As I write on the end of our first full day here, the Call to Prayer is sounding from a nearby mosque. St. George’s College is in East Jerusalem, the Muslim area of the city. These days, the population of Israel is only about 2% Christian. Christians born here are of Arab descent and are known as “living stones”. Simon, our van driver in from the airport was the first one we met. Initially he stuck to his driving, but when we asked a question about the area through which we were passing, he began to tell us about how different parts of the region reflect the events recorded in the book of Joshua–chapter by chapter. He spoke as if Joshua were a well-known, popular history rather than one written 3700 years ago. As he dropped us off at the College he said, “When somebody tells me he doesn’t believe in God, I say every stone here speaks of the God of my faith”.
After a welcoming dinner last night with nearly all of our 25 companions for the course, tired and jet-lagged as we were, Jane, Dan, Susan Moss and I joined three others who wanted to stretch our legs and get our first glance of the ancient city. We walked the half mile from the College to the Damascus Gate. All of the shops inside were closed for the night. We made our way through the silent streets to the Temple Mount. The Western Wall and the enormous plaza before it were flooded with spotlights. Few people were there and the near-full moon was playing hide and seek behind clouds that had brought rain that afternoon. To approach the wall itself, women went to the right, men to the left. Though I resented the division in theory, I appreciated it in fact. It was moving, indeed, to see so many young women (and they all were young), lined up in prayer before the massive stone foundations of the Temple. It was a beautiful way to begin our Pilgrimage.
The Rev. Susan J. Barnes
Rector, St. John’s, Minneapolis