Tuesday, 2 December 2008

jerusalem (4) - tourist or pilgrim?

View of the old city from Beit Abraham

‘Tourists pass through places, places pass through pilgrims’, so said the writer Catherine Osiek. This quote used by our course director Revd Stephen Need during our introductory talk on the history of Jerusalem has resonated with me throughout the day. Yesterday I spent time at the holiest Jewish site, The Western Wall, and the third most important Islamic site, The Dome of the Rock. At those sites I saw many pilgrims whose journey to Jerusalem had been the focus of their lives and crucial to their faith. I have to admit that I was just a tourist; it was fascinating to visit these places I had heard so much about but they didn’t make a difference to my faith. I don’t see them as places where God is any more present to me than when I am with my family at home, or at church or anywhere else I happen to be and Jerusalem has never been the focus of my faith. So it will be interesting to see whether I remain a tourist or become a pilgrim as I spend the rest of my time in the Holy Land.

Today began with a Eucharist in the cathedral, where my father preached as an ordinand some forty years ago, followed by a time when the participants on the course introduced themselves. Two of us are English (and one of the two, not me, is to become course director at St. George’s in the summer), there are people from Australia, Canada, U.S.A., Nigeria and my room mate is from Honduras; 26 in all. There are two brothers from the Society of St. John the Evangelist who are serving us as chaplains as well as Stephen and his wife Jill. An interesting mix of people with a range of hopes and expectations for the course.

Excavation of the Second Temple steps far left in front of the wall.

The bulk of the day was a coach tour around the outskirts of the old city finishing in west Jerusalem. During the trip we stopped at various viewing points, a psalm was read and Stephen gave us a running commentary as a general introduction to the area. First stop was Beit Abraham, a house run by French nuns across the Kidron valley from the Temple Mount. On the roof there was a fantastic panorama view of the old city and the surrounding area. The view also enabled us to see some exciting archaeological digs taking place. These include the discovery of the steps leading up to the Second Temple, steps that Jesus would have trodden as he entered the Temple area. The other dig site we could see was of the Palace of David. David's city was built below what is now the old city of Jerusalem. The old city walls only date back to the sixteenth century though they look much older.

The Palace of David dig in the centre of the picture.

Back on the coach and to a viewing area between the Mount of Olives and Mount Scopus and my first sight of the desert between Jerusalem and Jordan. To the bottom right of the picture is a flock of sheep and goats tended by young boys on donkeys. Their flute playing made a pleasant background accompaniament to the reading of Psalm 125.

The desert looking towards Jordan with the mountains on the far horizon just visible.

Finally a longer journey through to west Jerusalem and another viewing point with a stunning vista of the old city. The contrast between east and west Jerusalem was stark, with west Jerusalem reminding me of a typical wealthy Mediterranean town or city like Nice or Cannes. The climate is also different with more rainfall in the western part of the city and the rest of Jerusalem having more of a desert climate.

The old city from west Jerusalem. The Kidron Valley is to the right below the old city.

Pieta at Beit Abraham

Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her… Isaiah 66:10


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