I'm still a day behind, because I had so much catching up to do from Galilee.
Today was a very full day - with much to see and to experience. Several times, I was moved to tears.
We began our day on the spot known as the Temple Mount. It was the site of the first Temple, built by King Solomon and then destroyed by the Babylonians. It was rebuilt in a much smaller form after the return from exile. Herod gave it a serious upgrade during his rule, in an attempt to win the favour of the Israelites, without much success. It was destroyed by the Romans in 70 CE, during the Jewish Revolt.
Today, the Temple Mount is home to the Dome of the Rock and to Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most significant mosque in Islam. As I walked in this space, that has been sacred to Jews and Muslims alike (and, frankly, to Christians, as Jesus spent much time in the Temple), I just kept thinking that God must weep to see the divisions among God's people. I prayed for peace to the God of Many Names.
First, the Dome of the Rock, next, a place for purification before prayer, and finally, Al Aqsa Mosque.
One of the gates leading to the Temple Mount is the Golden Gate or the Mercy Gate. This gate is closed, because Jews believe that only the Messiah can open the Mercy Gate. It is facing the Mount of Olives. If you look carefully in the picture below, you can see many graves of devout Jews on the Mount of Olives, because they want to be there when the Messiah comes.
Next, we journeyed to the Pools of Bethesda and St. Anne's Church, which is located there. The pools are one of the places that we know with certainty that Jesus was. In John's gospel, Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath at the Pools of Bethesda. While there, we had a meditation on Jesus as healer, and then Lois our chaplain offered us a laying on of hands and anointing for healing. I cried as I waited for the prayers, and then, uncharacteristically, not during them. However, as soon as they were over, I sat quietly and wept for about fifteen minutes. It was a rich time for me for prayer, contemplation, and writing.
Here's the North Pool at Bethesda (and the little corner where I sat and wept) and a sideways view of the front of St. Anne's Church, where I lit candles, as has been my custom.
After lunch, traveled to the Western Wall, also known as the Wailing Wall. I walked to the wall (on the women's side, of course), and offered prayers - prayers I'd been asked to pray there, and prayers for those I love.
I watched there young women, Israeli soldiers, who went ahead of me to the wall. They were young and beautiful. They laughed and joked along the way down, and posed for pictures, just like we did. In fact, I took one picture of the three of them, so that they could all be in the photo. When it was time to pray, they got very serious, and at least one wiped tears from her eyes as she walked away. Some folks walk away from the wall backwards, because they believe that God lives here, perpetually, and you should never turn your back on God.
Here's the Wailing Wall, sideways. Men's section (large and spacious) on the left, women's (small and crowded) on the right.
Our last stops of the day were at the outside of the Western Wall. There, an archaeological excavation is working on the remains of some of King David's place. Finally, we went to some steps that date from the 1st century and which led to one of the entrances to the Temple. Andrew, our course leader, pointed out that Jesus would have climbed these steps many times. His mother would have brought him up those steps forty days after he was born for her purification. He would have gone up and down many other times, as well.
I cried, as I looked at those steps and imagined all of the times Jesus might have walked them. I spontaneously prayed the Song of Simeon, which Simeon prayed when he encountered the Baby Jesus, at the Purification. Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised. For these eyes of mine have seen the Saviour, whom you have prepared for all the world to see. A light to enlighten the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.
Excavations at the Western Wall and first century steps leading up to the Temple.