Sunday, September 4, 2011

Hurrah for Israel!

I've made it to the Holy Land! The flights were uncomfortable, long, and I felt disgusting afterward, but none of that seemed to matter as we raced down the highway (literally raced... Israeli drivers are crazy) to the Center :) I cannot believe I'm finally here. The Center is so amazing, the pictures do not do it justice, at all. It truly is so beautiful and well-crafted. Best of all, the rooms all have porches that overlook the old city, with a perfect view of the Dome of the Rock. I really can't say enough. I'm so thankful to be here. I'm surprised that I haven't gotten too emotional about everything yet... maybe it's just building up. But I really can't explain how grateful I am to be able to study here and live here FOR 4 MONTHS! Even today as we walked around, I felt like I had to just slow down and remind myself that I didn't have to rush. I have plenty of time to explore and see everything I want to and experience life as it really is. 

Today started with our little group's orientation walk around the city of Jerusalem. There were 12 of us who flew in yesterday, so that's the group that went on the walk today. It was about a 3 hour ordeal, and let me tell you, my feet were quite sore afterwards! Not only were we walking for 3 hours, but Jerusalem is very hilly. The Center is on the ridge of Mt. Scopus, right next to the Mount of Olives, then Jerusalem is beyond the Kidron Valley, set up on a hill (hence Temple Mount, etc). Literally, we walked mountains and valleys today. So exhausting by the end, but so worth it. By the way (MOM) it was probably a mistake to not break in my blue shoes... I now have a few blisters. Obviously it was orientation for mind, body, spirit, and clothing. I was just in a state of amazement as we walked around. I'm still shocked by how three, count them, three prominent religions are represented here and how they (try to) coexist with one another. It was so interesting to walk through the mostly Arabic East Jerusalem and the Muslim Quarter and see burkas, Arabic writing, mosques, then keep walking and see tons of Christian churches, including many Christian Pilgrim's "Holy of Holies," the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Then, keep going on to the Jewish Quarter and West Jerusalem, and you see the Hasidic Jews with their black coats and hair ringlets. I love it! 

After our official walk, we went back to the Center, ate lunch, then went back out! We all have lots of reading to do to prepare for class tomorrow, but I decided to not let that stop me from exploring, experiencing, and making friends! So, I went out. We decided to head back to the Church because we didn't get to explore it or anything during orientation, we just stepped inside for a few minutes. It is a beautiful building. Think of the Byzantine gold mosaics, huge domes, and tons of incense burners, and you've imagined less than half of it. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the traditional Christian site of the Crucifixion, entombment, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is the final stop of the Via Dolorosa, the road which, as traditional holds, it the road that Christ took on His way to be crucified, and along the way are little "stations" which commemorate instances along the path, like when Jesus dropped the cross and where he saw his mother Mary. I was surprised that the church was open to visitors today, it being Sunday. (FYI we have our Sabbath on Saturday here in order to coordinate with the rest of the city. However, some Christian Orthodox churches still celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday). Some of the other students thought it would be interesting to attend a mass there on a Sunday, just to see what it's like, so I might go with them if they do. The main shrines at the Church are the Stone of Unction in the entryway, Christ's tomb, and Golgotha. The Stone of Unction is just a commemorative stone that represents that slab that Christ's body was laid upon after the cross to prepare for burial with oils and wrapping. It is right in the entryway of the Church, place in front of a huge mosaic depicting the Deposition. It was so interesting to see how people reacted to the shrines. For example, there was one lady in a wheelchair, accompanied by about four other people. The wheelchair made her too high to reach over and tough the stone, which she was trying and trying to do with all that she had. The people around her though would touch the stone and then rub their hand over her legs, or her face, or her arms, like they believed that it would be healing for her. It was so interesting to see them manifest their faith in this stone, even one that was just a representation and wasn't actually used for Christ. Other scenes like this were common at the other stations as well. The tomb is said to have been the one used for Christ. Constantine found it, then had the mountain carved out around the opening se he could build a church around it. Because it is no longer in a mountain or stone environment and now enclosed in a shrine, it was a little hard to imagine it as it was when Christ would have been there. But, as shown before, everyone exhibits their faith a little bit differently, so Constantine felt he needed to dig out the cave and enshrine it. On the other side of the church is the traditional site of Golgotha where the crucifixion took place. This was inside the building as well, so again, a little hard to picture, but that's ok. There is an altar over the place where the cross stood, and an opening below where you can touch the rock. It was a very enlightening tour. One of the objectives of this study abroad is to learn to appreciate what others find holy. While I don't think I've ever been rude about what another person believes, today kind of widened my eyes. Even within Christianity, I need to try to see things as others might. While I don't feel the need to touch a particular site or rock or relic, I do understand the significance of these places and objects and I'm trying to see how the affirmation and confirmation of being able to physically see and touch something is very important to a lot of people. I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to be able to go and not only see the incredible sites of Christ's death and resurrection, but also how other people responded to it. 

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