Today is our day to visit Old Jerusalem and, yay, the weather is good again here. Our plan is to travel on the Via Dolorosa which is the traditional path of the twelve Stations of the Cross where Jesus carried his cross. However, this path is also a big market and my Buddies want to shop first and do the spiritual stuff after. This is sooo different from what I usually do, but, I get it. We each have different perceptions and give different meanings to what we are experiencing. Noelle is a Buddhist; Alexei is a not too sure Christian; and me, I am into all embracing/ non-denominational/ unconditional Love. I trust that Love will guide me to whatever is best, so, I agree to shop first. I tried to set a time limit, but that didn’t go over well. Okay then, we are going shopping.
We were walking down the hill when Alexei said, “Linda, I want to take a picture of you here.”
Yeah, I like it!
We continued on our journey to Old Jerusalem; but, first we will be stopping at the Garden of Gethsemane. I really want to go there. Also, Alexei really wants to visit The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene which is in the Garden of Gethsemane. It was built by his ancestor, the Russian Czar Alexander III and his brothers, in memorial of their mother Empress Maria Alexandrovia. Alexander’s sister in law, the Grand-Duchess Elizabeth, had a deep, personal interest in the church. After she became widowed, she became a nun and founded a convent devoted to nursing and charitable work in Moscow. Apparently, during the Bolshevik Revolution she and her companion, Sister Barbara, were killed. Eventually, their remains were brought to Jerusalem where they were buried, per her wishes, in a crypt below the church. They were canonized as Martyr Saints in 1981 and their remains were moved into the main section of the church. Alexei has tried to visit the church every time he has been in Jerusalem, but each time, there was no access.
(Picture from BiblePlaces.com)
We walked down our hill to the Garden, but alas, the church was closed for the whole week we were here. Bummer!
The Garden of Gethsemane was open though.
Picture by Noelle Meluskey)
The moment I walked into this garden, I felt a wrenching in my stomach, my body tensely tightened. I wanted to drop to my knees, and cry out with my confliction. I want to do Love’s will but I am afraid it is going to hurt. It hurt Jesus. It was terrible: the betrayal of his friend, his people, the feeling of abandonment by God, the physical pain, the giving up of his personal life and happiness to service for the highest good of us all. I am afraid of what it means to be in service to Love; to have an intention to enable the highest good for all in unconditional love; to serve in whatever way Love thinks is best. Am I going to be mocked, ridiculed, betrayed, abused, or even have to die for this? Jesus set a precedence of martyrdom as service to God. That is fracking scary; no wonder more people don’t follow in his footsteps very well. Does it have to be that way? I don’t want to have to hurt and suffer anymore! If this is what Love wants from me, will I continue? Now, my tears are flowing like a river down my face. I am afraid because I know I choose Love and I will do whatever Love thinks is best.
As I made this choice, I could hear my inner voice: Linda, what have you been learning about Love from your patients, from your inner voice, from your life so far? What you are feeling is fear, not the truth of Love. You know that no matter what situation you are in, when you choose to respond in Love’s way then things always work out for the highest good. How many times have you tested this? A lot…I know. You’re right, this is my fear I am experiencing and I choose to release it. I DO choose Love. I DO trust Love to guide me and to be with me no matter what. Truthfully, I really am not afraid anymore! I haven’t been for quite awhile.
In that moment, I realized I had been walking around the garden and now found myself in front of this sign:
I saw Noelle and Alexei near me, not with mocking smiles, but, with compassionate support for whatever I had been experiencing. As we left, I became aware that being here in this garden at this time in my life was the most important thing I would do on this trip; everything else would be great, but, this is why I am here: to re-confirm and to commit to Love.
We continued our walk to Old Jerusalem and entered through the Lion’s Gate (see the carved lions on either side of the entrance):
All of the following information, I have taken from Wikipedia. I am sure it touches upon only the bare surface of the history and meanings so many people have for Jerusalem:
Jerusalem is a holy city to the three major Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It has been a holy city, according to the Torah, since King David first established it as the capital of the United Kingdom of Israel in 1000 BCE. In Christianity, according to the New Testament, it has been a holy city since Jesus was crucified in 30 CE. In Sunni Islam, Jerusalem is the third holiest city. It was the first Qibla – direction of Muslim prayer – in 610 CE and according to Islamic tradition, Muhammad made his Night Journey there. According to Wikipedia Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and captured/recaptured 44 times. The oldest part of the city was settled in the 4th millennium BCE, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. It has been traditionally divided into four quarters – the Armenian, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Quarters.
Old Jerusalem has some majorly important religious sites. One is Temple Mount which is also called the Foundation Stone. Judaism regards this as the place where God chose the Divine Presence to rest (Isa 8:18) and where He gathered dust to create Adam. According to Jewish tradition it is the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice his son, Isaac, to God. It is also the site of the First and Second temples. The First temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. The Second Temple which replaced the First Temple was destroyed by the Romans.
In Christianity it is believed that Constantine’s mother, Helena, who is said to have found the “true cross” built a small church here, called the Church of St. Cyrus and St. John. Later it was called The Church of the Holy Wisdom.
After the Muslims conquered Jerusalem they built the Dome of the Rock on the site of the Second Temple. They also built the Al-Aqsa Mosque. According the Sunni Islamic tradition, Muhammad’s night journey took him from Mecca to the site of Al-Aqsa where he prayed. The Dome of the Rock is the spot from which Muhammad, accompanied by the angel Gabriel, ascended to Heaven where he met and prayed with Abraham, Moses, and Jesus. When he returned he called all who would believe him to join with him and become Muslim, thus creating Islam.
The Western Wall is a remnant of the Second temple and is as close as Jews are permitted to be to the holiest spot in Judaism – the Foundation Stone i.e. Temple Mount. The Western Wall has become the place of prayer for the Jews.
(Picture from Bibleplaces.com)
Dome of the Rock
(Picture from Bibleplaces.com)
(Picture from Bibleplaces.com)
(Picture from Bibleplaces.com)
With all of this history around me, I can’t even begin to think about shopping. I am not sure where this next picture is from, but, it represents a frequent sight:
(Picture by Noelle Meluskey)
Alexei always has his shopping radar on! I tag along behind Alexei and Noelle as they start to peruse the wares, but, it is hard for me to get my head into shopping. I am absorbed in my introspective examination of my spiritual self and have no interest in the mundane. I decide to give the “mundane” to Love and see what happens. Soon, I find myself thinking of my family and my friends with love and wondering if there is something I could buy them so that they could feel as if they are a part of this journey. Now, I am actively seeking those items that would speak to my loved ones on some level. As I pick up and lay down different items, it makes me think about each person, what I know of them, what I want to communicate to them. Soon, I realize that what is most important to me is that I pick out things that communicate love. I want to imbue whatever I buy with the energy of Love and so I ask Love to help me find what is best. It was awesome how just the right thing would pop out at me for some; and for others, I knew that Old Jerusalem would not be the place to find their gift. NOW, shopping had become a fun and spiritual adventure for me!
After a couple of hours, Noelle and I were standing on the path outside the shops. “I haven’t seen anything I could give to my brother. He is not religious, I don’t really even know if he has spiritual beliefs. How can I find a gift for him amongst all of these religious souvenirs? There is no way.”
“Well, what does his like?” Noelle asked.
“Believe it or not, he likes stuffed animals.”
“No, really, there is a cool story behind that; but, be that as it may, there are no stuffed animals on the Via Dolorosa.” I lamented. As I spoke those words, I dropped my head and saw…STUFFED ANIMALS!
Oh my God. Right at my feet there was a whole basketful of stuffed camels in various sizes. I bought one that was wearing an Israeli camouflage combat uniform. This was perfect!
We continued to shop and to travel the Via Dolorosa, until suddenly we found ourselves at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Alexei said, “Hey, there aren’t any lines of tourists. We should go see it now. I know it is at the end of the Stations of The Cross, but, would that be okay?”
No waiting in massive lines with tourists? Would that be okay? Hmmm let me think…ah… yeah!
Do you see that ladder on the second floor? I wondered what the heck a ladder was doing up there; when I got home I googled about it. That ladder is a great symbol of the “Status Quo”. The Status Quo refers to a set of customary arrangements that regulate owning, administration and usage of the Church. This allows rivals to live and worship alongside each other. There are six ancient churches represented here by different communities of monks: the Greek Orthodox, the Roman Catholic, the Armenian Orthodox, the Coptic Orthodox, the Syrian Orthodox, and the Ethiopian Orthodox. They each have various degrees of what they posses in the church; what rights of usage they have; and, who administers and cares for different parts of the church. Supposedly, it is like a big railway timetable of who gets to use what, where, and when. There are also defined common areas that are strictly regulated about who gets to use them and when. Also, under the Status Quo, no part of what is designated as common territory may be so much as rearranged even an iota without consent from all of the communities. All of this is necessary to prevent violence which still occasionally happens anyway, even as late as 2008. That ladder was placed there sometime before the 1852 Status Quo defined both the doors and the window ledges as common ground and so it is still there today!
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the traditional the site of Golgotha (the Hill of Calvary) where Jesus was crucified; also, the place where Jesus was anointed and buried (the sepulchre); and, the site of his resurrection. This claim about Golgotha is controversial as some say crucifixions were not done inside the city walls. Some say Golgotha is at the site of Garden Tomb. Proponents of the Church say that Golgotha had been originally outside the old city walls but was incorporated in later years when the city walls were expanded outward.
You know me, I have no clue. All I know is how tremendous it felt to be there. I am very surprised at how much I felt.
The first picture is of the altar that marks the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.
(Picture from Wikipedia)
Inside, on both sides of the altar is the Rock of Calvary (Golgotha):
(Photo from Wikipedia)
Beneath the altar there is a hole which is said to be the place the cross was placed:
(Photo by Noelle Meluskey)
This is the table where Jesus’ body was laid after he died. It was here his body was cared for and anointed:
This structure encases the tomb of Jesus:
(Picture from Wikipedia)
It was very moving to be there; whether they are the actual sites or not, it made the whole thing very real to me.
Eventually, after shopping, we re-walked the Via Dolorosa and stopped at each of the places commemorating the Stations of the Cross. I know that this is not the exact path but it is close enough for me. I had learned about the Stations in Catholic grammar school, but, they never had the impact they had now. Taking the steps that Jesus did, carrying his cross; meeting the people he did along the way…now it was so much more real to me. It was very sad.
We journeyed to the Western Wall where I was able to say a prayer.
(Photo from Bibleplaces.com)
Of course, not in the men’s section. Women had to go to a separate and smaller section of the wall.
We were unable to go into the Dome of the Rock or the Al-Aqsa Mosque, of course. I don’t think they currently let non-Muslims in. Some of the Jewish areas such as the Western Wall tunnel were closed because it was Saturday, the Jewish holy day of Shabbat. Still, all in all, we had a great day in Old Jerusalem.
That evening we had my favorite meal – shawarma- at a tiny Palestinian place. Ahh the food was good, the Palestinians were friendly and fun. It was wonderful! Mmmm…gooood!
(Picture from the Net)