I recently returned from two weeks in the Holy Land. This was actually the first time I’ve ever been on a major, dedicated pilgrimage with an Ananda group, and it was glorious. I’m not going to even try to touch on everything here, but I’ll at least aim for all the highlights (which, honestly, is still most of it). For photos, I’m going to piggyback on sharing Karen’s album, which is larger and better curated than my still-unsorted pile of photos.
But first, a word about rocks.
Church of the Holy Sepulchre
I’m starting this post here because this is where I started my first morning in Israel, pre-dawn, on no sleep. And it’s also the place that felt the most like my spiritual home base for the entire trip. Every morning that we were in Jerusalem I would get up, usually around 4am, make the 20-minute walk over, and spend an hour or two meditating there.
It was hard to actually get in to the tomb itself, due to masses in the early mornings and crowds in the afternoons, but I did manage a few times. My other favorite places were the hole that the cross stood in, and the Chapel of the Apparition. The latter has a portion of the column Jesus was tied to when he was scourged, and which you can also touch. It sounds macabre, but this was also a beautiful spot to meditate.
Harpa Dei was in there each morning singing, and it was an absolutely exquisite experience to listen to them.
On two separate mornings we walked the Stations of the Cross, which of course leads up to and has its final stations in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The first time we did it, it was early and dark and rainy, which was really just perfect, because you can really be in a different reality then, compared to the hustle and bustle of the daytime. I’ve never “done” the stations elsewhere, as many people have, but it was still stunning to realize that these are actually THE stations. Station V includes a rock, supposedly with Jesus’ handprint in it from when he fell. It’s now worn beyond any recognition as an actual handprint, but the feeling of it is strong enough to be true.
Church of the Pater Noster
Bethlehem is also very close to Jerusalem, but feels farther away, since it’s in the Palestinian territory. Our fantastic Israeli guide Rami couldn’t actually come with us because of this, so we went on Shabbat when he wouldn’t be working anyway.
After that we went to Shepherds’ Field, which surprised me because I’d had no idea that there was a specific, known field we could actually visit. It’s a park now, and there’s a church on it, of course, and some caves where the shepherds would sleep at night. And most dramatically, you can turn around from the top of the hill and see the Church of the Nativity on its own hilltop across the way, and realize that that was exactly where the angel pointed them on that very night. Wow.
We also made friends there with a big group of Nigerian pilgrims who liked our singing, and we ended up singing a bunch of Christmas carols together and having a fun time.
The Western Wall
It seems a little ironic given that this was a Christian-focused pilgrimage, and a little silly in its obviousness, but I just loved how Jewish Israel is. I love that everything shuts down on Shabbat so that people can actually observe and celebrate it. I love seeing the ultra-orthodox in their garb that just proclaims their religious dedication, like seeing brahmacharis and nayaswamis around Ananda. As David G put it, for the Jews, this is their Ananda, their spiritual home and family, and for all the difficulties and conflicts and politics, it’s still beautiful.
Further posts to come, as I manage to get them written....