St. Mark’s held a meeting with their church to share their stories from Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Below are the notes from Josie Jordan’s presentation…

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I experienced hope during our homestay with a Palestinian family in Burqin nestled in the northern region of the West Bank. Burqin is a small town of 6,000 people in the West Bank, see photo above on left. It is blessed with fertile land and is the source of the fair trade olive oil sold at St. Mark’s each fall. Bill and I stayed with the Abbas family in the outskirts of Burqin. The picture on the right is what we saw outside our bedroom window.

The heart of what I want to share with you is the loving, generous, and industrious, nature of this family. Despite living under occupation, they are creating a good life.

unnamed-2unnamed-3Using the following two pictures, I want to introduce this wonderful family. Rimah, in brown headscarf, is the warm, energetic, and loving mom of four daughters, three sons, and two grandchildren. She married at 17 and is now 44. She works the garden, tends the grape arbor, cultivates the olive trees, and runs a budding homestay business. She made us feel welcomed and cherished from her first smile and embrace.

Her husband Amin, in the photo on the right is 53. He arrived home several hours into our visit, after driving a large tour bus, which the family owns, for the previous 12 hours. For those of you who have been on this trip, Amin is like our Moustafa! When Amin arrived, we all clamored on the HUGE bus and he gave us a tour of TINY Burqin.

Malak, in the black headscarf, graduated from Nablus University. Her English is the best in the family and she was adept at using Google translate when we got stuck. She exudes sweetness and calm. She is married…to a security guard for Mahmoud Abbas and she spends the weekends with her family when he is on duty in Ramallah.

Sima, in the blue headscarf, is a senior in high school. She loves sports and encouraged me to activate my facebook account and friend her. I am now “friends” with the whole family.

Wa’d, in the red headscarf, is currently in university and is the quiet one. Yet, over the course of the evening she too giggled with us as we pantomimed our way through conversations.

And Achmed is the youngest, just nine. He is shy and totally beloved by his sisters!

Mohammed is not in this picture. He is 13 and was reserved at first.

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The picture above with the three generations…father, son, and granddaughter…is one of my favorites. It shows the abiding love and sweet playfulness that we witnessed all evening and into the next morning among the family members.

Misasma, in the photo to the left, is the oldest and graduated from Nablus University. She has two children, Bisan (4) and Nisma (1) and lives close by with her husband.

 

unnamed-5After several hours of drinking coffee, and then mint tea, and having a bus tour, we were all feeling more relaxed. The picture to the right captures us feeling much more at ease. Mohammed, the reserved 13 year old, with a red flower in his mouth. The person taking the selfie is Layeth, who grew up next door to the Abbas family. Layeth was an angel for us because he spent a year studying at NYU. His English is excellent and allowed us to have deeper conversations.

Later that night we had a fabulous meal with all of the ingredients coming from the garden.   Bill and I fell into bed exhausted, but so full of this family’s generosity of spirit. When we awoke…it was the morning of September 11th.

The difference between the face of Palestine I experienced, and the face of Palestine I see on the news, chastens me. Somehow, Israelis and Americans must be exposed to the face of Palestine we saw through our stay with the Abbas family. There are Palestinians who are creating life-giving hope in the midst of this occupation. Perhaps my role is to see that hope, unseen by so many, and to share it with others.

This blog post comes from traveler Susan Goodwillie Stedman (former St. Mark’s Parishioner who joined us from Maine for the 2015 Pilgrimage in Israel/Palestine/Jordan. Her late husband, Bruce Stedman, had been an assistant to Count Bernadotte, the UN Negotiator in Jerusalem in 1947-48 and who was assassinated by the Israeli Stern Gang). She emailed the following to friends and family during her trip…

I write to you from the shore of the Dead Sea, not far from Amman, Jordan, where Bruce tried hard to create a way toward peace after the creation of Israel, in the heart of Palestine, in 1948.

As you will see below, he’d be even more heartsick now than he was when he was alive, as the situation here has worsened.  I’m grateful to have been able to be part of an amazing journey through Israel and the Occupied West Bank, inspired and led by dear friends who lived and worked there years ago.  They, too, loved Bruce and took me to the very spot where he drove in the jeep behind Count Bernadotte (his boss) when CB was shot by Israeli extremists.

Besides Tom and Karen, we’ve had two marvelous local guides, an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian Christian who are good friends–a rare, lovely experience.  We’ve also heard from many other voices on all sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide who’ve collectively left us sad, hopeful, confused, despairing, and inspired.

I have taken a zillion photos, many of them, it seems, of walls, which is fitting as The Wall that Israel has constructed to protect itself from the West Bank casts huge shadows over everyone on either side.

Here it is from the Israeli side –

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Here it is, after we walked through the check point Palestinians have to endure out and back each day, from the other side, in occupied Bethlehem –

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We walked along many miles of artful resistance, but this was one of my favorite panels…

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We’ve done our bit, having hummus at every meal!

In contrast, we found most beautiful walls at the Pater Noster church in Jerusalem, where the Lords Prayer is written in more than 200 languages…if only the world could come together as it is on those walls!  Here it is, in Ojibwa!

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Enough concrete!  I also had several lovely encounters with Palestinian families who are friends of a friend in Maine…here’s one evening, with Nasser and his family in Bethlehem…

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There’s much more, of course….. but I’m happy to return to the tranquility of Maine to sort out all that I’ve seen, heard, tasted, been delighted and saddened by through the stories and people I have met.

St. Mark’s held a meeting with their church to share their stories from Israel, Palestine and Jordan. Below are notes from Marjorie Coombs Wellman’s presentation…

  • We saw numerous examples of artistic pursuits on the trip, even where it seemed most bleak
    • but all reflected the basic humanity and human dignity of the people who created them
    •  some were works of individuals, some of group
    • so some were humorous or satirical, others angry or depicted destruction and death
    • some were social commentary, some were outlets for emotion or therapy
    • some depicted what was, others showed a vision of the future
    • some were actively working to build bridges across the divide
  • But all reflected the basic humanity and human dignity of the people who created them
    • together they gave me at least a kernel of hope that theirs won’t always be as bleak a life as it is now

 

Artwork on the Wall

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Make Hummus, Not Walls

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With Love and Kisses

Christmas Tree surrounded by the Wall

Christmas Tree surrounded by the Wall (this was just outside Bethlehem)

Aerial view of Jerusalem in a future where peace comes and the Wall comes down

Aerial view of Jerusalem in a future where peace comes and the Wall comes down

Kids being kids at the school for Syrian Refugees

Enjoying the same children’s books as American kids (“Goodnight, Moon")

Enjoying the same children’s books as American kids (“Goodnight, Moon”)

Drawings: some have messages of support and hope, some depict what some of these kids have seen and experienced.

Drawings: some have messages of support and hope, some depict what some of these kids have seen and experienced.

Freedom Theatre, Jenin

Founded in the refugee camp in Jenin for teenagers. It promotes Resistance through Art and provides venue for self-expression and an emotional outlet.

Founded in the refugee camp in Jenin for teenagers. It promotes Resistance through Art and provides venue for self-expression and an emotional outlet.

I was struck by teenaged boy we saw in a video (not an exact quote) – “Before the theatre the only thing I wanted was to become a martyr. But now that I have the theatre, I want to live a normal life and die a normal death”

Music and Dance

Wast Al Tarik (Middle of the Way) band; both Israeli and Palestinian musicians

Wast Al Tarik (Middle of the Way) band; both Israeli and Palestinian musicians

Today’s blog post comes from traveler Stephanie Deutsch and photographs by traveler David Deutsch…

A pilgrimage such as ours is full of surprises. I knew we would go to the Temple Mount, the most famous site in Jerusalem but I didn’t know exactly how much we would be able to visit there. I had surprises on two different days.
Thanks to careful planning, we emerged from a security tunnel into brilliant, mid-afternoon sunshine onto the plaza around El-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock to find ourselves almost alone there. The two buildings are very different – El-Aqsa austere and dark, elegant against the sky, and the Dome of the Rock – an explosion of gold and blue. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It is simply one of the most amazing human-made things I have ever seen.   Our guides were hurrying us along as we contemplated it.

DSC01211Then, off to the side, another surprise that David managed to capture in this picture: Two small mosques, with two women hurrying across the square, a moment not of grandeur but of everyday busyness. A surprise!

DSC01423At the Western Wall I expected to be moved but I didn’t expect to hear both church bells and the sound of the shofar as I walked to the wall on the women’s side. I looked around for a place and as someone backed away, I stepped forward.  On each side of me, a woman was quietly weeping. I couldn’t find the prayer I had written on a piece of paper but I put my hand on the wall and bowed my head, praying the 23rd Psalm. And then I was weeping too.

DSC01523And the final surprise of the day? We ended our Compline service in the chapel at St. George’s cathedral with a hymn that seemed just right – Lift Every Voice and Sing, the African American national anthem. It’s a challenging one to sing but there in the chapel sixteen weary pilgrims sounded just right.

Today’s blog post comes from traveler David Willson.

Today we learned about the challenges and issues presented by Israeli settlements in Palestinian communities in East Jerusalem.

Sania from Silwan
Sania from Silwan

We heard from Sania, a resident of the ancient village of Silwan, a Palestinian community. She spoke about the struggle of families who try to maintain their residences as many ideological Israeli settlers move into their neighborhood.

A young representative of ICHAD (Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition), Sharon Casper, took us on an impassioned informational bus tour of many of the new Jerusalem “settlements” and explained the implications of these new communities.

Sharon from ICHAD
Sharon from ICHAD

We visited the Western Wall to leave our prayers and then had box lunches in the courtyard of King David’s tomb.

As our day wasn’t quite full enough, later this afternoon at the hotel, we heard a very moving presentation by Salwa Douaibis from the Women’s Centre for Legal Aid and Counseling (WCLAC) and Gerard Horton, a lawyer on the board of Military Court Watch. They are both working to document and bring to public attention the appalling issue of Israeli military arrest and detention of young Palestinian boys (classified as children if they are between the ages of 12 – 17). Salwa works with the families of these traumatized boys and sees the effects on their lives and in their communities.

Meeting with the Bishop
Meeting with the Bishop

This evening we met with Archbishop Suheil Dawani of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and presented him with a check from the Maundy Thursday offering from St Marks for the outreach work of the Diocese of Jerusalem.  This was followed by a lovely dinner in the garden of St George’s Guest House.

 

Today’s blog post comes from David Deutsch…

Stephanie and I visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre while on the St. Mark’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Needless to say the place was jumping: the overwhelming visual impression of many Christians of different faiths solemnly partaking in the spiritual atmosphere of [one of] the most important places in Christendom, the smells of incense and anointing oils. Yet I did not feel like a pilgrim. I felt like a tourist. It felt like I had deliberately come to a place to sightsee. I had expected a bit of spiritual oomph. Instead, I experienced a photo-op. I was a bit let down. Until in the late afternoon Stephanie and I disappeared through a small unmarked door.

I don’t know why we chose to go through that door. It was in the courtyard of the Church, and, in an Alice-in Wonderland moment, we decided to duck and enter. After going though 2 small chapels and up a few flights of extremely narrow stairs, we emerged on a large courtyard. We immediately experienced a calm quiet, a cool afternoon breeze, and lots of shade. We had stumbled into an ancient Ethiopian monastery. Of in the corner were several monks sitting under trees near an old fashion well.

DSC00954 - Version 2Stephanie and I spent an hour in that courtyard. It was as spiritually refreshing as a long gulp of cold water on a burning hot day. Something about the peace and quiet combined with the faithfulness of the monks gave the place a deeply spiritual quality. Yes, I did take pictures, but not because I simply wanted to document the place. I actually wanted to try and capture a bit of the spirituality of the nearly empty courtyard. The two pictures you see accompanying this blog are only details. But I feel that in some cases only details can capture the whole.

 
But here is the point. I learned a lesson based on reality about the meaning of being a pilgrim. It echoes the comments of the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, which Tom Getman read to us at the very start of our pilgrimage:

“Pilgrims do not bring decisions with them. They come to seek prayerfully the decisions God wants us to make. And God will always surprise us…and we who come here as pilgrims must be open to the spirit’s leading, open to God’s surprising revelation to us.”

I can only believe that it was God’s spirit that led us through the door, adjacent to the magnificent edifice that is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, into nooks and crannies and made us true pilgrims.

Today’s blog post comes from Karen Getman.

 

Blessed are those who find their strength in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage. (Psalm 84:5)

The most exasperating stranger I’ve had to walk with is myself. I go through life juggling my tourist pilgrim heart. There is a part of me that longs to be a pilgrim. I was born a seeker. I want to travel to all the holy places of the universe, including my own poor heart. I long to stand barefoot on holy ground. I long to stack up stones in memory of God’s visitation and pour oil over them as Jacob did of old. (Genesis 28:18-19) 

But alas my tourist mentality begins to take over and the lens of my eye is not enough. The memory of my heart is insufficient. My albums fill up with pictures just in case my heart forgets. My backpack turns into several suitcases as I begin to accumulate treasures from all these holy places. I begin to plan for new trips and regret all of the things I’ve missed.

I always remember that as I shamefully pass by the pilgrims with my camera. The true pilgrim is the one who has no need to capture every piece of beauty. I’m always a bit envious as I see them sitting quietly receiving the beauty instead of trying to capture it. They pray with the lens of their eyes and their hearts. They are able to gaze upon, to reverence and adore. They serve as wondrous models for those of us who find it easier to possess or to collect.

I believe there is a hidden pilgrim in every tourist. I constantly juggle these two seekers in my life. On some days the tourist wins out. But there are many times when the pilgrim in me feels at home. Maybe I have to settle for being a tourist pilgrim.

 

IMG_2729Today, Tuesday, September 1, 2015, we met our guides and received our detailed itinerary. Just as the children of Israel and Palestine began a new term in their schools, we “pilgrims” experienced our “first day” walking the ramparts of Jerusalem and surveying the real life from the rooftops. We are sojourners…. strangers in a strange land and as we each shared first impressions of the Holy Land, we have already begun to discover how different expectations are from realities. We are facing our own presumptions as well as observations of the spirit and the heart. Now the journey begins.

 

August 23, 2015 We invited the St. Mark’s community, our families and friends, to travel with us to the Holy Land. Our trip officially begins September 1 in Jerusalem, but we have been preparing for over a year with readings, films and speakers.

We have committed to listen to those living in the Holy Land – Christians, Jews, and Muslims – and to be willing to follow truth wherever we find it, even if it takes us outside our preconceived ideas of God and this decades long conflict.

We look forward to sharing our experiences of faith and understanding with you, our beloved communities.

 

PILGRIM’S BLESSING

Last Sunday morning we bid God’s blessing on all the travellers as they prepare to journey together in the Holy Land.

 

Anne Alden

Susan Clampitt

Marty and Mary DeNys

David and Stephanie Deutsch

Peter Eveleth

Penny Farley

Karen and Tom Getman

Susana Gomez

Bill and Josie Jordan

Marcia Knutson

Frank Lloyd

Margaret and Stephen McLaughlin

Wendy Puriefoy

Susan Goodwillie Stedman

Susan Thompson

David Trissell

Pauline Trissell

Janet Vail

Margaret Ware

David and Marjorie Wellman

David and Gretchen Willson

David Witter

 

A BLESSING OF THE HOLY LAND PILGRIMS

Presider: This morning, we ask God’s blessing on these “pilgrims” as they prepare for their journey to the Holy Land.

To the pilgrims gathered: We pray that you will be spiritually nourished as you travel to the holy places shared by Christians, Jews, and Muslims.

Pilgrims: We will with God’s help.

Presider: Recognizing the tension and conflict you will encounter, we pray you will minister to one another and those you meet with patience, kindness, and compassion.

Pilgrims: We will with God’s help.

Presider: We pray that you will gain new perspectives on the search for a just and lasting peace for Palestinians and Israelis alike.

Pilgrims: We will with God’s help.

Presider: When you return, we pray that you will share your experiences of faith and understanding, not only with the St. Mark’s community, but with the wider-world.

Pilgrims: We will with God’s help.

The people stand, as able.

Presider: To the community here gathered, will you keep these pilgrims in your daily thoughts and prayers while they are apart from you?

All: We will.

 Pilgrims: And we will keep all of you I our thoughts and prayers each day.

 

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The Pilgrimage will convene in Jerusalem on September 1 when we will meet our guides and one another at the St. George’s Hotel.

We will be posting our observations and reflections and we hope you will journey with us as “sojourners”.