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Published: September 8th 2017
Alas, it was my final day in Jerusalem. I could easily spend so much longer here as it was fast becoming my favorite city. I would finally be able to go up onto the Temple Mount itself. I had mentioned that this was my plan at dinner the previous night. The French girl, whose stay in Jerusalem overlapped exactly with mine, asked if she could come along. We made plans to meet at breakfast and then walk over. It would have to be early. As non-Muslims we had only a narrow window to visit, 7:30am-10am. Getting there early we wouldn’t have to worry too much about line length and would have more time to explore.
We walked down the narrow lanes of the Old City where locals were setting up for the morning’s business. There are many gates to get up onto the Temple Mount, but again as non-Muslims we were limited to one, the Mughrabi Gate. The gate itself is right next to the Western Wall so as I climbed up I was able to get a good view of the prayerful below.
Even though we had just passed through a metal to get onto the Western Wall
plaza we had to pass through yet another metal detector to be allowed up onto the Temple Mount. This is because while the first metal detectors are controlled by the Israelis, the Temple Mount metal detectors were controlled by Waqf, the Muslim authorities. There are no metal detectors for Muslim visitors just non-Muslims.
However, because of all the security and the special limited viewing windows it felt like a special accomplishment. A thrill of excitement crept up inside me as I finally made my first strides up on to the mount itself. I waved off a guide who was trying to offer his services, I wanted some time and silence to soak the place in.
The French girl had brought a very professional looking camera with her and busied herself taking pictures from all angles. I took my leave to wander around and discover the place on my own. It was fun to be doing some sightseeing with someone for a change, but also nice to still be able to go off and do my own thing at the same time.
The light up there was so bright and yet soft at the same time. It definitely
feels like one of those thin places where Heaven and Earth are that much closer to one another. Up close the golden Dome of the Rock was of course even more magnificent and intricate. Unfortunately, not being Muslim I was not allowed inside the shrine.
Although, there was one instance where the guy standing outside the door left on an errand. The door was so enticingly unguarded. For one moment, I thought about just walking nonchalantly over and ducking inside for a peek. It would have been SO easy. However, not wanting to get all us pilgrims thrown off the Mount and quite possibly starting the next intifada, I wisely stayed put.
After meeting up with the French girl to take pictures of each other in front of the Dome I descended to the lower level of the mount to look at the Al Aqsa Mosque from the outside and wander around the olive groves on my own. As I did so the wind seemed to be whispering to me and I sensed a quiet spiritual energy.
Eventually, I met up with the French girl once again and we descended back down to the old city together.
She was off on some appointed rounds and I was eager to get back for a mid-morning rest before a final round of sightseeing. So we said goodbye and I headed back to the pilgrim house. On my way, I stopped by a food stand where I purchased some balls of falafel, hot and fresh served directly from the cooking oil. They were so good! I felt like a local as I meandered on my way.
After a delicious rest, it was back on the sightseeing trail. I had not been in West Jerusalem and I was eager to see it. I also wanted to learn how to use the tram, which I was going to use to get to the bus station the next day. It was funny, just as I was about to try my luck and buy a tram ticket from the machine a Russian couple asked me if I could help them. So here I was helping a couple of tourists to buy a tram ticket without ever having done so before myself.
My destination was Yad Vashem, the official Israeli museum and memorial for the victims of the holocaust. It was quite sobering
and intensive. I felt like I was stepping outside my Christian pilgrim bubble that I was so intensely into. It was a slightly bizarre feeling, but when the cashier at the museum’s cafeteria wished me a long happy life I felt like I was indeed the right place.
The museum itself is in a wonderful forested area of Jerusalem. On my way back I heard and saw a lone Hebrew flutist playing an enchanting tune that echoed off into the hills. There was a real power of place. After a short walk, I was back on the tram heading towards the Old City.
It was time to take in a sort of greatest hits from my week in Jerusalem. I stopped in at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre one more time to say some prayers and a final goodbye. Then it was off once again to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane, this time to wait for sundown
As the day was coming to a close I settled into a comfortable seat in the garden. I pulled out a book, The Last Week
by Marcus Borg, and turned to the chapter on Gethsemane.
As the light began to dim I read, “Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” The book goes on to say that Christ’s prayer reflects not a fatalistic resignation to the will of God, but a trusting in God in the midst of the direst of circumstances.
To be reading these words in the exact place where these events happened so many centuries ago was so powerful. The years began to blur and fall away and it was like I was there with the disciples standing watch and waiting in the garden for the climatic event to occur.
At 6pm the garden closed and I was left to wander back to the Old City. I put in my earbuds and listened to the final songs of Godspell.
“Where are you going? Where are you going?
Can you take me with you?
For my hand is cold and needs warmth
Where are you going"
I was in a daze…
“Then the man they called Judas Iscariot
Went to the chief priests
and said "What will you give me
Him to you?" They paid him thirty pieces of silver."
And then he was gone...
Back in the old city, I walked once more along the Via Delarosa where Christ walked on his way to the crucifixion. I stopped outside the pilgrim house and leant against its cold stone walls. The mood changed and the sun came streaming through the old buildings with the final strong rays of daylight. Godspell still playing in my ears...
“Long live God, long live God
Long live God, long live God
Prepare ye, the way of the Lord"
The whole moment was at once transfixing and spiritually reassuring. I could not myself have come up with a more perfect final memory of my time in Jerusalem. I spent the last night sharing dinner with my fellow pilgrims, this time meeting a whole bunch of newcomers who had just arrived. Everyone was feeling blessed to be there, but I knew it was time for me to go.
* * *
I awoke early the next day with the muezzin call once again waking me up in the
dark. This day’s singer went on much longer than the other days and seemed determined to break everyone’s peaceful sleep with irregular bursts of song and long pauses before starting up again. Yes indeed, it was time to go. The desert was calling...
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