Sorry I’ve not been in correspondence lately, I’ve been a bit distracted with being out of the country and then readjusting to being home. My intention in writing today is to not only get me back into the swing of writing again, but also to tell you about a few of my adventures overseas.
I know that you will probably be expecting me to tell you all the fascinating things that happened to me in Israel, but I doubt very much that I will write such a long post. So forgive me, but I think I’ll focus on only the major highlights of my trip. And even this I’ve decided after writing for a bit will be done in parts.
OK. First, before I even start, I’d like to give a quick shout out to my parents for helping me go on this adventure. What a huge blessing. Also, I’d like to thank Professor Mike Pytlik and Dr. Stamps for the opportunity to join them on OakDig 2011. All the work, sweat and tears they put into this trip was worth it in my opinion, and I loved every second of it. Thank you all so much!
My highlights of this trip will be organized as follows:
- My favorite place we went (pt 1)
- My favorite people I met (pt 2)
- My favorite times with my group (pt 3)
- My favorite part of the dig (pt 4)
- What I learned from all this (pt 5)
My favorite Place I Went:
all three of our weekends were full of interesting things to do, and beautiful things to see. However, as people ask me my favorite place when I speak to them, I have one place in particular that stands out above the rest. The Garden of Gethsemane (here after named as The Garden). If I look back at the day I went it’s easy to see why it was my favorite place. In the morning our entire group headed to the Church of the Holy Sepulichre (considered to be the place where Jesus was hung on a cross, buried and rose again) (and here after name as CHS). I was expecting to enjoy the experience immensely, I mean come on, it’s the place where Jesus died and was buried man!
However, when I entered the most holy church the feeling was…less than holy. When you first walk in there is this pink, flat slab of marble on the ground. Someone leaned over to me and told me it’s supposed to be the place where Jesus was laid in preparations for his burial once he was dead. People were walking up to it, kneeling (because it was almost at floor level) and putting their things that they bought or relics from home on it. Apparently this is supposed to give the things some type of blessing. Although I didn’t really see the point, I went up and knelt down, touched the stone and prayed. I belive my prayer went something like “Hi again. Um, so this is the stone where you laid. I suppose I should re-pray for my family, give them a blessing, let them know that I love them while I’m away. Amen.” Epic prayer right? No not really. But what do you pray about at the stone where Jesus laid. Especially when you don’t think the thing has any powers of blessing at all, it’s just a stone.
Now please understand, I’m not trying to talk down the Sepulchre here, I’m giving you my impressions of the place. I’m sure that there are plenty of people who have had epic experiences there…I wasn’t one of them is all.
From the stone we headed upstairs to the place considered Golgotha, which didn’t look like anything but a big rock under the floor with this epic altar built on top of it. Well, not wanting to miss out on any experience I stood in line waiting for my turn to step up to the altar and say a prayer. I’m thinking I stood there with Danielle (my roommate and friend) for a good 10 to 15 minutes waiting, you see, it’s a one-at-a-time kind of thing. We made it finally, and I let her go first. My turn now. So when you get to the altar you have to kneel down to get under it (lots of kneeling these people), and there is a little hole in this piece of glass, and in this hole I assume must have been where the cross stood on the stone. Because it looked to me like a hole in a stone. Once again, not wanting to miss out, I prayed.
“God…you’re not here are you? This may have been the place where Jesus was killed, but Jesus rose from the dead and is alive. You’re not here are you? Hm…”
I know, I kick hinny at prayers. But in all honesty, I really didn’t know what to say, I knelt there and looked at this hole and just felt that all of this is was rigamarow…it was all religion, God wasn’t there. Mainly because God dwells in the ‘hearts’ of his believers and not in a church. But it seemed like everyone there was looking for God in that place…but they weren’t going to find him there. At least I didn’t.
We went through the rest of the Church, it’s huge man, like 3 stories. Fun fact: the church is owned by four different denominations and each one is extremely Orthodox. So apparently, all changes or repairs to the CHS have to be agreed upon by all four parties. And in most things, they don’t agree. So there are parts of the church that are in serious disrepair because the stupid parties can’t agree on the way it should be fixed. Not really a fun fact…more of a sad fact.
Some other things that left a bad taste in my mouth was the decorations. think, Greek Orthodox shiny fanciness mixed with intense Roman Catholic paintings, mixed with Medieval architecture. The place just bombarded you with stuff EVERYWHERE! you couldn’t get away from it really. I suppose one of the good things about it was that you didn’t have to pay to get in. there are some places, not a lot, but some that you have to pay money to see historic things. That’s stupid. But none the less, people try to make money and they know how to get it.
ANYWAY! I needed to tell you my experience with the CHS because it shows why I enjoyed the Garden of Gethsemane so much more.
So, this is one of my favorite places I went. Mainly, as I said because it was in comparison to the CHS. This place is across the Kidron Valley, which is outside of the ‘City of David’ and the ‘Old City’. So for orientation purposes, if you’re standing with your back to the Eastern wall of the Temple Mount, you’d be looking at this building, along with the Mount of Olives.OK. So after the CHS, and after unknowingly walking the Via Dolorosa (backwards) a few of us broke off from the group and headed for a food tour of Jerusalem led by Hagi. Hagi had been the one who told me that I would probably like The Garden. You see, as we were leaving the CHS Hagi asked me how I liked it. I gave my honest opinion of the place and then he suggested on our little tour we make a detour at The Garden. So this was one of the first places we went after we broke off from the group.We arrived a little early, The Garden doesn’t open until 2pm, why? I don’t know. But none the less, we got to chill on the street for about 10 to 15 minutes before entering (this is a completely pointless fact, but I added it to make you feel like you were there with me). Anyway, once the doors opened we walked inside with the small crowd that had gathered, and we looked around the garden for a bit. Below is a picture from a distance, you can see the Garden is on the left and the church on the right:
So, as you should be able to tell there are some trees and things, but overall the Garden is pretty small. You’re not allowed to go into it, only look from behind the fence. One interesting thing that Hagi told us was that the trees that are currently in the garden are olive trees. Now, the interesting thing about them is that once they get to be over 100 years or so old they begin decomposing from the inside out. so some of the trees in the garden were in fact hollow. I of course didn’t get a picture of this, but thanks to Google Images I can still show you.
As you should be able to see the tree looks like it’s a bunch of small trees fused together with a hollow center. It’s not though, it’s one huge ancient tree that is hollow in the center because it’s decomposed from the inside out. So, The Garden had several of these trees. Hagi said that it’s hard for them to date the trees after a certain period of time, because unlike other trees where you can count the growth rings, these trees are hollow. So we know that they are over 100 years old, but there is no way of knowing if they date back to the time of Christ.
After we spent a few minutes out in the garden area we then walked into the church. Everyone had come for me, so no one else really entered with me, they just hung back at the entrance or in the doorway maybe around the edges of the church. When you enter the church one of the first things you notice is the darkness of the place. There was hardly any light other than the front of the church which illuminated the stone that Jesus was supposed to have thrown him self down on to pray and also the light that streams in from the purple stain glass windows, and even that is a faded light.
As I walked into the church I could feel the silence around me. There were no more than 15 people in the church, most of which were praying. I walked up the right side of the church, looking at the awesome purple cross stain glass windows, and then arrived at the front of the church. I knelt down at the kneelers which surround the stone at the front of the church. One of my favorite things about this place was when I went and kneeled down there were these funny things in picture frames. They were Bible passages of the record of Jesus being at the Garden, Matthew 26:36-46. Along all the kneelers these verses were spread out. I would say the were in about 9 different languages, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, English, Spanish, etc.
As I knelt and read I could see why Jesus would have come here. The people who keep up the church have done an excellent job making it a place where you feel comfortable praying and calling out to God. The silence all around you makes you reflect about where you are, and why you’re there. For the most part I prayed for my family, but I also prayed for everyone I was on the trip with. During my prayer I felt like I could understand a sliver of what Christ was going through when he prayed. There was passion behind my prayer, that doesn’t normally happen. I was praying with an earnest heart, I wanted to see the things I was praying for come to fruition so badly. After my prayer, I walked back to my group. Hagi asked how I liked the Church and I confirmed that this place was much more what I was looking for than the CHS.