Sunday, 20 September 2015

Holy Land: Sacred Pilgrimage: Part IX–The Lord’s Day

world-map israel


We’ve got the last part of the Sacred Pilgrimage section of the Holy Land saga this week before moving onto the secular next.

Back in real-time, I’ve been busy considering some ideas for my upcoming trip to Berlin with ex-DPRK mate Glenn. I’m thinking of exploring some abandoned Nazi barracks and defensive tunnels as well as some possible trips further afield. Thanks for all the ideas must go to Fabian, another ex-DPRK comrade which is just the right place for me to recommend to you all his photographs which include some of the finest images of the former communist countries of Eastern Europe and the old USSR going. Check them out and then read my travelogues on the places they depict.

Fabian Muir Photography


Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

Flickr album of this trip

Flickr album of my 1997 trip

Links to other parts of the travelogue:

Sacred Pilgrimage

Part 1: Tel Aviv

Part 2: Ash Wednesday in Jerusalem

Part 3: Bethlehem with a Baby

Part 4: Exploring the Old City

Part 5: Hebron

Part 6: The Armenian Quarter

Part 7: Up the Mount of Olives

Part 8: Further explorations of Jerusalem

Part 9: The Lord’s Day

Secular Pilgrimage

Part 1: A Bus to Beersheva

Part 2: An Introduction to Kibbutz Living

Part 3: A Pioneering Vision

Part 4: The Silence of the Desert

Part 5: Living for the Moment

Part 6: Tearing down the Wall!

Part 7: Beautiful (?) Beersheva

Part 8: The Volunteers



The Lord’s Day

It was time for the pilgrimage to end. We had come to give thanks for a life and that thanks had been given. Now, there was another sacred journey to make, another journey of remembrance but this time a secular one, more personal, not recalling the life of a prophet or saviour, but instead my own youth. But before a line could be drawn under the religious part of this trip, there was one more act to perform. It was a Sunday after all.

The congregation for Holy Communion at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral was not what I had expected. I’d anticipated Arab Christians or fellow Britons, but there were few of either group, (the Arabs attend an Arabic-language service later in the day), and instead American Episcopalians dominated the proceedings. They were a pleasant bunch mind, who entered into the Peace enthusiastically with heartfelt handshakes, but it wasn’t the same as the Anglican services that I’m used to. There was no cup of tea with the vicar afterwards.

And so there, in that most English of shrines, in that most international and sacred of cities, I ended my pilgrimage. It had not been so spiritually warming as some of my other sacred journeys, but it had been by far the most spiritually challenging which, in the long run, is perhaps far more important than instant gratification.

st georges 1

st georges 2St. George’s: Holy Land or Herefordshire?

Pilgrimage in the Holy Land is not an easy task. There are the obvious difficulties, the acts of terrorism that deter so many, and the absolutely depressing and at times heart-breaking present-day political situation. Try as you might to focus on Christ or the Old Testament prophets, it is very difficult to do so when confronted by a large concrete wall built because the children of those prophets cannot bear to live side by side with one another.

And what makes it even more difficult, is that it is the religious (of both sides) that provoke the worst trouble. Baruch Goldstein and the countless Hamas suicide bombers were motivated by faith, as too were the Crusaders who murdered and pillaged through the region centuries before and the crowd who called for Christ Himself to be crucified, preferring to free a nationalistic ‘freedom-fighter’ in His stead. Once again, the words of Pascal Blaize ring in my ears, “Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions.” For a man of faith on a pilgrimage, those words jar uncomfortably.

But it is not just the obvious, present-day problems that hinder the pilgrim, for even without them, the Holy Land would be a difficult place. Perhaps the biggest obstacle was the one that I encountered whilst praying the rosary on the train going to Jerusalem: there is simply too much to focus on. With Walsingham for example, there is a story, a simple, holy story on which to meditate, to focus one’s thoughts, to encounter God, but in Holy Land, there is not one story but a thousand. I journeyed thousands of miles to get there, have written fifteen thousand words on the subject and yet such crucial figures such as Elijah and Elisha, Joshua, David, Solomon, Abraham, the Twelve Disciples, John the Baptist, Paul of Tarsus, St. George and so many more either do not get a mention or are thought of only in passing. In Walsingham, one can spend days meditating on the appearance of the Virgin Mary in a dream to a noblewoman, yet in the Holy Land, where she spent most of her earthly days, she hardly gets a look in!

And of those who are talked about, the focus is not there. Most Christians, myself included, focus on the figure of Christ. This is natural, for He is the most important in our faith and thus deserves our attentions, but even with Him alone, there is so much to meditate on that it would require months to even start to do Him justice. The Nativity, Crucifixion and Resurrection I gave much thought to, but virtually none to the parables He told, His Ministry by Galilee, the Flight to Egypt, His exile in the wilderness. No, the key problem with the Holy Land is that there is just too much, too much indeed, so that instead of focus one’s head just whizzes around, overrun with it all.

But if those are the problems with the Holy Land, its strengths must also be considered. The name ‘Jerusalem’ translates as ‘City of peace’ and yet is their any city less peaceful on earth? One perhaps, and that is Hebron, just a few miles distant.

That discord however, is caused by diversity. Racism and intolerance are, I am sad to say, in many ways the natural state of man, or at least, the natural state of unenlightened man. It is only natural after all, that we should view the world with ourselves as the centre, with our values as the right ones, with our friends and family as the chosen people, with the Other being in error, a threat, to be subjugated and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, to be got rid of.

I was brought up in a small village in rural England. I was aware of the other; I saw Black people when I went on the train to Birmingham, there was a Chinese family in the takeaway in the next village and an Indian doctor who treated me, but that was it. I knew that they existed but they neither impinged on my life nor threatened me. In January 1997 I made my first visit to the Holy Land and came across the Other full on and not comfortably. I met Israelis who did not have the same concept of manners as the British do, who derided my religion as being rather silly; I met people from the Eastern Bloc who had formerly been our enemies; I worked side by side with a Dutchman, a Swiss gent, with Germans, (and remember, this was only a year after the harrowing experience of Euro ’96!). I found what it was like to hate as well as love the Other and I have been discovering it ever since but nowhere on earth is it so in your face as in the Holy Land.

My denomination, which where I come from has always been the standard, proper form of Christianity, has no place in its holiest temple whilst strange, incomprehensible churches with indecipherable writing, weird costumes and lots of incense abound; loud Americans dominate the alternative burial site and the supposedly English cathedral; the tomb of the father of both our faith and that of the Jews is in a mosque; the Temple Mount is inaccessible to both us and the Jews because the Muslims are there; I can’t even have a cup of tea in a café because someone objects to me putting milk in it! The Holy Land challenges one, lays bare one’s religious prejudices, makes one think, forces one to accommodate. It is the worst place in the world for a Fundamentalist who wants things all his own way, which is a shame, since it is full of them. The moderate, liberal route to peaceful coexistence is being forced out as indeed, it always has been. Here is the angry and vengeful God of the Old Testament and yet here also, is the very embodiment of the New Covenant, the alternative, the Lamb to the Slaughter. Remember always, as well as being to home to Joshua, Raynald of Châtillon, Yasser Arafat and Baruch Goldstein, the Holy Land is also the place where we were taught to ‘turn the other cheek’ and forgive our enemies.

Next part: A Bus to Beersheva

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