Notes From Jerusalem

In the winter and spring of 2009, I had the wonderful blessing of living in and travelling around Jerusalem and much of the Holy Land.  For me, it was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

There is no city quite like Jerusalem--a land where members of the three great Abrahamic faiths, of every nation, color, and creed, live together in--well, if not perfect harmony, then at least a general attitude of respect.  Despite the charged political climate, there is something of holiness surrounding that city--a concentration of holiness, devotion, and shear beauty--that I have yet to find anywhere else.  There is a sense there, for those with eyes to see, that God is very near--and that though He is called by different names and in different tongues, He hears the prayers of those who worship Him, and He loves all His children.

Here are a few of the essays I wrote during my stay in the Holiest of lands.

The Holy City
Today I flew into the Tel Aviv airport. From there we drove to Jerusalem. As of this point, I've crossed 8 time zones, flown on 4 airplanes, on 2 continents, with 1 hour of sleep, in the past 48 hours. I am now thoroughly exhausted.

As our bus climbed Mt Scopus (the northern part of the Mount of Olives), I caught a glimpse among the trees and rocks of the gold top of the Dome of the Rock. It took my breath away completely. I don't think it hit me that I was really going to Jerusalem until I saw that dome glinting in the sun. When we got to the top of the hill we had an unobstructed view of the valley and the Temple Mount. I'll admit I got emotional then, and have several times since, as I have looked from my bedroom window over the Old City of Jerusalem...(read more)

No One Told Jerusalem
This morning I awoke early and, wrapped in my coat and a few sweaters, went out to my balcony to read with a flashlight. The muezzin had not yet begun his first call, but the roosters beat him to it--I could hear their cries calling and answering each other all over the city. No one told the roosters that they live in a land of turmoil, that loud noises can be dangerous things. They cried out in anticipation of a new dawn, with whatever that dawn might bring.

A few dogs barked, a few cars drove along the main thoroughfare, and a street sweeper passed below me, but otherwise, all was still. The green lights from the minarets shone steadily over the city, constants in a world of change. No one told the minarets that prayer is passe, that God is dead. They stand as beacons to a life of submission to God, in whatever language you worship Him, by whatever name you know Him best...(read more)

All We Like Sheep
I found these sheep wandering on a hill overlooking Jerusalem, beside a church that commemorates the life of the prophet Elijah. Their caretaker is a Bethlehemite shepherd woman.

The scriptures continually refer to us in metaphor as sheep. Perhaps the most powerful example is from Isaiah's Suffering Servant song, "All we like sheep have gone astray; wehave turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). Given that sheep are notoriously stupid animals, I don't think these constant references are a compliment. But despite my vainglorious pride and desire to be compared to a creature who is a bit more intelligent or regal, I have found great meaning in the metaphor. I, like these sheep, have a tendency to wander into places I shouldn't be. I have a tendency to get myself stuck in gullies and ditches, to step in holes and break my leg. I, as the sheep, cry piteously in complaint...(read more)

Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu--Peace Will Come
Last night I visited the Western Wall to welcome in the Sabbath. Often called the Wailing Wall or the Kotel, this stretch of wall is the last remaining remnant of the massive retaining wall that once supported the plaza on which Herod's Temple stood. Jews of all nations regard this site as the holiest place on earth, the nearest they can get to the presence of God. Here they hold bar mitzvahs and usher their young men into the bonds of the covenant. Here they rejoice and dance and sing. Here they pray and supplicate and mourn the destruction of their Holy Temple. Here all of Jewish society and religion come together. It is a beautiful place--not because of the wall, which is fairly ordinary, albeit massive. Its beauty is in the spirit of the place--a spirit of love, a spirit of peace, a spirit of reverence coupled perfectly with exuberance, of mourning and hope and rejoicing singing together in perfect harmony.

After I had spent some time alone in prayer and quiet contemplation, I joined a group that was singing and dancing. Most of the words were in Hebrew, and the tunes were unfamiliar, but their feeling was unmistakable. The words quickly became comforting, and the dancing drew me in...(read more)

The Mountain of the Lord's House
Last Thursday our group toured the Karnak and Luxor temples, two of the most impressive remaining structures built in antiquity. Dedicated to the worship of various deities of the Egyptian pantheon, these temples are vast and imposing, brilliantly engineered, with some of the original paint still extant even after four thousand years. Even when partly in ruins, these majestic and ornate temples inspire a sense of awe. In the days before skyscrapers, when these temples stood tall, their carvings unmarred and their colors still vibrant, they must have been orders of magnitude more magnificent.

On Sunday we hiked to the top of Mount Sinai, which is 2285 feet high, to watch the sunrise from its summit. The hike took several hours in the bitter cold and the rocky, sandy desert terrain. The sunrise from the summit was beautiful, but the hike up the mountain, one of the first natural temples where the presence of God had rested, was an even more incredible experience. I am not a very strong hiker and I was already ill, so I had difficulty getting up the mountain. But the difficult climb gave me an opportunity to reflect on my place in God’s plan...(read more)

Sneakers and Salvation
Last week in Egypt, we took a plane from Cairo to Luxor, and spent a few days there. To return to Cairo, we took the overnight sleeping train from Luxor on Thursday night. The accommodations were dirty, bug-infested, and generally less than posh, and we arrived at the hotel on Friday morning tired, dirty, and road-weary. Since Friday is the Muslim day of prayer, we used it as our Sabbath (just as we celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday while we’re in Israel). Because of limited luggage space, we had been instructed not to bring church clothes; we would simply attend church services in our jeans and sneakers. None of us had slept very well the previous night, we hadn’t showered for some time, and many of us were sick.

After breakfast, and before checking into our rooms, we held sacrament meeting in the hotel. Pushing the breakfast tables against the walls, we lined the chairs up in rows in the middle of the room. We sang hymns unaccompanied. Croissants and bottled water on hotel plates and cardboard trays served for the sacrament, with peach-colored tablecloths and a flat bedsheet as the coverings for the sacrament table, blessed and passed by unshaven men wearing jeans and t-shirts. As a woman taught to show respect for Sabbath meetings by dressing appropriately to attend, I felt very much out of place. As the prayers were offered and the sacrament blessed and passed, I knew that I had not had time to prepare my heart for this meeting, and I felt unworthy, embarrassed to come before the Lord in an attitude of worship. I felt sure that our makeshift offering would not be acceptable to a God who requires our all...(read more)

My Reasons For Hope
I started this blog over a year ago as a place to record thoughts, feelings, and ideas. I have titled it "A Reason For Hope," which reflects Peter's directive, ""Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15). Though I cannot claim to fully live up to Peter's urging of constant readiness, the reflection that comes from frequent writing has given me an opportunity to consider more and more reasons of the hope that is in me. Allow me to share with you a few of my reasons for hope.

I find hope in the knowledge that my Heavenly Father loves me enough to give His Only Begotten Son as my Savior. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (John 3:16)...(read more)

By Prayer And Fasting
After Christ’s Transfiguration before His disciples, He descended the mount and found a multitude waiting for him. A man in the multitude begged for the Lord to heal his son, who was afflicted with a “foul spirit,” or a “devil” (Mark 9:25). The man pleaded, saying, “Master, I have brought unto thee my son, which hath a dumb spirit; And wheresoever he taketh him, he teareth: and he foameth, and gnasheth with his teeth, and pineth away: and I spake to thy disciples that they should cast him out; and they could not” (Mark 9:17-18). The evil spirit had astonishing power over him, a power that was doubtless terrifying to his father and to those around him.

Despite the power Christ had given the apostles over devils (Luke 9:1), the apostles were unable to cure the young man. The spirit had such great power over the boy that “when he saw [Christ], straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming” (Mark 9:20). Imploring the Lord, the man cried, “if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us” (Mark 9:22)...(read more)

Wrestling Before God: Confessions of a Disciple
As a young woman, I had trouble finding and understanding my place in the world. That doesn’t make me unique—I suppose such confusion is symptomatic of the age. There was so much that troubled me, so much that I couldn’t understand. Much of my distress revolved around the difficulty I found in defining and explaining my place as a woman in the world, in the Church, in my family, and in the plan of my Heavenly Father.

I remember feeling torn between the conflicting messages that bombarded me from every side. In my home, my parents treated each other as equals; they were loving partners who were working together toward the same goals. My parents were different people with different personalities, and while my father was the head of our home, his authority was never oppressive or domineering. When my parents differed, my father deferred to my mother more often than not, or so it seemed to me. Although I knew my mother sacrificed much for her marriage and family, she had a good, kind husband who loved and adored her and never expected her to submit to his arbitrary will simply because he was the man of the house. Not that such a demand would have worked, anyway. “Submissive” and “weak-willed” have never been words I would have used to describe my mother...(read more)

Holy Envy: Judaism
The late Krister Stendahl, (Lutheran) Bishop of Stockholm, died almost a year ago. In 1985, he articulated Stendahl's three rules of religious understanding. They are as follows:
(1) When you are trying to understand another religion, you should ask the adherents of that religion and not its enemies.
(2) Don't compare your best to their worst.
(3) Leave room for "holy envy."

Holy Envy. Those two words sum up my experience of many years. Holy Envy involves recognizing elements in others' religious traditions that one wishes were part of one's own religious tradition. It requires a great deal of humility to be able to say, "my tradition is deficient in this area, and his is superior. I wish I had that."

Until my teacher mentioned Stendahl this semester, I didn't know that this attitude had a name. But I guess holy envy has always been a part of my approach to religious understanding...(read more)

Holy Envy: Catholicism
I love the Catholics. I used to not understand them very well, and growing up I thought they were nice people, but misled. I never really appreciated Catholicism the way I have to come to appreciate it in the past few years. Here are some of the things I envy about Catholicism:

* Catholics have been largely responsible for maintaining the Bible that the rest of the Christian world now uses. Monks have copied and illuminated sacred texts for centuries. Those of us who love the Bible owe the Roman Church a great debt of gratitude for preserving it.

* I love the 14 stations of the cross. Though some of the styles of paintings turn me off, and I realize that many of the 14 stations aren't canonically supported, I think it's awesome to have a chance to walk around a chapel and think of Christ's sacrifice for me--bit by bit, not in generalities, but in specific details...(read more)

The Feast Of Victory Of Our God

We all know the story of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and empty tomb, and most of us have visited a tomb or two in this city that purports to be the place where Christ was buried and rose again the third day. I wonder, though, if we have taken time to ponder the weighty significance of the resurrection for the plan of salvation and for each of us.

We know that because Christ rose from the dead, each of us will also be restored from death to life, and, as Alma put it, "even a hair of the head shall not be lost; but all things shall be restored to their proper and perfect frame. " (Alma 40:23) This part of the Atonement is a free gift that will come upon all men regardless of their actions, and because of its universal nature, sometimes we tend to take this gift for granted. But the early Apostles were obsessed with talking about it. The Resurrection was not just part of their theology--it was at the center! Every sermon they gave centered on the Resurrection. Every page in the book of Acts has some reference to this event. I can understand their excitement. Nothing like this had ever happened before. It was so important that, as the first chapter of Acts tells us, the apostles were ordained not just to be special witnesses of Christ, but specifically to be special witnesses of the resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:21-22)...(read more)

As Christians, and especially as Latter-day Saints, we have a tendency to get carried away in our rejoicing in the gospel to the point that we disparage all other faith traditions. One common target of our scorn is Judaism, especially the Jews of Christ’s day. We insult them for their failure to recognize Christ as the Messiah. We accuse them of spitefully deleting Messianic passages from the Bible (passages we can rarely prove were ever part of the Bible). We revile them for creating a “fence around the law,” forgetting that the Sermon on the Mountdid exactly the same thing and that our prophets today engage in similar behavior.

We also have the tendency to be simultaneously too deep and too shallow in our reading of the scriptures. In our desire to see all of scripture through the lens of our theology, we look for “Bible bullets” to prove our doctrines in sacred writ that others see as simple stories. We look too deeply and read too much into the texts. In stretching scriptures to fit our mold we do the stories, their authors, and ourselves a disservice, because in doing so, we fail to allow the scriptures to speak for themselves, to say what they want to say; we denigrate the authors and other believers in the same sacred texts because they don’t find the same meaning; and we fail to appreciate other themes of the scriptures because we’re so busy squishing them into a particular mold that we miss their stand-alone richness and depth...(read more)

A poetic prayer that has impressed itself upon my mind of late is a well-known four-line sermon attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, American Protestant theologian. Originally untitled, it has become known as the Serenity Prayer, and is used widely in AANA, and other addiction-recovery circles. It is often found in the form:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Niebuhr's prayer continues beyond this well-known verse, however, with words that grow even more poignant:

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

Those of you who know me well know that I have long been looking for that pathway to peace in a world I do not fully understand. The past few years have brought major transformations for me and for those I love. Through it all, I have come to a realization that at first unsettled me, but now brings me great peace: I do not have all the answers...(read more)

Hosanna in the Highest

Today begins a powerful and poignant week in the larger Christian community. This week, Western Christians celebrate the last week of the Savior's mortal ministry, beginning with His triumphal entry, and encompassing his powerful teachings and parables of that week, the Last Supper He held with His disciples and friends, His Atonement, trials, and death, His burial, and His glorious Resurrection.

We begin with the day known as Palm Sunday, which marks Christ's triumphal entry into the city of Jerusalem. Two centuries ago, a man known as Jesus of Nazareth rode into the city from His night residence in Bethany, in the home of Simon the Leper and his children Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, all dear personal friends of Jesus. He rode on the back of a donkey, in the manner of the ancient kings of Israel as they went to be crowned. The symbol did not escape the notice of the people, who, having heard of His arrival, "spread their garments in the way; others cut down branches from the trees, and strawed them in the way. And the multitudes that went before, and that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:8-9). Hosanna, they cried--literally, "Oh, save us now!" They recognized Christ as the king He was, and quoted (and sang, perhaps) a Messianic Psalm (Psalm 118) to greet Him...(read more)

The House of Prayer
After Christ's triumphal entry the Sunday before His death, Christ spent the night in the home of Lazarus. The following day, He entered Jerusalem and cleansed the temple again, as He had at the beginning of His ministry. Matthew records the event thus:

"And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves. And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple; and he healed them. And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?" (Matthew 21:12-16).

After that sarcastic little jab, the chief priests couldn't do much to stop the popular sentiment that was rallying around Jesus, and the plot to kill Him thickened...(read more)

Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?
I spent today doing something that I've been planning and wanting to do for some time. In the company of two dear friends, I set out after breakfast to retrace the Savior's steps during the last day and a half of His life, beginning with the Last Supper and ending at Golgotha and the Garden Tomb. At each stop, we read the scriptural passages related to the events that transpired there, sang hymns, and shared thoughts and testimonies. We wondered aloud about parts of the story where the details were fuzzy. We mused about the topics of unrecorded conversations involving Christ and the Apostles. We returned home this evening thoroughly exhausted, but strengthened, renewed, and with a greater appreciation of the life of the man we call Lord.

His path on that momentous day was long--longer than comes across in a brief reading of the gospels. Simply from reading the gospels, one might be forgiven for believing that all the events of Christ's Passion happened close by, and that He could proceed from one location to the next fairly smoothly. But in fact he retraced His steps repeatedly that day as He went from the Upper Room of the Last Supper to Gethsemane and back to Mt. Zion again to be tried before Caiphas, and so on. And He did it all without food or drink, without divine support, and without the companionship of his close friends, the Apostles.

In the Upper Room we watched the Lord institute the sacrament, and heard His prophecy that one would betray Him, and with the disciples we asked, "Lord, is it I?" (Matthew 26:22). With them we sang a hymn, and departed to the Mount of Olives, to a place we loved and knew well...(read more)

Descending Below Them All
Today is Holy Thursday, also known as Maundy Thursday. On this day, Christ ate the Passover meal with His disciples. On this day He washed their feet. On this day He suffered our pains and sins in a place called Gethsemane. On this day He was betrayed by His friend. On this day He was abandoned by His followers. On this day He was mocked and struck by Caiphas and Annas. On this day His chief apostle denied knowing Him.

Yesterday, on my last-day walk, I went to a beautiful church called St. Peter in Gallicantu. Below the church is a place that was, according to tradition, the prison pit below the home of Caiaphas, where Christ was kept between trials. And as I stood in the prison pit, I remembered the Lord's words to Joseph Smith, as he languished in the miserable pit of Liberty Jail,

"And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and thesentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good" (Doc. & Cov. 122:7)...(read more)

This Is Jesus The King of The Jews
They set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then were there two thieves crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. And they that passed by reviled him, wagging their heads, And saying, Thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself. If thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. 

Likewise also the chief priests mocking him, with the scribes and elders, said, He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him. He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God. The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. 

Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? ...(read more)

Today is Good Friday, the day Christ died for sinners.

I have a confession to make. I am a sinner.

I have realized it more acutely this past week, especially as I followed the path of Christ's Passion. I have realized that the scriptures are not about other, long-dead men. They are about me.

Christ died for me. I'm the sinner who put Him up on that cross. I'm the one who fell asleep while He prayed nearby, when He most needed my company. I'm the one who betrayed the Son of Man with a kiss. I'm the one who came to arrest Him with swords and spears. I'm the one who mocked Him, and spit on Him, and deemed Him worthy of death. I'm the one who delivered Him to the authorities. I'm the one who brought false witness against Him. I'm the one who called for the release of Barabbas. I'm the one who washed my hands and delivered my King to the tormentors. I'm the one who scourged Christ. I'm the one who drove nails into the hands of a God. I'm the one. It was me...(read more)

Weeping May Endure For a Night
Today is Holy Saturday. In the Jewish calendar, it was a Sabbath and a high day--the feast of Passover had come, the Paschal Lamb had been slain. While Jews throughout the land celebrated their ancestors' deliverance from slavery in Egypt, the disciples of Jesus of Nazareth mourned. In John Mark's home, there was no rejoicing. Truly they ate the bread of affliction that day.

Before this week, I had never thought much about the range of emotions experienced by the disciples on this day, because I had always focused on the joy they must have experienced at seeing their Savior resurrected. But this time around I have realized that their joy on Sunday morning came only because of their great sorrow the previous Sabbath.

I imagine His mother Mary weeping with Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, a sword piercing her soul. I imagine Simon the Zealot and Matthew the publican together fasting for grief and refusing to be comforted. I read of Judas hanging himself in anguish at the realization of what he had done. I can see Peter, who went out and wept bitterly...(read more)

Joy Cometh In The Morning
"The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto thesepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre. Then she runneth, andcometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him. Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to thesepulchre. So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.

"And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie, And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself. Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed" (John 20:1-8)...(read more)

Let Us Not Mock God With Metaphor


By John Updike

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells' dissolution did not reverse, the molecules
reknit, the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His Flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes,
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose...(read more)

Endued With Power From On High
On the day of His Resurrection, Jesus Christ spent the morning with the women he loved. He then spent the majority of the day with two of His disciples, as they traveled from Jerusalem to Emmaus. Weighed down with grief and not believing the testimony of the women He had sent to declare the good news of the resurrection, the disciples left for the village of Emmaus, a small town about seven miles north-west of Jerusalem. 

As they traveled, they met a man who seemed to be ignorant of the events of the past few days. When they shared their grief over the death of their Master with the stranger, the man chided them, " O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?" (Luke 24:25-26). The stranger spent the rest of their journey teaching them of the scriptural prophecies of the Messiah, and how the death and resurrection of Jesus fulfilled those prophecies. Somehow, these disciples did not recognize Christ until He ate with them that evening, and as He blessed and broke bread with them as He had at the Last Supper, "their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight" (v. 31).

The two disciples marveled, and immediately returned to Jerusalem, despite the late hour. The next day, presumably, they "found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them...(read more)

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your blog. I'm a newbie to blogging. I love Jerusalem my desire is to visit before I leave this place. You really inspired me again. Your background makes me remember the days that I studied this language with the hope of going there. thanks for your message and witness