A Journey from Sabbath to Sabbath

I move slowly, quietly, mindfully, and deliberately - after returning from the trip of a lifetime. I journeyed far and wide to Jerusalem, the Holy City, arriving on the Sabbath, and leaving it on the Sabbath, to return to my own city, on a long and lonely journey home...

I arrive at a city that has shut down for the night. It is unusually quiet, but I do not know that it will not remain that way for very long...

I travel to this city that somehow remains in suspended animation - out of place and and out of time - a city of contradictions - sacred to three faiths, all known as the People of the Book, all three quarreling with each other, like siblings and cousins that cannot get along...

In the morning after our arrival, my two traveling companions and I make haste to the Old City, arriving at Jaffa Gate, passing the occasional Orthodox male in his kipa, a skullcap and Tallit, or prayer shawl - on his way to prayer.

The city draws me in and devours me - it feels so familiar to me, as if I have been here before. Nothing seems foreign or out of place, even though everything is so different from what I am used to - the absence of cars on the street or the businesses that are all closed do not strike me as unusual...

We visit the Tower of David and take in the breathtaking views of the City - all the way to the Mount of Olives and beyond, punctuated by the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount, and Church of the Holy Sepulchur. Here, on this ancient fortress I meet a young and newly ordained priest from St. Louis. I observe that his bag is from St. Louis University and ask him if he attended this school. We strike up a conversation and he is surprised I recognize his Alma Mater, which is also one of my own... After visiting the tower my friends and I make our way through the narrow alley ways, which are actually streets, but more like a labyrinth throughout the Old City, until arriving at the Western Wall.

I am moved deeply to be here, on this Sabbath day - and to be able to pray at this Wall that has withstood the test of time and has absorbed the prayers of many throughout the centuries. The words of Psalm 34, attributed to David, arise in my heart:


"I will extoll the the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears...

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him..."

I cannot insert my prayers then nor take pictures, since it is the Sabbath, so I return on the next day to do so...

And even though it is the Sabbath, the city is bustling with merchants, and money changers, and hustlers, and I cannot help but think of Jesus overturning the tables of the ancestors of  these very same men, centuries earlier, angry that God's house had been turned into a den of thieves, and not so much a house of prayer... I am so cognizant of the fact that Jesus walked this city, and prayed where the Temple stood, and where I now stand, in its very shadows... I breathe in his presence, and energy, and it envelops me like a Tallit and gives me great comfort.

I write two exact copies of my prayer requests on the next day, remembering individual names and many categories of people - students past and present - so that I may not forget anyone - friends, those I have been praying for - and so on - and insert one set on the women's side, straddling another perpendicular wall erected as a line of demarcation between the men's side and and the women's. But one of my friends also inserts my prayers in the men's section...

I am moved by how many more women are praying fervently, than there are men doing so - and how there is no space to be found in a crack to insert even the smallest piece of paper. I am reminded of someone who once told me that if one could see the prayers of women, and most especially mothers, one would see the earth surrounded by an entire web of these petitions and the love that engendered them...

Ironically, there are cracks as big as fists on the men's side - so I am comforted in knowing that all those for whom I pray for, and their intentions, will be lodged in those ancient stones for a very long time...

My other friend tells me to walk away from the Wall backwards, out of reverence and respect...

Later, on a tour we take of the tunnels underneath the wall, we come to stand at a sacred space underneath the spot within the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant once resided in the Holy of Holies, and it takes my breath away. To consider that during the time of the Temple only the High Priest could enter this sacred area and only once a year, and here I was standing below it, centuries later! I notice a small crowd of Orthodox women praying there, bowing back and forth - I am reminded that they would never have been granted admittance into the inner sanctums of the Temple!

We leave for our journey home on the Sabbath, and make it down to the Old City as a moon that is nearly full sets itself above the walls of the Old City by Jaffa Gate. So many observant Jews and Ultra Orthodox such as the Haredi, make their way down to the Jewish Quarter for prayers, and I wonder what it would be like, to live once again, in a place sanctified by prayer, and which truly keeps the Sabbath. In my mind I decide that I will implement such a day in my life again, even if my own society does not. I feel compelled to make holy the Lord's Day...

I journey to an ancient Land on the Sabbath, and am torn to leave it to return to my own world, on the Sabbath. My experiences will stay with me forever and I will be gleaning insights from them for a very long time...

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