Thursday, April 21, 2016

Jerusalem, my happy home!

Jerusalem, my happy home! / Name ever dear to me; / When shall my labors have an end, / In joy, and peace, and thee?

Some of you may know the hymn quoted above. It may sound presumptuous on the lips of folks like me - this is, after all, only the third time in my life I have been in this city. And yet these are the words on my lips, or at least on my heart, at 2:35 a.m local time.

The older I get, the more stressful I find travel to be - especially without Hathy along. She is much better on checklists and two heads are always better than one in trying to navigate airports and the rest. But beyond that, international travel gets more physically and emotionally challenging, I find: traveling across time zones, people speaking in foreign languages, wondering if the person who is supposed to meet you at the other end will be there? Maybe that's just me. People kept asking me as they heard about this trip: are you worried? They meant about violence and terrorism, of course. But to be honest, I was less worried about  headline stuff than about the stresses of travel - and would my laptop plug in and charge? 

All of that disappeared, however,when after a day of travel I returned to St. George's, on Nablus Road - a little slice of England located in East Jerusalem. Last time I was here, six years ago, I was at St. George's College Guesthouse. This time we're at the Cathedral Guesthouse. But it's all part of the same small campus. And it all feels quite wonderfully familiar. 

What's more, we were greeted by happy, familiar faces: brothers from the Society of St. John the Evangelist as well as three clergy colleagues from my diocese who are part of this pilgrimage.
We arrived at 6:30 pm - had a wonderful dinner together, did a few minutes of welcome and orientation, prayed compline, and went to bed. My head hit the pillow by 9 pm local time,which is why I now find myself wide awake three hours or so before I need to be. I really ought to try to sleep a bit longer, but my adrenaline has kicked in and I'm ready to go - ready to walk and see and smell and enjoy the rich holy complexity of this place. For now at least I'm satisfying that desire by writing.

It really does feel like coming home. Last night I sat at table with three persons for whom this is their first visit. They talked a bit about their hopes and expectations and then one of them asked me, what do you anticipate in this return visit? What didn't you see that you want to? Or something like that...  It was a great question, but my answer was that there is so much here. So rich, so complex. The holy sites hit different people in different ways. The politics makes your head spin, and even makes our mess at home look like a walk in the park. It's so intense a place and I'm more profoundly aware this time around that my holy places, while in close proximity to those of Jews and Muslims, are not the same holy places. We literally come to one, and many, Jerusalems. We can only take in so much.

And yet at some level it is home to all of us, at least in the Abrahamic traditions. I said to my friend last night I want to pay closer attention this time. I want to go deeper. I want to look without knowing what I'll see, and listen without anticipating a response. It feels really great to be home again. 

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