This morning, St. John’s parishioners reflected on their summer pilgrimages – a trip to the Holy Land, a youth mission trip into the Appalachian mountains of southwest Virginia, and a diocesan youth trip to England. Allison Cole read a poem she had written about her experience in the Holy Land:
Three Households, Alike in Dignity
“The God who made the world and everything in it, He who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands.” Acts 17:24
Consider the iconic picture of Jerusalem, the golden Dome of the Rock.
Someone paid eight million dollars for that gold leaf to trap the Dome in our imaginations forever.
Inside, intertwining vines are almost indistinguishable from the Arabic letters they surround.
It is beautiful and so intensely ornate I feel as if I am looking at a magic eye book.
Beside all this decoration, the niche that faces Mecca is downright plain.
The mosque is no different from all the Christian churches we have visited already in that it is built around a special rock.
It looks like an ordinary rock to me.
Our guide reports that no one knows where Muhammad (peace be upon Him) pushed off into the ether so, they venerate the whole top of the mountain just in case.
(at least they’re honest)
Perhaps because I have not read the Quran, I feel nothing here except heart-felt appreciation for the opportunity to experience the intricate decorations and jealousy for the men in short sleeves.
There is no shade in all the Plaza.
Rabbi Elton John, all in white, keeps the tourists from working on the Sabbath. Our bags are checked by hand so even the conveyor can have a day of rest.
I carefully make my way through the crowd, giving widest birth to those either armed or bearded.
I approach the women’s section and look up at the dizzying height of huge stones.
The wall is smooth with centuries of prayer and I feel the weight of everything I have learned in two short weeks about this land and its conflicts heavy in my mind.
I do not pretend to understand any of it, but I pray for peace.
I leave my little rolled up paper as high up as I can reach.
And then, I back away, slowly.
The Holy Sepulcher is a Frankenstein’s monster of a building.
There is no unity in the architecture and it echoes with the literal discord of competing cantors.
An unrealistic number of lanterns hang from the dark ceiling, clearly there for some spiritual purpose, because they are not doing a good job of illuminating anything.
I touch the rock and I feel the weight of centuries of prayer and the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims no so very different from myself.
The rock that three rebels died on.
Larger-then-life candles mark the entrance to the tomb, jealously guarded this morning by the greek orthodox bishop.
Inside, gilded gold and silver icons would have you believe the holy family were knights.
Ignoring the garish altar in front of me, I reach out instinctively for the rock wall beside me – to ask it to reveal its mysteries.
What have you seen, ancient stone?
Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.
But I do not worship the rock, because I know
He is not here. He has risen.
Above: Allison’s favorite picture from the trip.