment on the steep slopes amazes me.

The Abbey is spectacular and the service was sung in Gregorian Chant. We were able to participate chiefly because the liturgy is the same as ours. While we were relatively unfamiliar with the languages (both Latin and Italian) the weight of the worship for me was in knowing that I was worshipping with brothers and sisters in a place where for 1300 years Christians had gathered to worship. During the service the sun broke through streaming in the windows making pools of light on the stone floor. As the weather cleared the vineyards and fields – fall colored – were visible through the windows behind the altar. Incense mingled with our own breath steaming from our mouths into the cold church. It was an incredible worship experience for me.

As we entered the church tense from our wild weathered ride, I glanced over to the stone font with holy water in it. There on the edge of this stone bowl sat a large grey and white cat drinking holy water! When I dipped my fingers into the water the cat gave me a look that can only be described as territorial. I did not let my fingers linger in the water. Afterwards as I took a few pictures I realized that the pedestal on which the bowl rested was a cat like figure.

The Cat's Perch at the Abbey!

The Olive Trees of Tuscany

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Day

The Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere

The Sisco Bridge over the Tiber River

Thanksgiving Day
November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Blair and I are planning a festive Italian dinner at a nearby restaurant for this evening, which is our last day in Rome. Tomorrow we travel north to the land of Sts. Francis of Assisi and Catherine of Siena. We will stay at a family castle, Montalto, which has been renovated into apartment units. Driving in Italy will be an adventure sure to test the strength of one’s faith!

Yesterday was such a wonderful day. The weather was beautiful and we walked over the Tiber to Trastevere. The internet store there is familiar to us and Johnnie, one of the proprietors, has become a great friend and helper. After completing our internet business we walked to Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere. This Piazza is like downtown New Harmony. It has everything and you get the feeling that relationships are close among the residents surrounding the square. We had lunch at a small café on the square in the warm afternoon sun and then we visited, what must be the crown jewel of this neighborhood – the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. It is one of Rome’s oldest churches and built on the site where early Christians worshipped illegally. It is the first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary and it was dedicated in the fourth century when Christianity was legalized. Most of the incredibly beautiful inside dates from the 12th century. It is such a fitting tribute to Mary – with intricate paintings on the ceiling intertwined with gold and copper. There are several stunning mosaics. One on the back wall over the altar is of Jesus on his throne in heaven and Mary on his right. He has his arm around his mother as if introducing her to us. A series of mosaics shows the birth of Mary and in one of them a servant puts her hand into a basin of water as if to test the temperature before bathing the infant Mary. Every adornment in this church from the rich mosaic floor to the warm paintings on the walls and the light playing on the gold and copper speaks of “family love.” This is the atmosphere that I imagine stirred Christians of earlier generations to draw close to each other as a Christian family.

Later we went to see the Catacombs of Priscilla. A convent of Benedictine Sisters has their house over these early burial sites. A Pricilla is named together with an Acilius, in a burial inscription preserved in this cemetery dating from the 1st century. I have long heard about these catacombs, which are out of the way in Rome and not as popular as the ones along the Appian Way. The guide for our late afternoon venture into the catacombs was a young woman who took us deep into the underground caves. The catacombs, once thought to be the hiding places of early Christians, are in fact only their burial places. They may well have held the burial services for their families inside the catacombs but they are primarily burial sites. There are many beautiful frescoes on the arches and walls of the catacombs. One of the frescoes is of Mary and the baby Jesus and it dates at 230 CE. It is thought to be the earliest depiction of Mary and Jesus. There are many other early frescoes but my favorite and the one I have heard about from many scholars is of a woman depicted in the orans position (arms outstretched). Her arms outstretched in prayer (like a priest at the Eucharist), she may well represent an early depiction of a woman in leadership in the church. As I stood gazing at this picture of a woman praying there was a deep confirmation of vocation. The guide reminded us that there was a pagan religion in Rome, Mithras, which did not allow women to become members. The Christians who rivaled the Mithrianites, allowed women and encouraged their participation.

After this stirring visit we went to an art exhibit at the Museo de Corso. They had an exhibit of Vermeer and Rembrandt paintings that crowned the day with glory. “The girl with the pearl earring”, one of Vermeer’s most well known paintings was a part of this exhibit and worth the evening visit. This was truly a spectacular day in Rome.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Vatican

St. Peter's Basilica from the Vatican Museum

Roma – The Sistine Chapel

I was totally unprepared for the sights that came before my eyes today. We went to Vatican City today. In the Vatican Museum the icons and paintings were so richly thick that I felt somewhat “overfull” before I got to the Sistine Chapel. It is interesting to me that some of my favorite paintings before getting to the Sistine were the ones by Marc Chagall. His paintings reminded me of the Santos painters of the Southwest USA. They were simple, almost childlike in nature with almost distorted figures in rich colors. I was amazed at my instant love of Chagall’s Pieta which was evocative – darkly sad.

Oh, but the Sistine! Blair and I sat on a stone bench and we read from the guide book about the various scenes which Michelangelo laboriously painted on this once pale blue ceiling. The crown of the Sistine, of course is God creating humankind. God’s finger pointing at the human figure in the center panel evoked this reflection from me later in the day:

I wonder about all the people we bump into on the streets of Rome. Have they been to Vatican City…do they care that this place of holy highness is just across town? In the midst of their busyness do they care that the “holy man” who makes or breaks eternal matters lingers nearby in red slippers? I must sound terribly sarcastic and irreverent regarding his Holiness. The secret is revealed – I think that Pope Benedict would divide the world between Christians (Roman Catholics) and pagans (all others). So I wonder if God’s finger so poignantly pointed at humanity on the Sistine ceiling is directed at the Roman Catholic man only. Could God also point at Rabbi Heschel, or Moses; Billy Graham or James Dobson; Thomas Cranmer, Rowan Williams or Katherine Jefferts – Schori; Martin Luther King, Jr. or Martin Luther; Krishna, Dali Lama or Mohammed? Can God point at whom God pleases giving them status in the Kingdom? Or must we see the world split into factions – infidels vs. true believers? Is God’s finger a reconciling moment of grace that brings us all into one created being equal in his eyes?

The Hallway leading to the Sistine

By the time we arrived at St. Peter’s Basilica I was exhausted but walking the 6 acres of this enormous worship space was well worth the aches and pains I felt later as I sat drinking coffee at a nearby café. The Basilica with Peter’s tomb and the place of his martyrdom was stirring. Sitting at one of the many huge chapels (anyone of them easily bigger than St. Stephen’s) I prayed for my family, my friends and church. The great joy of joining with faithful people from all over the world in praying felt somehow essential to this journey of understanding reconciliation.

The food in Rome is wonderful and just near our apartment at Campo de’ Fiori are restaurants with a variety of great food. Tonight we relaxed in one of those spots to have a good meal to cap off another wonderful day in Rome!

Monday, November 24, 2008


"Uncle" Franco

Yesterday was a traveling day. Our Palestinian tour guide, Said, came to the hotel in Jerusalem and picked me up at 1:45 am on Saturday morning and drove me to the airport for my 5:30 am flight to Rome. Most of us have gotten use to the security at airports and it should not surprise anyone that given the conflict in the Middle East the security is especially thorough. I arrived at the airport at 2:30 am and arrived at my gate to board the plane at 4:45 am. Everyone at the airport was helpful and pleasant. I arrived in Rome and experienced my first real cold weather of the trip. “Uncle” Franco, the uncle of the woman we are renting the apartment from met me. What a charming and helpful man. If you could have one person by your side in Rome, I would pick Franco. While we waited 4 hours for my friend Blair’s flight to land (it had been delayed out of New York), Franco went over with me the essentials of living in Rome…from Metro to money! What a fun beginning.

St. Paul's Within the Walls

(a not very clear picture)

Being in Rome is so different than being in Israel. The palpable tension of conflict is not a factor and the only caveat to travel is traffic instead of checkpoints! There is a lightness of spirit here. People walk arm in arm, the stores are bright and filled with color and sparkle. The piazzas are ringed by restaurants with heated outdoor seating. There is music at night, church bells toll, and glasses clink together as wine is happily poured. I had gotten so used to solemn faces and soldiers with guns that Rome’s bustling atmosphere was at first a little unnerving. But Rome is about “churches, cafes and restaurants” (Franco’s words) and I hope to explore all of them!

We began today. This morning we attended church at an Episcopal Church of the Convocation of Episcopal Church in Europe. The church is called St. Paul’s Within the Walls. The service we attended was in English and it was wonderful. It was their Stewardship Sunday and so we felt right at home! We were welcomed as family and it reminded me of the way St. Stephen’s welcomes those who come with warmth and sincerity. Tonight we had a wonderfully different experience. We attended a performance of Mozart’s Requiem Mass at one of the nearby Roman Catholic Churches. I have no idea how old the church was but it had at least 7 altars and each had huge paintings of saints being martyred, or unrecognizable scenes. Statues abounded, adorned with ribbons, candles and other sacred objects. It was chaotic. The Requiem was absolutely wonderful; the soprano had such a clear and beautiful voice that complemented the other principals in a lovely way. After the performance we walked to a nearby piazza and had dinner, eating outdoors with all the Sunday evening activities surrounding us.

This is a wonderful icon that was on the altar at St. Paul's Within the Walls yesterday morning - it is Sts. Peter and Paul. Tomorrow after doing some work in the internet café we are going to the Coliseum, hoping not to get eaten by any lions!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Time to Reflect

Church of the Nativity
The picture above is of the nave of this nearly1600 year old church built over the cave believed to be the place of Jesus' birth. Construction on the church began in 326 C.E. and work continued on the church throughout the centuries to arrive at the present structure. It has many altars and is used by many liturgical denominations including Anglicans who hold a Christmas Eve carol service in the chapel of St. George on the left of the nave. The Franciscians, Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Orthodox Churches lay claim to the various altars. St. Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin, is buried here as well as other notable saints.
This church with all of its sometimes gaudy trappings is probably my favorite in these holy lands. In 1987, I was in Jerusalem on a spiritual pilgrimage. It was in January and because the Armenian Orthodox Church has a different calendar than we do it was Christmas. Some of us decided to go to the Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It was a wonderful experience. In spite of our language differences it was clear that both of our liturgies came from the same early sources. We knew where we were in the service by the actions going on around us.
My visit there last Tuesday was certainly poignant. My warm reflections about my experience there were caught up short as we met with Jiries Canavati a resident of Bethlehem who was one of the people caught in the Church of the Nativity in 2002. On April 2 the Israelis invaded Bethlehem to reoccupy it. The Palestinian policemen who numbered about 150 took refuge with another 50 or so people who were in the square (Jiries being one of them) along with priests and nuns who care for the church. There were also some militants present from both Hamas and Fatah. Jiries description of the 40 or so days that they were held in the church was chilling. The priests and nuns cared for the sick and dying, continued to hold services. In spite of being disturbed by the presence of guns, the local Franciscian priests who are Palestinians, supported the struggle of those inside as the struggle against their occupiers. The experience was emotionally scarring for Jiries who remained inside the entire time. He showed us the scars of the seige on the church structure as well. There were bullet holes and deep gouges in the walls.
As I listened to Jiries pain I thought of the pain in God's heart, not because of the scars inflicted on the material substance of stone and mortar, but the pain of a parent whose children make war with each other. Each gouge in the stone is a wound in our own hearts as well. We may not feel any pain but we are wounded when our brothers and sisters hate each other in such a violent way. There is so little that I feel I can do in the midst of such pain. But I can write and tell those of you who read this that hate is more hurtful than I ever imagined. There is no land in the world worth the pain of this hatred. There is no political stand that wins in the midst of this kind of wounding hatred.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Lightening Speed

Sign outside the Church of the Nativity

It feels like weeks since I last wrote here. We have been to Bethlehem and Beit Sahor for overnight stays on Monday and Tuesday. On Wednesday we had a long day visiting the Daher farm and today we had a full day as well. I wanted everyone to know that I am well and tomorrow I am taking the day to catch up before I head for Rome on Saturday. I wanted to write about one event that happened today before I head for bed. Tomorrow morning I will catch you up a bit on the last few days.

At the end of today we went to Tel Aviv and the old city of Joppa. I remember being in Joppa 20 years ago and standing on a roof top looking out over the Mediterranean Sea while someone told the story of St. Peter praying on a roof top in Joppa. While he was praying a sheet was lowered from heaven with animals of all sorts on it - both clean and unclean. A voice from heaven said, "Get up Peter, kill and eat." Peter protested that, as a Jew, he had never eaten anything unclean. The voice said, "What God has made clean, you must not profane." This happened three times and Peter went forth a changed man. The Christian mission and message of God's love to all went forth from that moment to all humankind both Jew and Gentile.

Today I had a different experience in Joppa, which might not be that far from Peter's. We met with Eitan Bronstein with an organization called Zochrot. Zochrot is an organization of Israelis (Both Jew and Arab) who are seeking to raise awareness about the Nakba. Nakba is the Arabic word for "catastrophe." It refers to the mass destruction abnd depopulation of Palestine in 1984, during the war that led to the founding of the state of Israel. Zochrot (this is the Hebrew word for "remembering") was organized in 1994. It seeks to find a just and workable resolution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Their working philosophy is that any resolution must be founded on the pursuit of equality for all people of the region, including the right of the refugees to return. The form and substance of this right of return will need to be worked out carefully and no doubt take many different forms. Eitan was clear that the understanding of how this might happen is not as clear as the need to work towards reconciliation. Achieving reconciliation will only be possible when people begin to recognize and talk about the Nakba. So hearing about this work reminded me of Peter's experience. "...What God has made clean, do not profane."
Tomorrow I will write more...I promise.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sunday Again!

Although the last post said it was posted on is really Sunday. I'm not sure what happened. The picture above is a kibbutzim kitty! I have seen lots of cats while in Israel / Palestine, but hardly any dogs. Pumpkin (my cat) would not survive here!

On Friday we drove to Jenin in the north of Palestine. This involved driving as far as the Kalandia checkpoint and meeting taxis with the appropriate color license tags to take us the rest of the way. Coming back last night we had to get out of our taxis and walk into a station with a series of turnstiles and cage like walkways. We proceeded in line for 45 minutes to an area where we went through the same sort of process that one experiences in an airport. We showed our Passports and moved through to the bus where Said greeted us once again. This is a daily thing for many Palestinians as they enter west Jerusalem. It is laborous, frustrating and even for me it was filled with tension and anxiety.

Our stay in Jenin was wonderful. We attended the Olive Harvest Festival on Friday night. It was loud! And it was an incredible snapshot of Palestinian culture. There must have been 200 people there. We were treated as guests and given front row seats with other dignitaries. The festival is organized by Canaan Fair Trade ( They have helped the olive producers of Jenin develop and market their olive oil. They also offer scholarships to the young people of the Jenin area so they can go to university. They awarded 12 scholarships on Friday night - mostly to young women. Culturally, this festival was such an eye-opening experience. When the music began, men took the floor to dance. Soon almost all of the men at the festival were dancing. They held hands dancing in a circle and moving their feet in complex steps and kicks. It was that way all evening. They danced with incredible energy and whoops of joy. When they were not dancing they sat in each other's laps close to the dance floor. It was absolutely amazing! The women sat with their children and did not participate. Later, in our Palestinian home, we asked the mother if she ever had the chance to dance. She said, "Oh yes, we dance. I danced at my son's wedding and sometimes we dance at home."

Our home stay was wonderful. I will admit that I was anxious about it. We were already so tired when we got there and they wanted to offer us coffee and tea. They clearly wanted to talk.

The home was on two levels. The son and his wife and baby lived on the ground floor and his mother, father and 2 (maybe three) children lived upstairs. The oldest woman (the mother of the son on the first floor where we stayed) had 12 children! She was lovely. I fell asleep mid conversation they invited us to go to bed. The room we stayed in had mats (like futons) on the floor and we slept there. I slept well and then had to get some help getting up off of the floor!

The next morning we walked with the father out to his olive trees. The wall of division between Israel and Palestine was prominent with a large tower and cameras directed up and down the wall. The son said we cannot even touch the wall or the Israelis will come. I asked what they would do if they came. He said, "They will either talk to you or kill you." Whether it was true or not the perception was real in his mind. The olive grove was split by the wall and the father said that he could only get to his land on the other side occasionally.

This is the way it is in Palestine. Land, homes and personal belongings are subject to Israeli possession at all times. In Jenin the Israeli soldiers come into the city at night and go to a house and call the residents out of the house. The kind of fear that this random harrassment breeds is a dark force in the Palestinian people.

While at Suleman's house one of the teenage sons asked if he could henna our hands. Henna is a brown/orange pigment that stains skin for about 10 days. Brides are adorned by henna on their hands and arms in beautiful designs. Here's a picture of my hand being hennaed.

It is more orange today as the pigment has soaked into my skin. I love looking at it and being reminded of my Palestinian friends.

I don't think I have said much about the people I am travelling with. Four of the members of the group are from Great Britian and they are such wonderful good friends. David, Rachael, Geoff, and Martha. Martha and I have much in common - we were both named for our grandmothers and we are the youngest in our families. We both have 2 older brothers and both of our oldest brothers are named Tom. They have been so gracious and helpful to me as I have stumbled around, my knees sore from time to time. I am grateful for their presence on this trip.

There is so much more to tell and yet perhaps it is best to continue the processing at this point and write again later.

Sunday Already!!

It is so hard for me to believe that is is Sunday. It feels like I have been here for years. We have been moving fast and taking in a lot of information. Here is the rest of my post from Wednesday evening:

We got out of our bus at Erez Checkpoint to take photographs. Overhead hung a huge Israeli drone. It looked like a big white fish hanging in the sky. It monitors activity in Gaza and allows the residents of the nearby cities and Kibbutzim to have a warning about the rockets. As I stepped out into the sunlight to take a picture a man with a huge camera stepped in front of me and took my picture. I said (without thinking), “Who the heck are you?” It turns out that he is a reporter with the BBC. He and his fellow reporters had been at the checkpoint for 6 days trying to get into Gaza to report. These guys were so glad for some action that they immediately jumped to action. Basically we took pictures of each other taking pictures!

Israel has pulled out of Gaza but closed the borders. It has created a humanitarian issue within the Gaza. People and especially children are malnourished from lack of food. Medications and other medical supplies are almost non-existent. The UN has been taking food and medicine into Gaza but the relief is not enough and anger and frustration is rising within.

At the kibbutzim we visited (one urban and one rural) we heard about their work, their hopes for the future of Israel and their work to reach out to residents of Gaza. For me it was an example of the work of reconciliation. These Israeli Jews were involved in small ways of making peace. Some might think that their concern for the people of Gaza was superficial or “too little, too late.” I thought they were incredibly honest about the struggle to reach out while under the anxiety of rocket attacks. It seems to me that in this conflicted land, any attempt for reconciliation needs to be appreciated and honored. While we were at the kibbutzim Israeli military jets flew low over the area. I kept wondering how it would feel to be a citizen of Gaza with the jets flying low over them. The anxiety among the people of this area, both Israelis and Palestinians, has to be debilitating over a long period. We heard about how it affects both children and adults and it is, no doubt, a contributing factor to the overall conflict.

I felt drained when we got back. Usually a cup of tea and dinner settle and relax me but I am having a hard time {sorting myself out). We have very little time to process the events we are exposed to. I am a slow processor for sure and group processing in a group as large as ours is not effective for me. I feel like I need a day of silence to “begin” the work – overall it will take months for me to really make sense of what I am experiencing.

This is a picture of the wall at a checkpoint. There are many images of the protest painted on the wall. This one I thought was explicit!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Day in Gaza

We left the hotel this morning at 8am for a journey south to Gaza. As you go south from Jerusalem the land grows more and more arid. Orange trees were in abundance and although we could not see it until later in the day the Mediterranean Sea was just off to the right of our bus. We are travelling in a small bus with just about enough seats for our 20 person delegation plus our bus driver, Assam, and our guide Said (Sigh - eed). These two Palestinians are wonderful men, generous and PATIENT! We are forever asking for bathroom stops! Assam has performed some maneauvers with the bus that I would have never thought possible. Last night coming home from Ramallah Said decided it would be quicker to get to Jerusalem if we did not have to stop at a checkpoint where we would have to get out and have our documents checked as well as pass all our belongings through a metal detectors. So Assam turned around and took us on a wild ride along the barrier wall. We passed through the next checkpoint with smiles and a wave.

When we arrived at Gaza today (not knowing that 4 Palestinians had been killed on Wednesday in a clash with IDF) we visited the Erez Checkpoint. This is a huge complex (pictures will follow). The wall is prominent with guard towers at intervals. We knew the checkpoint was closed but wanted to take some pictures.

....(I will finish this in the morning before we leave...our team meeting is starting and I must go..."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Arab and Jew

Mirna Abu Aita
Student at Birzeit University

It is hard for me to give a travelogue of yesterday. I am, after two days, feeling what C.S. Lewis called “foot sore weariness.” It has little to do with the condition of my feet (or my aching knees); but it is a deep weariness for the people of this land. I can make easy conclusions and offer vague recommendations, but I would show my foolishness in doing so. The anger and frustration of the voices I heard cannot be taken lightly. It is interesting that our day began with students and ended with students. We began by travelling to Birzeit University near Ramallah. ( There are 8000 students who study at Birzeit. In spite of being closed for periods of up to 4 years after each Intifada (uprising of Palestinians in 1987 and 2000) the school has continued to educate Palestinian young people. The students we met with were Palestinians, and although it is not pertinent to the issues, both were Christians. They were both from the Bethlehem area, which is no more than 40 minutes away. But that distance and time is stretched into hours winding around a wall that blocks direct roads, and checkpoints that offer harassment and delay. One of the students said, “I am dead. When I get here I have nothing left to give of myself.” I can not presume to understand her struggle, nor can I judge her anger. I think she was expressing as she best could the internal work she does each day. She and her fellow student gave us a tour of the campus and classrooms at Birzeit.

In the evening we were joined by 3 students from Hebrew University here in Jerusalem.

These three wonderfully spirited students represented a variety of Israeli positions. They described themselves as holding positions to the "right", "left", and "leaning left." All three of these young people had served in the IDF (Israel Defense Force). They felt it was their privilege to serve. One of them said, "Being in the army was a national mission." They were genuinely troubled by the struggle in their homeland. Their views and concerns were about their own security and the struggle and pain of the Palestinians. It was an open and honest conversation which at times was painful for all of us.

It is hard for me to find my way through the feelings I am experiencing here. Yesterday afternoon after visiting the Friends (Quaker) School in Ramallah we had some free time to wander the streets of this bustling Palestinian city in the West Bank. I felt quite obvious in the midst of the beautiful dark hair and eyes. Most of the women wore long dresses with long sleeves and head scarves. They were beautiful in the variety of colors and embroidery. I sat for a long time at a coffee shop trying to find words to express to express what I am experiencing. In the middle of the night I woke up with the following words in my heart:

Arab and Jew

There are layers of hurt and hate
as deep as the soil.
Blood runs; mingling as it enters
the trough of history.
Righteousness is not right;
it builds barriers, solid as stone.
Angry defiance fails to heal
the miasma of misery.

This ancient battle born of
common parents, a sort of
sibling rivalry gone bad;
seeps through the centuries,
leaving a wake of prisoners.
It breaks open the heart
of the land; a cardiac incident
on the edge of fatality.

The fuel of this dissonance
is rich with mutual interference.
Fights within soar until they are
flights into futility and sorrow.
The pursuit continues,
down winding roads;
and deepening tunnels
seeking the soil of reconciliation.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Jerusalem the Golden

Wailing Wall Partition - Men on left, women on right.
It was dusk when we got there.
Today was a very full day. I hate travelogues which give a "blow by blow" account. I will list here at the beginning what we "did" today and then tell you my highlights and insights. First the schedule:

Breakfast was at 7:30 (yummy yogurt!)

At 8:30 we met at the hotel with Jeff Helper who works for ICAD (The Israeli Committee Against House Demolition) Jeff is an Israeli Jew who works with ICAD in direct action to non-violently resist Israel's demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories. Over 18,000 homes have bee destroyed since 1967.

After this Yacob (I lost his card, and will include his last name later), who works with ICAD, took us on a tour of Israeli Settlements in the Occupied Territory.

We had lunch and then went to the UN headquarters here in Jerusalem to hear about their humanitarian efforts in Gaza and the West Bank

After this we did a very fast walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem. We "walked" through the Via Dolorosa (way of grief or way of suffering) ending at the Wailing Wall.

We came home to our hotel, had dinner and then a team meeting. I stayed after the meeting to worship with the group from England. They are four lovely young people who are for the most part Quaker. We used a reading, silence and sang a Taize song at the end. It was great just to worship.

Now, as to the things that stuck with me or perhaps I should say, "stuck on me." I am very struck how much Jerusalem has changed since the last time I was here. I know that 1987 was a "gentler time" in the overall picture of strife (at least in January of that year). I wept twice today. The first was when we saw the wall which is separating east Jerusalem from West Jerusalem. It is a partition which causes great grief and trouble for the Palestinians. The way land has been (and continues to be) annexed away from its owners, the roadblocks that even today caused long travel times to places that should have been more accessible, the poverty inflicted on residents who are prevented from having access to safe water, sewage, schools, roads, sidewalks and even trees; all of these things were visible and unnecessary.

The second time I wept was at the Wailing Wall. I remember being very troubled and angry the last time I went there as well. The Western Wall of the Temple mount is a sacred place for Jews. It dates from the second temple is part of the temple built by Herod in 19 BCE. It represents the remnant of the most holy of places for Jewish people. People can pray at the Wailing Wall but it is divided down the middle with a wall which separates the men from the women. Praying together is not allowed because the men will be distracted by the presence of the women! Below is a picture of the "wall of partition" between east and west Jerusalem. The Wailing Wall is at the top of this report because for some reason the blog program will not let me bring it down.

So, I have been struck today by how very much Israel / Palestine is like South Africa during partition where people were partitioned off from one another and given different rights and priviliges and denyed home lands. I'm sure some of this sounds like a radical perspective and I haven't presented Israel's perspective, which I will do. It is however, the situation that I am observing. I am trying to listen very carefully.

I have to go because my computer is running out of battery power. I have to charge it in my room but have no access to wireless there. Here in the hotel lobby there is access but no plug! So that's it for now. More tomorrow!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Going Up to Jerusalem

No pictures tonight just a very tired Martha reporting that I arrived in Jerusalem this evening with the Interfaith Peace Builders delegation.  Our flights went off with perfection as we flew to London's Heathrow Airport first and then from London to Tel Aviv.   The Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning orientation sessions at the AFSC (American Friends Service Center) office in Washington were helpful.  Our team of 16 got to know each other and began working on an understanding of what we would be doing while in Israel / Palestine. 

In the meeting room at AFSC my chair faced a quote on the wall.  The quote by the Quaker founder George Fox (1624-1691) read:

'Be patterns, be examples, in all countries, places, islands, nations, wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people and to them.  then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in each one." 

Underneath this quote on the wall was a small picture of Ghandi, probably done late in his life because he looks so debilitated and skeleton.  That picture and quote were an inspiration to me as I face going into a situation in Israel / Palestine that may cause feelings of anger or despair.  The way we live among each other in the midst of conflict is to allow the pattern of God in us to answer this same God - source pattern in others.  

One other insight:  Today, in the huge queue (line) at the London airport I looked around me: there behind me was a Hindu woman in Sari, also in line with me were Hasidic Jews dressed in black with side curls.  There were Muslims also in line - the women with covered heads.  It occurred to me that we are really all the same.  We WAIT, IN LINE, TOGETHER, for the same goal.  Why can't we WORK, CREATE AND CARE with the same goal in mind.  I don't have the answer, but I am willing to work on it.  

There are so many other insights to share but I must be going to bed.  I am barely awake at this moment.   

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Leaving The Mountains

I was in the Friends of the Library used book store this weekend and happened to see this shelf full of books. I notices that on the second shelf someone with a sense of humor had put a book by Rush Limbaugh on the same shelf with Shirley MacLaine. At least there are some books separating them!

Well my bags are packed and I am ready to go (thank you Peter, Paul and Mary...). Tomorrow I leave for Raleigh. It's hard to leave the mountains. When I was growing up I would call the mountains my "purple hooded priests." I'm not sure I knew what a priest was then, but I knew enough to know that it was a person who you could share your secrets with. And I would often do that in the evening when they stood against the sky hooded in purple shadows. I guess I am still that little girl!

I've been watching this Japanese Maple for days now. In the afternoon it glows! It has become my "burning bush." Sometimes I catch a glimpse of it out of the corner of my eye and think that the woods have caught on fire. It is such a stark contrast to the many evergreens around. And if the bush were on fire but not consumed what would I do? I suspect I would be on my knees on the back deck 24/7.

I am on the move now and ready for the adventure.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Pilgrimage

A Pilgrimage Prayer

O Lord God,
from whom we come,
in whom we are enfolded,
to whom we shall return,
bless us in our pilgrimage through life;
with the power of the Holy One protecting,
with the love of Jesus indwelling,
and the light of the Spirit guiding,
until we come to our ending,
in life and love eternal.

(Prayer taken from "600 Blessings and Prayers from around the world", compiled by Jeffery Duncan - the above prayer is found on page 355 is a prayer from Peter Nott in England.)

On Friday I leave the glory of the mountains for Raleigh. I will spend the night near the airport and then fly on Saturday morning to Washington, DC. Our delegation (21 persons) will meet at Interfaith Peace Builders for an orientation session in the afternoon. We will continue on Sunday morning and then in the afternoon we will fly to Tel Aviv from Washington. Our first day in Israel will be spent getting settled in in Jerusalem. From there we will travel to and stay in a variety of places on the West Bank and in and near Jerusalem. I have found myself over the past few days both excited and somewhat anxious regarding these adventures. I am excited about what I will learn and I am hopeful that I am "quiet" enough inside to really pay attention.

(I am trying to be very quiet as I sit here right now because there are 2 beautiful young does feasting on the bird food just outside my window. They are carefully avoiding stepping on the feisty little squirrel gathering food at the same feeder! So much for feeding the birds!)

I have almost finished reading David K. Shipler's book "Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land". He wrote the first edition in 1986 in what he calls "a more innocent time." Ironically this is about the same time I first visited Israel on a pilgrimage to the holy sites. His second edition was published in 2002 and it contains the text of the first edition as it was published in 1986, and updated material at the end of most chapters. Shipler lived in Israel writing for The New York Times. The book is quite a "tome" of some 500 + pages, and it is one of the most helpful books I have read. Shipler presents an Arab perspective and an Israeli view using facts, the accounts of history, and stories that are illuminating. He is a journalist, who is neither Jew nor Arab and he seeks to present an account of both perspectives. All of the persons in his book are real and the stories are poignant and disturbing. I had to put the book down periodically to rest my mind. At one point I wrote these words in my journal:

My ears are tired,

my eyes are wearied.

Abraham and Sarah

childless, should have


Shipler quotes the philosopher, David Hartman, when he talks about the "land had become an idol." In a longer quote from Rabbi Hartman, he focuses on "yearning for something that is beyond strength." In Hartman's words: " What happens when reality imposes itself on a dream? I have to say that the purpose of the Jewish return is to restore the dignity of particularism. The question is how do I treat the Arab, how do I treat Christians, how do I treat the Jews who are not religious? He who thinks he has the truth can be intolerant. We have not developed the pluralistic type. Jews here have not understood what I think to be the larger significance of the Jewish return: a pluralistic consciousness which feels that David Shipler and Hartman could really embrace each other as friends, knowing each other in their differences, and listen to each other... Unless fundamentalism gets healed, unless pluralism become a spiritual value, I don't see any future in the Middle East." (page 139 of Arab and Jew)

Throughout the book, Shipler notes how poverty provides a fertile ground for militance and unyielding demands on both sides. The echo of Rabbi Hartman's words above, "the land had become an idol", rings with truth in the entirety of the book. Shipler is more than helpful in the later chapters of the book as he presents information about the cultural aspects of both the Muslim and the Jew in Israel. Since I will be staying in Israeli and /or Muslim homes for 3 nights of the trip, I have tried to pay attention to his practical advice for being a guest.

I'll end this post with a picture of some "grown up" Christmas trees. I neglected to say in the post with the "baby Christmas trees" that the tree grown here is the Fraser Fir. It is a beautiful tree, grown extensively here in the mountains of NC. It is dense (good for hanging ornaments) and has dark green needles with a silver underside. It has a light, soft wood which makes it great for shipping to places that don't grow Christmas trees. Now, I've done my bit of advertising for the NC Christmas tree!