A Note from the Rector – 2/17/19

In relation to my trip to the Holy Land, I have been thinking about the difference between pilgrimage and tourism.  It may seem like an overly precious distinction but I find it to be important.  Tourism isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  To visit, to observe, to experience difference, to stimulate the local economy, this is tourism.  As long as it is conducted respectfully, it can be a positive thing for both the tourists and the hosts.  Pilgrimage is different.  A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, a journey undertaken with the intent of finding God, or at least finding some spiritual meaning in the landscape or space to which you travel.  Often it is the journey itself where grace is found, and the pilgrim sees God in the face of their fellow travelers.  On even the most interactive tour, tourism is still about observation in the end.  Tourists, no matter how savvy, are outsiders looking in.  In contrast, pilgrimage is about participation of the body, mind, and soul.  In order to be a pilgrim you must be able to recognize and experience your spiritual home, whether as a destination, or along the journey itself.  Pilgrimage is about finding that home even in an unfamiliar place surrounded by unfamiliar people.  It can be a fleeting thing, but pilgrimage is a journey home.  Paradoxically, you have to leave your home in order to find home, sometimes.  But, even as pilgrimage implies movement (and even as movement or travel does not guarantee pilgrimage), pilgrimage is first and foremost a movement of the heart.  Two people standing next to each other in the same place: one is a pilgrim and the other a tourist, and the only difference is an open heart.

I was not a pilgrim for the entire duration of my trip.  Sometimes I was a big, goofy tourist.  Ask Deborah about my legendary shopping trip in the Christian quarter of Jerusalem.  Other times I truly found a spiritual home.  There were places where I connected with God on many different levels of history, culture, liturgy, architecture, and mystery.  I already wrote to you a little about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  That was certainly one of those places where I found home.  Another spiritual home I found was Christ Church in Nazareth.  Of all the dozens of churches we visited, Christ Church was home in a special way.  It was a simple parish church in the Anglican Communion, not unlike our own parish church.  Most of the liturgy was in Arabic, the language of the local congregation.  But, I knew the liturgy because it was more or less our liturgy.  The beauty of our shared prayer book heritage as Anglicans was evident.  We even sang the same hymns, some of us in Arabic, some of us in English.  Not all of our voices were tuned, but it sounded like a choir of angels.  It sounded like heaven will sound, when as Scripture tells us, people of every tribe, and nation, and language will gather around the throne of God and sing praises to our Creator.  After the Eucharist at Christ Church Nazareth we shared coffee hour because even in Israel, Anglicans/Episcopalians are going to do what we do best.  It truly was home, even as this place, Church of the Holy Apostles, is truly home.  We are united in prayer and purpose with our sisters and brothers in Nazareth, and in Nablus, and in Ramallah, and Cairo, and Moscow, and New Delhi, and Belgrade, and Mobile, Alabama.  Whether we like it or not, or even know it or not, we are united with all Christians in all times and places.  We may not agree on everything; we probably don’t even like each other sometimes.  Yet, we share a spiritual home, and a spiritual purpose—to glorify God and to make God’s glory, and love, and justice known in God’s world.  Of course, the spiritual unity of Christianity aside, Episcopalians (and Anglicans around the world) have the best coffee hour, hands down.

Holy Land Update 2/2/19

Dear Holy Apostles,

I have found it more difficult than I expected to write long updates about the pilgrimage I am on in the Holy Land.  Our local guide, Iyad, keeps us very busy, and every evening we have had that exhausted but happy feeling.  If you use Facebook, you will see a lot of pictures and brief updates on my page.

I am writing to you from Nazareth in Galilee, the town where Jesus grew up.  We are staying very close to the Roman Catholic Basilica of the Annunciation, which is built over a cave that from very early on was revered as the home of Mary, and the place where the angel Gabriel visited her to announce that she would conceive a son who was to be named Jesus.  Nazareth used to be a small village of several hundred people, today there are over 100,000 people here.  It has one of the largest Christian populations in Israel, about 30% of the population are Arab Christians.  The rest are Muslim and Jews.  It is a wonderful place.  As Jerusalem is to New York: huge, chaotic, cosmopolitian; Nazareth is to Philadelphia, still a significant and fascinating city full of history, but a bit more laid back.  That’s my sense of the place, anyway.

We came to Galilee, the northern section of Israel, yesterday.  Before that we were staying in East Jerusalem, near the old city at the Anglican Cathedral guest house.  Jerusalem is an overwhelming and intoxicating place.  There is a so much bustle, so many people, so many street vendors selling everything under the sun.  In the old city there are holy sites and interesting historical sites literally at every turn.  Layer upon layer of history is built up here, and it is a fascinating, beautiful place. One day last week we visited the Western Wall, the holiest place in Judaism.  I wrote the prayers you sent with me and more on a sheet of my journal and crammed with thousands more prayers into the cracks of that wall, which is part of a giant retaining wall that Herod the Great built around the Temple mount.  On the temple mount itself (a place Jews are forbidden by Israeli law to go) is the Dome of the Rock, the second holiest site of Islam.  As a Christian, I am forbidden to pray there.  The next day we went to the Holy Sepulchre which is the holiest site of Christianity.  There is Golgotha, the place of the skull where our Lord breathed his last.  Fifty yards away, housed in a church within a church, is a marble slab which covers what is left of the bench on which Christ’s body was placed after he was crucified to death.  It is almost certainly THE place.  Archeology proves that around AD 135, the Roman emperor Hadrian destroyed a first or second century structure and built a Roman temple on top of it.  He was trying to destroy the memory of every Jewish holy site, including the sites of any sect—like Christianity—that was associated with the Judaism.  When St. Helena, Constantine’s mom, arrived in Jerusalem in the early 4thcentury, local Christians (there have always been Christians in the Holy Land) had no trouble showing her the site.  She had the Roman temple removed, and used some of the pieces to build the first church of the Holy Sepulchre.  This church was destroyed when the Persians conquered Jerusalem in the 7thcentury, and rebuilt by the Crusaders in the eleventh century.  Recent archeology has discovered that Christians in the second and third century built a tunnel underneath the Roman temple to get as close as they could to the site that has always been known to be the place Jesus was raised from the dead.  The current church is a cacophony of architectural eras, as new churches, and even renovations and additions were added while salvaging parts of the old.  Six different Christian denominations share the space.  I kissed the spot where Jesus’ cross stood atop Golgotha, and I laid my head on the marble stab of his tomb.  I can’t describe how moving and faith affirming it was.  Deb and I returned to the church the following morning when it opened (at 4AM!) and witnessed several beautiful services.  Thousands upon thousands visit the church everyday, people from all over, speaking dozens of languages—tourists and pilgrims alike.  It may seem off-puting that the holiest site of our religion is so chaotic.  But, even being jostled in the crowds, it was so moving.  Every language, tribe, nation and tongue coming there, in order to fall at the foot of the cross.

I have so much more to tell you and show you.  The people are so hospitable here, the food has been excellent, and the coffee is almost worth a 10 hour airplane ride for.  So far, this has been an incredible, transformative journey for me and Deb.  I do miss you, and love you.  Sunday we will worship with our Anglican sisters and brothers in Nazareth whose liturgy in English and Arabic is very similar to ours.  Seven hours apart, our prayers will join each other as we give thanks to God together.  Know that you are in my prayers constantly as we visit these holy sites.

 

A Note from the Rector for 1/20/2019

As many of you know, Deb and I will soon be going on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The trip is organized by the diocese of Pennsylvania and our bishop will lead the pilgrimage.  For most of the time, we will stay at St. George’s College, which is part of St. George’s Cathedral, the seat of the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem.  The itinerary for the trip is a bit overwhelming.  Highlights include visits to places that chart Jesus’ entire life from Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity, to Nazareth where we will tour an archeological site that may have been Jesus’ childhood home, to the Sea of Galilee where He called his disciples, to the well where He spoke to the Samaritan woman, to the temple mount where He taught, to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, to the Via Delarosa, the path on which He carried the cross, to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre which encompasses both the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and the tomb where He was raised from the dead.  We will celebrate Holy Eucharist in the Judean desert, visit Jericho and the Dead Sea.  We will meet with the Most Reverend Suheil Duwani, the Anglican archbishop of Jerusalem, pray with Armenian Orthodox Christians at the Armenian Cathedral of St. James,  and hear talks by Christians, Muslims, and Jews about a number of historical and contemporary issues.

You can be assured that I will tell you all about this trip in various ways.  I am going to be jabbering on about this for a while!  As internet access allows, I intend to post updates of the pilgrimage on the church’s website, as well as probably on my personal Facebook page.  And I am planning to have a presentation about the trip on February 21st at Holy Apostles.  But there is much more to this trip than just information.  I will be bringing the prayers of/with/for this parish and all of its members with me to the Holy Land.  Deb and I will be praying for you all by name at the holiest places in the world.  In case you would like us to carry a specific prayer intention with us, there will be slips of paper and a large manila envelope on the table in the office hallway.  Those requests will be carried with us throughout the pilgrimage as a tangible reminder of the fact that we carry you all with us in our hearts and minds.

I am very grateful to the vestry and all of you for allowing me the opportunity to go on this pilgrimage.  At my request, Nancy Haas has agreed to continue in her role as Senior Warden until I return, and I am very thankful for her.  I am also thankful to members of the property committee who will be keeping an eye on the rectory.  And, I am grateful to the Rev. Doris Rajagopal, the Rev. Ken Wissler, and others who will cover the liturgical and pastoral needs of the parish in my absence.

James+