By: Brandon Dirks
Day 6 (Saturday): Bethlehem, Church of the Nativity, Shepherd’s Field, Mt. Of Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Church of Gethsemane
The tiny, inconspicuous sign on the door to the massive St. Catherine’s church is my prayer. If you go back and read my first blog on this trip, this sign perfectly (and certainly more eloquently) sums up my prayer and reason for this pilgrimage.
And my prayer was answered. Before I knew it.
I was asked to read Luke 2:1-7 and pray with our bus group en route to Bethlehem. I’ve read scripture before, but after being here…I don’t think I’ll ever read some passages the same. The Word is now three dimensional. “So Joseph went up from the town of Nazareth…(I’ve seen this town…this city; I’ve been there) in Galilee (I’ve touched the waters and eaten fish from that sea) to Bethlehem (I’ll be there in a few minutes!)…”where Mary gave birth to her firstborn, a son…” The birthplace of Jesus!
What is this salty discharge coming from around my eyes? Why do I feel hot? Why is my throat dry? I’m breaking up.
My prayer was MORE personal…less (and forgive me for this) polished pastor-speak. Something is different in my heart. I don’t like the way this is feeling…but I sort of do.
I run back to my seat staring at the floor hoping no one sees me. I open my journal and write these words…”As I read that Mary came from “Nazareth in Galilee” these words meant more to me b/c I’ve been there. It was real. It was real.” And I wept. Not cried. But wept. It IS real!
I thought that was the end of it.
After crossing the border into Palestinian controlled Bethlehem, we stop to shop at wonderful olive wood store run by Christians. I met Johnny there. He is one of the sales managers and we talked about the state of Christianity in Palestine. He says only 1-2% are Christian and they are getting smaller. He doesn’t feel persecuted, but he says he is ignored by his government and non-Christian neighbors. I asked if I could pray for him, and he asked me to pray for peace. Peace. We exchanged contact information, and promises to help his dwindling, but deeply faithful community. I pray for Johnny!
Arriving at the Church of the nativity, I am overwhelmed with its immensity. In fact, it is two churches fused–amazing how the Greek Orthodox of the Church of the Nativity shares the space with St. Catherine’s Catholic Church. (That’s a subject of a MUCH longer blog). Lining up to see the spot where they say Jesus was born, I am frustrated with the noise of the ongoing renovation, the pushy-ness of all the tourists, and the frantic sense of our surroundings. But then I step down under the altar, see the 14-pointed star, throw my backpack down, and kneel. I slowly reach my hand out and lay my hand on the spot. I grab the spot. Nothing.
I don’t know what I expected…an electric shock, fireworks, a voice from heaven. But I didn’t expect NOTHING. Then I stood up.
What is that salty discharge coming from my eyes?
I moved to the corner and turned away from the people, weeping. Breaking.
Later, I wrote this in my journal: “I don’t understand why. Even as I write these words, I can feel the emotions. I like it and yet I don’t. Is my heart breaking or …broken?”
Singing “Angels we have heard on high” overlooking the Shepherd’s field where the Angels appeared to the Shepherds have changed hymn singing forever. Tears will flow every Christmas because I’ve seen the hillside, and know exactly how far it is from the manger.
Mount of Olives gives an amazing view of the city of Jerusalem. As we walked from the Patre Nostre (our Father) church down the mount…I couldn’t help but take a glance at Jerusalem. No wonder Jesus wept over Jerusalem. In fact, the Dominus Flavius Flevit is a little chapel halfway down that is actually shaped like a tear And if you stand in the exact center of the chapel, the cross on the altar falls exactly on the Holy Sepulcher.
We continue to walk down the Mount of Olives, and I keep glancing at the walls of Jerusalem…they are getting closer…they are looming. I wonder if Jesus felt that way from the moment he set his face for Jerusalem. Somehow, I feel like I am on the same path.
Then the Garden…where Jesus prayed in agony, where Jesus was betrayed, and where Jesus was arrested. It was this story that was a turning point in my faith some 30 years ago. But now, it is a stone’s throw from the walls of Jerusalem…to something more.