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!