Thursday, September 27

This was probably my favorite field study thus far. I was really looking forward to hiking in Israel and this trip gave me a good chunk of it. I really was not even expecting to hike today so it was a pleasant surprise. When we started out at the lookout area in which we sat silently for a few minutes, I got to experience the arid, dry atmosphere at its finest. The air almost consumed every sound, the chalky hills absorbing all voices and janglings of the donkey or camel coming up behind us. Like a movie theater that has the cloth panels to absorb echoes, the Wilderness is one big Voice Swallower. But then we started to hike down the Wadi Qelt. This too was part of the Wilderness, dry and dusty and silent. But the walls and cliffs let our voices bounce quite a bit more and carried every noise to the tour group a ways behind us. It was hot. My Minnesotan skin can never quite be prepared for such a baking. And stranger than all this is to my foreign body is the occasional oasis that pops up in the middle of no where (seemingly). St. George's Monastery, for instance. Where did that come from? I saw both palm and pine trees ( I think they were pine) in one little area of one huge Wilderness area. And to make matters more interesting, one is always walking either down or up. There really is no steady land. I had to remember to look up every so often and take in the scenery because I was watching my feet when I hiked. One false step can…well….the best way to say it is through Galadriel: we stood "…on the edge of a knife, stray but a little and you shall fall…". Well, maybe that's exaggerating. ;) But I enjoyed the hike regardless. I'm definitely learning to appreciate water…luke warm water from strange faucets at that. And this was just our morning….

The afternoon brought us to the oldest and lowest city on the face of the planet: Jericho. I didn't particularly get excited on the bus ride there. In fact, I just don't really get excited ahead of time too often. But once I got there, I was so enthralled! All the pictures I had seen about the excavations and all the stuff I'd read about Kenyon and her bible-hating findings were right here. I was witnessing thousands of years in one moment….and I smiled inside. Jericho, the winter refuge from rainy Jerusalem, the place to go for pleasant and mild days when the rainy season is weighing you down, was located just beyond the Wilderness. Literally, there's hills and wadis of Senonian chalk and some Cenomanian ridges that don't produce anything because no water gets there and the earth is white as snow but hot and dry and desolate….just a few more feet and you're surrounded by palm trees and a luscious green scenery with the a beautiful view of the Jordan Rift Valley. I do take mental snapshots. Sometimes a camera can't quite catch what you see, and sometimes you don't even want it to. Certain things are best left to cherish in one's head.

Later on in the day when we went to Gezer, I was tired and a bit hungry and was mentally and physically ready to head home. But stepping off the bus wasn't difficult when I saw fields and a beautiful flatland surrounded by the cities and the coast and some wildflowers and a few trees and, of course, some ancient walls. This scene reminded me of southern Minnesota and I felt strangely familiar and at home with it all. Overall, it was a good day.

PS. My computer broke and I'm in the process of either fixing it or figuring out how to put pictures online without it. So hang in there with will be a few days before I can figure stuff out. Thanks. -GRACE

Monday, September 17

Approaching Jerusalem

The Dome of the Rock

My Favorite Person.

Well another field study has past me by and I'm growing more and more accustomed to Jerusalem and its surroundings everyday: the smells, the inhabitants, the tourists, the sandy wilderness and the flourishing farmlands, the cities and sites and history....

Today's field study was entitled “Approaching Jerusalem.” And that's exactly what it was. We took a bus down to Herodium, a volcanic looking hill that Herod the Great built his palace on top of. It was extremely fascinating, and I was somewhat excited about a scenery beyond Jerusalem. The masonry of the palace wasn't as grand as the Temple he built, but it was very interesting to trudge around in the palace of someone so historical and, well,...infamous. Near the top of the hill, we stopped and read Psalm 23, the psalm I remember from my childhood at Nanny's funeral, and probably one of the most famous passages known by people who don't even really care about Scripture. Anyway... we read it in the context of viewing the “pastures” down beneath us, what David most likely shepherded in. We could now see why such “pastures” (small little spots of green that the sheep would demolish and then have to move on to the next) would be so valuable in an area that was quite desolate.

After the Herodium, we drove to Bethlehem, the first time I entered it. I wasn't nervous or anything, but people kept telling me it was so different from Jerusalem that I should prepare myself for extreme poverty and rather upfront people. Well, it definitely wasn't as “friendly” as Jerusalem felt, but it wasn't as strange and terrible as I had heard, which was a good thing. The Church of the Nativity was here. I wasn't really looking forward to going here, not because I didn't have respect for Jesus' birth place, but because all the historical churches commemorating stuff here are extremely un-western. It's difficult for me to appreciate the incense and the dark rooms and kissing the stone where Jesus was born etc etc.... But the church was very beautiful. Lots of wood and pillars and generally more of a like-able place than the Holy Sepulchre, but I feel heretical for saying so. Nothing dramatically spiritual happened to me while I was there...but that might be due to my religious skepticism and stubbornly hardened heart than anything else. But I've only been here two week, so I'm hoping there's still Hope. Anyways,....again...

We left the church and there in the Manger Square was a tree that had been uprooted somewhere with an inscription under it saying that it did not want to be uprooted and that it was moved here from somewhere else without its permission (yes, the tree was speaking in first person). It widened my eyes a little more to the constant battle over land here. I asked Cindy a bit about the conflicts here and she told me a thing that happened last summer when the Pope visited. Right when the Pope was about to pray in the middle of Manger Square, right outside the Church of Nativity, the Muslim daily prayer came blasting from the little mineret/mosque type structure near there. Clearly, it was “timed” just right....

Later, we came down the Mount of Olives and visited the Garden of Gesthemene. I really like it there. The basilica that's there is not my cup of tea...but I really love the doors. They look like architecture straight out of Lothlorien or Rivendell. But the Garden itself...its beautiful. Old old olive trees with purple and red and white flowers and little dirt pathways and ....well, that's about it. It's fairly small and it's fenced in so you can't actually go into the garden, just around it. But I really like it there...I'm not really sure why. Maybe that place breaks into my confusion and makes everything just a tad bit clearer...if only while I'm there. I really am trying...

As I live here longer and longer, I grow “used to” the conflicting lifestyles and visual stimuli and the meshing of language, religion, and culture. I know I keep bringing it back up, but it's been extremely strange being around it all the time. It's like I need one gigantic stress ball to squeeze...especially in Jerusalem. I'm sure once I get out and about Israel a bit more, the clash of the “titans” won't be as overt, and my need for a stress ball will cool immensely. It already has. But that's today...who knows about tomorrow! Until another day....

Monday, September 10

Visit my Web Albums to see my adventures!

We had another field study yesterday. That basically means an educational tour slash experience of the land. It was called “Biblical Jerusalem.” Going out, I really didn't think that there was much left to see. We'd been here for about a week and a half and I'd walk all around the Old City probably ten times or so. “Little did I know.....”

We started at JUC, as usual. It's so wonderful to walk right outside our gate and be surrounded by thousands of years of history. Actually, I don't even have to leave the gate to find that. The main “event” of the morning was visiting the City of David. The idea of the City of David is debated: some want to believe he was more of a small chieftan than the man who built up Jerusalem on a little hill. I'm not sure what I believe. Probably that he was the king who started it all....but anyways. When I would read or hear about the “CITY” of David while I was still sitting in a living room or classroom of Minnesota, it all sounded so grandioso and well....far away. But visiting it....finding the hill. The HILL. There's just this tiny little portion of Jerusalem that David was stationed on. If modern day Jerusalem was my hand, the City of David is the very tip of my pinky. It's just this tiny hill. But the size is not meant to downplay the importance of the area. It was an incredible “city” for his day. Please check out the link to my pictures to see a few ancient walls from this city.

The next main event was quite a ways below our feet: Hezekiah's tunnel. This tunnel was built as a way for water to get in, if I'm not mistaken. It was chiseled away little by little and my own professor Gary Long had told us quite a bit of his studies of this tunnel, so I found it extra fascinating. Well, we all went through it. Yeah, that sounds normal I suppose. Easily read right over. But let me explain this tunnel for the clostrophobics, just to instill a little fear in everyone so they can all be proud of me. ;) The tunnel width was just a slightly larger than my shoulder width, the bottom of the tunnel a little less than that at times. The height at certain spots was about 5 foot or so. Which really wasn't too bad for me because I'm not extremely tall, but I still had to duck. The poor 6'3'' guys probably had a rough time with those spots. Now, these dimensions really aren't too bad to just walk through a tunnel, except for the fact that it's completely dark if you don't have a flashlight, there's cold water flowing up to your ankles, calves, and occasionally thighs, and the journey is about 30 minutes long, one way. I'm not gonna lie, I tried backing out of the adventure, but only in my head. I really couldn't NOT go through, ya know? was very exciting and as long as I kept telling myself that the walls weren't gonna collapse on top of me and all of us get trapped there, I was fine. Haha, but everything was completely fine and safe. So don't worry.

Well, the morning was incredibly exhausting, mostly just because of the Swain-like hills (plural) we had to trudge up on the way back. For those of you unfamiliar with my simile, Swain was a half a mile hill in Duluth I ran for Cross Country: the most dreaded meet of the season. But at least we weren't racing in Israel. Anyhoo...we had lunch which was quite refreshing and started out again. The afternoon/early evening was filled with the pools that Jesus healed a few guys by (or one of the places they think is likely) and a crusader built church with acoustics that would rival Bethel's Great Hall and win indefinitely. Any little hum was audibly illuminated (not to confuse the senses). It was incredible. We all sang a few hymns and I swear that there's a mystical presence that takes away all flat notes sung or other audible evils. It was really cool. Our next stop was at another church, the Holy Sepulchre. This is one of the spots (and most likely the one) that Jesus was crucified and buried. This is a difficult place for me to go into because everything is adorned with some sort of jewels or candles or ornate lanterns and icons and's a very un-western place. Cindy Parker told us to go back multiple times so we can get over the visual stimuli that's so distracting and really grasp the place...even though it has been built upon. I will have to do this. If only my religious and political angst could mend itself quickly so I'd feel a little more at ease with it all. I say this with the utmost sincerity. It is a strange land that brings up theological, scriptural, political, and experiential issues that I did not expect to stew within me after only one week of being here. Schism seems a good word....

Well make sure you check out my pictures on flickr. They aren't all labeled yet, but I will get to that soon. The internet is a bit confused at JUC. ;) Until another day...

Monday, September 3


So I've been here a few days now. I'm slowing getting accustomed to life. Slowly is not an exaggeration has not been easy adjusting while being sick. But I'm reallllly feeling a ton better now.

We had a Scavenger Hunt around the Old City the other day. It was one of those “take a picture with a guy in the military” hunts, or “find the shopkeeper and ask him to wear a hat for you”. To be honest, it really wasn't my cup-o-tea (must have been Early grey. Haha). My group got lost after about an hour and a half and we didn't get back fro another hour. It was frustrating for me because I was ill and my head was about to explode but at the same time I was with people I hardly knew and didn't want their first impression of me to be “a complainer”. The streets were busy, I was paranoid because of the lecture we had had before we went out about the danger of men and that women should'nt look or talk to them and so I was completely paranoid and jumpy and watching the street below me, trying to avoid eye contact with everyone, hoping I wasn't dressed inappropriately, hoping someone wasn't going to notice that we didn't know where we were going, and I felt helpless. I couldn't ask for directions...or so I felt. I had to follow the guys we were with. I had to be “dependent.” Which...if anyone knows me a bit, is not my cup of tea either. Well, I'm making it sound like it was annoying and just a little thorn in my side. But the angst I felt upon arriving back at the school was awful awful. I told myself I hated the city, I hated the rushing around, and I hated even more that I was a women. I was exhausted and sick and hadn't slept in 20 hours. So I cried a little, and then I slept.

The next day was immensely better. I apologized to my group from the previous day about being a poor sport about things. I hope they understood. We had a huge tour of the Old City this day. Cindy Parker, our Physical Setting instructor, led it and told all sorts of historical facts and geographical layouts. It was very intruiging and having her with helped me feel a little more confident and a little less paranoid....we, all, have a comfortability level that is tested, and her presence allowed mine to pass the test and be a little more free, yet aware. Plus, after a good night's sleep, things can always seem alittle less dark. There's so much to tell, it's difficult to get it all here. I saw the Wailing Wall again, we went into East Jerusalem where no one's allowed to go by themselves, we walked down King David's street and saw from a distance the Mount of Olives. We went into an Arab grave yard, we passed through the damascus gate, the Lion's gate, the Jappa Gate, and another one that I can't remmeber the name of, but those gates are originals from the city...I think. We also visited all four quarters of the Old city: the Christian quarter, the Muslim Quarter, the Armenian Quarter, and the Jewish Quarter. The only way for tourists to enter the temple mount area is from the Jewish Quarter, and we all had to go through security. Almost all the streets in the old city are ancient or roman, some are newer. It's difficult to walk on sometimes and it's more like climbing forward than walking on occasion. Other streets are very smooth, but most things run either down into a valley or up into a hill. There's not too much on one level it feels. My school is located on the south side of the Western Hill (modern day Mt. Zion) and overlooks the Hinnom Valley, the valley that holds most of the metaphors for hell in the old testament. (hmmm...). I really am liking it here, but my spirits have been down because I've been sick, but I'm getting better. ;)

Cindi Parker introduced us to two of her friends today, one Jewish guy and one non Jewish guy, (I think he'd call himself a Palestinian....). This was by far the best part of my day. The Jewish guy, Mosha, discussed his love to God and Judaism and what we would call “the law”. He said it's not a painful binding “law”. It's a way to show his love and devotion to his Beloved. He spoke of the Holocaust and how many Jews “lost” their faith in God. He spoke of those Jews and ones with greater faith than himself, being justified to be angry and feel hurt and abandoned. He said the only way one can feel that much hurt from God is if they loved him in the first place. He blamed the Holocaust on men's choices, and not on anything God inflicted. And of course, I smiled inside. This Jewish guy had a more gracious and loving theology than half the Christians I'd met. He spoke of how Christians believe in the shedding of blood sacrifice, but how Jews believe in a change of Heart, a contrite heart and spirit. This also warmed my soul. I considered for a moment whether or not I had been a Jew all my life or that possibly he was more of a “Christian” than I was. He invited any of us back as often as we'd like to ask any questions. I'm definitely going back. Although I have many more questions for him, I can't possibly believe that a spot in heaven isn't reserved for this wonderful man.

“Israel will not make you a better witness. Israel will make you a better servant....God has called you here because he wants to spend some time with you in your Father's house.” -Mosha