Waiting for the Sun

I imagine that it was something like jumping from a great height, like those cliff divers jumping off the ancient seawall in Akko.

But I’m not talking about how the blinding sun beats down on you during the internal silence before the jump, or that long whistling fall through the air, or the hot slice of your body through the salty ancient waves. I’m talking about the part that comes after, when gravity takes you farther under than you meant to go, pulling you deeper and deeper. The water is colder down there. And suddenly, you stall out in the middle of the deep. Below you, the inky black of the sea, hiding ageless untold secrets. And above… Above…

Before beginning the long, slow climb up through the water, you look up to the surface. You see the faint, distant silvery shimmer of the sun on the waves. Your air, trapped in bubbles, makes a mad dash for the light, all but crying out for escape from the deep. In the weightless rapture of the water, you are completely alone, and suddenly everything outside this water, everything you have ever known up to this moment is so far, so faint, just a distant memory.

You might even consider staying there, just for a while, but your body’s buoyancy leads you, however unwillingly, into the long, slow ascent to the surface, to return to the world you know. To return to the land of the living. To return to the blistering heat of the sun.

But what if you had no buoyancy? What if you were buried under layers and layers of dust instead of a few meters of water? What if it took you more than a millenium and a half to return to the land of the living? In your time spent in the darkness, in the deep, peering up through the space between yourself and the surface, what would you remember?

A few months ago, they decided to begin a building project on a nondescript hillside in Aluma, a small village near Ashkelon, south of Tel Aviv.

Aluma 1

And when they began digging to lay foundations, they uncovered a secret that had been hidden for more than a thousand years. The breathtakingly beautiful mosaic floor of a long-forgotten Byzantine basilica, with millions of tiny tiles painstakingly laid by master craftsmen.

Aluma 6

In many places ravaged by time, the elements, and later periods of settlement on the site. But still there, and still breathtaking.

Aluma 8

They opened it to visitors for two days only, before beginning the work to remove it, study it, restore it and later place it in a museum. And thanks to some beautiful new friends and a beautiful January day, we got the chance to see it firsthand, in the place where it has always been.

Aluma 3

It was abandoned at the end of the Byzantine era, it fell into ruins in the Muslim era, and for centuries and centuries was lost in the earth until it was rediscovered by accident this year.

Aluma 2

But what did the floor feel for all those years? Centuries after centuries of going deeper and deeper into the dust and the earth, farther than it ever meant to go. Did it peer up through the dust, from the darkness and the deep? Did it feel alone? Did it long for the sun?

What did it feel the day it was rediscovered? Did it feel the scraping of the backhoe, did it hear the frantic screaming of the workers to stop the machines, did it gasp for breath as it looked up into the burning sun for the first time in more than a thousand years?

Aluma 7

And what does it remember, after all those years in the darkness? This floor, unlike the first-century synagogue at Magdala, doesn’t remember Jesus firsthand. And yet, it bears testament to him and to his mother with a carefully laid inscription. In a similar way, it also remembers the name of two priests and a donor who gave money to finance the project. It remembers a host of gorgeous plants and animals, a testament to the glory of God’s creation. And it remembers a beautiful ancient basilica, the bygone splendor of the earliest days of Christianity in the Holy Land.

Aluma 5

The walls of the church were long since dismantled, the building materials reused in Muslim-era dwellings on the site. An ancient church column on the site forms a part of a Muslim-era house’s wall.

Aluma 4

But the floor remains, after centuries of going deeper and deeper into the dust and the earth, farther than it ever meant to go.

Echoes of the past, calling out from the weightless rapture of the deep.

Aluma 9

Read more about the Aluma mosaic here or here.


Filed under News from the Holy Land

Five Lessons from Jerusalem, Or That Time a Southern Girl in the Middle East Wrote On a Northerner’s Blog

The lovely Annie of This Northern Belle asked me to help hold down the fort in her corner of the Internet while she is off gallivanting in sun-soaked honeymoon bliss this week. (Congratulations, Annie! Wishing every blessing on your marriage!) She may be a Michigander, but now that she’s married to a fellow Texan, she’s basically family. Go check out my contribution to her “Things I’ve Learned” Series: “Things I’ve Learned [While Living in Jerusalem].”

Don't. Panic.

Don’t. Panic.

“There was this one time, a few months ago, when my husband and I rented a car to drive north to the Sea of Galilee, and the car rental place helpfully gave us a map to help us on our way. Later, we got a little lost and decided to refer to the map. And we suddenly realized the map was all in Hebrew.” Read the rest at This Northern Belle.

Now, let’s all just take a moment to aww at the adorable newlyweds… Read their sweet love story here. (I speak from experience when I say that falling in love with a really good old friend is a great way to do it!)

A photo of the newlyweds from Annie's Instagram. Read their sweet love story here.

A cute wedding photo from Annie’s Instagram.

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Filed under Catholic Life, Culture Shock, Jewish Life, Learning Hebrew, Shabbat

God is in the Details: A Closer Look at the Bethlehem Icon School

Bethlehem Icon School brushes

“If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?”
(Luke 12:26)

Rodolfo always says how much he hates the phrase “The Devil is in the details.” I think he has a point. Much of the beauty of Creation can be found in the tiniest of details. And even the most frustrating of details are there for a reason.

This week I am at the Bethlehem Icon School, working on an icon of St. Luke, learning by doing. This is only my second icon (this was the first) and this concept of God being the one in the details has been a recurring theme for me this week. As an iconographer, you must learn to take a backseat to the real artist, who is God himself. You, as the painter, are more like the instrument than the musician. The quality of the instrument matters, of course. The same master violinist will sound wildly different on a student’s violin as opposed to a Stradivarius. But God is always the one holding the bow. It is actually quite freeing, because if there is a scratch in the gold, or a weird color on one part, it is not a mistake per se. It is still the icon that God meant for it to be.

It is really easy to get bogged down in the details. Is there too much egg in my paint? Why is that color going on so thick? Where the heck did that piece of gold leaf go in the three seconds since I turned my head? But I am learning to let go, to bless and accept my failures rather than cursing them, and to try and allow God to work through me.

My work is still very much in progress, but I’ll share God’s finished masterpiece with you soon. In the meantime, I will show you a closer look (a very close look) at some of the amazing details I have found at the Bethlehem Icon School. I hope they will help you find God.

Sacred geometry and pages and pages of notes.

Sacred geometry and pages and pages of notes.

Striving to get that hand just right...

Striving to get that hand just right…

My mini Pilgrim Mother MTA keeps my natural pigments company.

Mini Pilgrim Mother keeps the gorgeous natural pigments company. Green dirt is probably one of the real miracles of Creation.

A piece of gold leaf that flew away.

A rogue piece of gold leaf that got away.

Embossed details on gold leaf.

Carefully embossed details.

The way my teacher's perfectly burnished gold leaf background reflects his face lke a mirror as he works.

The way my teacher’s perfectly burnished gold leaf background reflects his face like a mirror as he works.

My teacher's St. Luke is either shooting a Hook 'Em sign or an "I love you" sign. Either way it's awesome.

My teacher’s St. Luke is either shooting a “Hook ‘Em” sign or an “I love you” sign.
Either way it’s awesome.

A fellow student's workstation.

A fellow student’s workstation.

The way covering the bottom of the icon to protect it while working on the face is a little like tucking St. Luke in for the night.

The way covering the bottom of the icon to protect it while working on the face is a little like tucking St. Luke in for the night.


Filed under Catholic Life, Creativity, O Little Town of Bethlehem

Quick Takes: Black Mud, Bethlehem and Blackouts

It's a beautiful day in the Holy Land!

It’s a beautiful day in the Holy Land!

— 1 —

My mom, who you may remember was visiting us, went home this week, which means that now I won’t be out every day from the crack of dawn until sundown climbing city walls, pointing my laser pointer at ancient things, bartering with taxi drivers, dropping my camera in the Jordan River (I know. Not my finest moment.) and dragging my poor mother to everything (and more!) that Jesus took 33 years to see… in the space of only 3 weeks. She was a great sport, and we had a great time with her.

mom capernaum

Contemplating the Sea of Galilee near Capernaum

mom dead sea

Exfoliating with Dead Sea black mud…
Yeah, file that one under “Things in the Holy Land That Jesus Probably Never Did.”

mom mount of olives

A particularly windy day on the Mount of Olives

mom caesarea

“…Yeah, let’s just take a quick rest on this FIRST-CENTURY COLUMN.”

— 2 —

The Jewish holiday season is almost over. There is about a month of holiday after holiday after holiday that includes Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), the Days of Awe, Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement), Sukkot (a week-long holiday where everyone builds a shack and eats in it every day), Shmini Atzaret (The Eighth Day of Assembly) and Simchat Torah (today, the day that marks the beginning of a new cycle of Torah readings for the year). Some people remark that just Thanksgiving and Christmas is enough to do them in each year. Can you imagine having this many holidays right in a row? Not to mention that a number of these holidays are what is known as a “Yom Tov,” or a holiday that is like a Shabbat in that you can’t drive, cook, or do any other creative work. So next time you think you’re feeling holiday stress, think about that.

— 3 —

On the subject of Shabbat, a few months back, one of the visiting Argentineans, Santiago, asked me an interesting question.  “Why are there so many twins here?” he asked in Spanish. “Twins? Are there a lot of twins here?” I told him I hadn’t noticed that many twins. “Sure,” he said. “Pretty much every family has a double stroller.” Ohh. It’s not twins, per se. It’s what in the U.S. we might call “stairstep kids,” “Irish twins,” (which, in retrospect, might actually be a slur against Catholics, now that I think about it), or “two under two” (or, in many cases, “five under five” or more), and it’s very common here, especially among religious Jewish families. My mom also observed that Jerusalem would be a great place to cast a movie that followed one girl or boy over a number of years, because sometimes seeing a whole family walking in a line does sort of feel like looking at a living time-lapse photo. Not to mention that, in religious families, which often have up to eight kids and limited wardrobe options because of modesty rules, the kids are sometimes dressed alike. (This is actually a money-and-headache-saving technique, so that, in that family, every kid of the same gender has the exact same wardrobe as they grow up.)

Here’s my theory: setting aside the long and involved discussion of what different types of Judaism actually allow (and what different types of Jews actually observe) in terms of birth control and family planning, I’ll just say this. In the U.S., we often joke that nine months after a blackout, the birth rate spikes. What if, thanks to the Jewish custom of Shabbat, your country essentially has a planned 25-hour blackout EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND? Think about it.

— 4 —

Again, on the subject of Shabbat… The adorable Amy of Lost But Holding Hands recently struck up an email friendship with me, and I am very happy to know her! It turns out she has really enjoyed my tales of surviving Jewish Sabbaths and my suggestions to adapt some of this observance into Christian life. She talks a little about her family’s adventures with this concept in some recent posts: “Holy Sunday,” “Unaffected,” and “If At First You Don’t Succeed.” Go check out Amy (and her adorable family) at Lost But Holding Hands!


— 5 —

Next week, I am off to the Bethlehem Icon School to take a second crack at “writing” an icon. This was my first, from last year; the face of Jesus. (Read more about that here.)


This time, with the help and constant supervision of my fearless teacher, Ian, I will be attempting a full-body figure of St. Luke the Evangelist, the patron saint of iconographers. I spend a lot of time in prayer while painting, so please email me any prayer requests you may have and I will remember you in Bethlehem.

— 6 —

On the subject of Bethlehem… This week, Mandi of Messy Wife, Blessed Life wrote on “Nursing in Church: Yay or Nay?” It is an interesting topic, but I’m going to sidestep it for a moment and talk about a particular piece of the “Maria Lactans” art she featured. Did you see this one? She’s my neighbor, so to speak! Since Mandi simply labeled her, “Anonymous,” I wanted to tell you a little more about her.

milk grotto

She is Our Lady of the Milk Grotto, a church in Bethlehem. There is a cave under the church and a very old tradition stating that during the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, they stopped for a moment in this cave so Mary could feed baby Jesus. Some of her milk fell on the rock and turned the cave white. Since then, couples with fertility issues have eaten the cave’s “milk dust” while praying every day for children, and they have been blessed with miracle babies as a result of the devotion! There are also cancer and blindness cures associated with the Milk Grotto devotion. Brother Lawrence, the kind and level-voiced Franciscan who runs the gift shop, is more than pleased to show you binder after binder of miracle testimonies sent through the mail; they receive, on average, one every two days, he says. That’s a lot of miracles! That’s amazing! The humble walls covered in photos of overjoyed families from all over the world, with their adorable miracle babies in their arms, is one of the most hopeful and beautiful corners of the entire Holy Land. The Milk Grotto is very close to the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem, and I love taking people there after the Basilica, because it is always so quiet and peaceful, and the sisters there are in Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. It is a beautiful church, and a nice place to unwind after the chaos of Manger Square. Since we have been living here, we have sent numerous packets of the dust and instructions for the devotion to a number of friends looking for supernatural help with fertility issues and/or the adoption process. If you or anyone you know might be interested in learning more or participating in this devotion, please email me and we’d love to hook you up (and pray for you, too).

— 7 —

Recently, celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain visited Jerusalem for his CNN travel and food series “Parts Unknown.” Even the trailers and teasers have some really cool footage of our town and, of course, the local food. Check it out on CNN’s website. Also, be sure to read the teaser article, “Ten Things to Know Before Visiting Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.” I love how Bourdain says in the trailer, “Whatever you may think, and whatever baggage you may bring to this place… You should see this.” Yep. That’s it exactly.

CNN Anthony Bourdain

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!



Filed under Celebrations, Holidays, Jewish Life, Playing Tourist, Quick Takes, Shabbat, Simple Life, Walking Where Jesus Walked

On Yom Kippur: Prayer, Fasting and The Forgiveness Block Party

Bicyclists take advantage of the deserted highway near Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur. Photo by Roy Boshi.

A group of bicyclists take advantage of a deserted highway near Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur.
Photo by Roy Boshi.

Today is a day of complete silence all over Israel. There is not a single car on the streets, there are no radio or television broadcasts. No one cooks, no one eats. No one even takes a shower.

Today is Yom Kippur, the highest holy day in Judaism. This is a holy day that even the most secular of Jews will observe, and while every Shabbat the city shuts down to a certain extent, there is always someone out driving, someone cooking, someone watching television. This is like the mother of all Shabbats, often literally called the “Sabbath of Sabbaths.” Even Ben Gurion Airport is closed today.

While we normally laugh and shake our heads at the numerous people that park their cars on the train tracks on Shabbat, there is not a single car parked there today. The only cars we have seen since nightfall yesterday have been a handful of brave and silent ambulances.

Last night, after sunset, we took to the streets with the rest of our mostly-secular neighborhood. Like most neighborhoods in Jewish parts of the country last night, the streets were completely empty of cars and completely flooded with joyful families out playing in the street and the train tracks. Over at our neighborhood synagogue, the building was bursting with people praying and repenting. (For most non-observant or less-than-observant Jews, this is the only day of the year they actually attend synagogue.) People were taking hikes down the highway and meeting their neighbors to chat in the streets, kids were racing their bikes and making new friends, whole families were walking home together after praying together. It was beautiful, like a huge block party in honor of God’s forgiveness (well, you know, like a block party without any snacks or drinks, since everyone is fasting today).

The most common translation of “Yom Kippur” is “Day of Atonement,” and this is the day that Jews believe God will seal their names in the Book of Life. Every year, in the ten “Days of Awe” between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, Jews take a good look at their past behavior, repent for their wrongdoings, fast, pray and give to charity. At the end of Yom Kippur, one hopes that they have been forgiven by God.

I am often amazed by how oddly familiar many Jewish traditions are to Catholic tradition. Some traditions we have as Catholics are inherited from our Jewish “elder brothers” in God. Yom Kippur is no exception. Their public admission of and repentance for sins on this day calls to mind the Sacrament of Reconciliation and our own general prayers for forgiveness and mercy that form part of every Mass. The trifecta of prayer, fasting and almsgiving in anticipation of atonement and forgiveness during the Days of Awe is very familiar to every Catholic, as it very closely mirrors our tradition of the same during Advent in anticipation of the birth of Christ, and during Lent in anticipation of the Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection of Christ in atonement for our sins.

But, most importantly, I wish we could learn from our Jewish brothers and sisters about the importance of a day of rest for the Glory of God. How wonderful to have an enormous block party every year where no one is missing the party by tweeting about it. How wonderful to have a full day a week where there is no work, no driving, no television. How wonderful to have a day of the week for most (and a day of the year for all) to allow the environment, the body, the family, and personal and public relationships with God to heal.

As a part of the Jewish services on the eve of Yom Kippur, the gathered faithful pray three times, “May all the people of Israel be forgiven, including all the strangers who live in their midst, for all the people are in fault.” We are those strangers who live in your midst, and we thank you for remembering us on your holy day. We are praying for you also, wishing that you may each have צום קל (“An Easy Fast”) and גמר חתימה טובה (“A Good Signing in the Book of Life”). שנה טובה! Happy New Year!


Filed under Celebrations, Holidays, Jewish Life, Shabbat

Quick Takes: The Galilee Mercy New Year

Nazareth view

The view from our guesthouse. Ignore the dead palm tree. Wait, I shouldn’t have said that, because now it’s the only thing you can see, right?

— 1 —

Greetings from Nazareth! We’re off gallivanting around the Galilee region in the North for a few days. That photo above is our view from the guesthouse with the Sisters of St. Joseph. The church is the Basilica of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel appeared to the Virgin Mary and announced that she was with child and would give birth to Jesus.

— 2 —

Look out Holy Land, here comes Taria! My awesome mom (Remember her?) is visiting us this month! Today we took her to the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor!

Taria on Mount Tabor

See the church reflected in her sunglasses?

Jessa and Mom on Tabor

Mom and me on Mount Tabor. Lovely windswept look there.

— 3 —

Speaking of my awesome mom, remember how I mentioned last Mother’s Day that God continues to bless me and Rodolfo with people to take care of? We received another blessing a few weeks ago in Celeste, a really sweet American student that we met randomly on a sherut shuttle from the airport to Jerusalem when we came home. She later ended up in the emergency room due to what we believe was a rather nasty spider bite. We really enjoyed getting to meet her, and since she is starting grad school in Houston this fall, we may even get the chance to see her next time we’re in Texas! Plus, it is not every day that one gets the chance to complete five of the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy on one person, a person they meet on the airport shuttle, no less. After bringing her food and drink in the hospital (visiting the sick, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty), we brought her home for the night (shelter the homeless, or the temporarily displaced in need of a warm bed relatively close to a hospital, just in case) and even lent her clothes (clothe the naked; actually, she wasn’t naked, of course, just in need of pajamas to borrow, but, well… you know). Luckily, no one was in jail (visit the imprisoned) or deceased (bury the dead) in this particular story. Read Celeste’s version on her blog, The Adventures of Freckles.

— 4 —

Speaking of sweet internet shout-outs, a few months ago (while I was AWOL from the blogosphere) the super-sweet Kelley Annie of Over the Threshold (one of my best blogging buddies) gave me a beautiful shout-out for a package I sent her of postcards and souvenirs from her favorite Gospel stories. I even climbed a sycamore tree (just like Zaccheus) to get her a really good leaf! Go check out her post!

Over the Threshold package

Photo from Over the Threshold, showing a very small sample of my “Bible Bingo” cards, or postcards and mementos of a large variety of places from the Gospel that Kelley Annie mentioned among her favorites. (The middle left one is Nazareth, where I am now!) She was surprised I could fit so much into such a small envelope, but she now knows that I am the queen of snail mail.

— 5 —

Happy New Year! You may think I’m either pretty early or way late, but actually, Israel celebrated the arrival of the Jewish New Year 5774 this week. Some of our dear Israeli friends, Amir and Shani, invited us to their family’s house, where we crammed into a table with about 20 members of the extended family, and ate all the traditional foods (apples dipped in honey, pomegranates) and many other delicious homemade dishes! I was surprised by the number of the family members that had been to Ecuador; many young Israelis go on long backpacking trips after their compulsory army service and South America is a popular destination.

— 6 —

We bid farewell to a very good friend this week; our dear Danish friend, Bjarke (the surprise vegetarian of the fable, the biggest fan and eternal lobbyist for the ruined-brownies-rebranded-as-lava-cake, and the only person besides Rodolfo who has ever called me ‘principessa‘), who is headed to Sweden for his next postdoc. Best of luck and godspeed to you, Bjarke! Plus, our dear Italian friend Simone, who moved to Germany recently, was  in town visiting, and we were also celebrating the arrival of Rongfeng, a dear old Chinese friend who has come full circle into our lives again! (Rongfeng was a grad student together with Rodolfo in Texas and now he’s the newest postdoc in the department in Jerusalem.) We were also getting to know Ben, a new Israeli grad student in the department, and his lovely wife Noam. There are a lot of great people to celebrate this week!

01 Bjarke farewell

The local Chinese-Israeli-Danish-Spanish-Czech-Slovak-Italian-American-Ecuadorean contingent knows how to party. (Just add limoncello.)

— 7 —

I have previously mentioned the Magdala Project, the archaeological project that our church is running in the Galilee. When the leaders of our church began building a pilgrim’s center in the North, they found an amazingly preserved first-century synagogue and the entire town that Mary Magdalene was from. Rodolfo and I volunteered on the dig for a week last year. The project is amazing and it was recently featured on the National Catholic Register! Let us know if you want to come volunteer on the dig and we will hook you up with our friends there; it’s free and a really amazing experience! And, by the by, we also know a really great guest room in Jerusalem, great for passing spider bite patients, Danes on their way out of town, or moms. All are welcome.

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!



Filed under Celebrations, Playing Tourist, Quick Takes, Walking Where Jesus Walked

The Triumphant Entry

girls at lake

Sis, Mom, and Me, feeling a little jumpy in Texas.
(Jump photos work way better outside, by the way, but the only way I could convince them to jump like idiots with me was the consolation that no one would actually see us jumping…
except in the finished product, of course.)

You can always go home… or so they say. As for me, it seems that whenever I go home (or when I go out gallivanting for long periods of time) the blog starts to grow cobwebs and get a little moldy around the edges, until suddenly, like, a third of a year has passed and I look around, going, “Hmm… I feel like I’m neglecting something…”

Oh, yes. It’s you. So sorry about that.

In my defense, I know that the vast majority of my readers are “IRL” (“in real life”) friends who follow my adventures through Facebook (or other, more interesting, real life methods of contact… conversations over tea, carrier parakeet, etc.) and don’t worry about me when I go AWOL from the blog for extended periods of time. But I was also really touched and pleasantly surprised when one of my best bloggy-friends and then one of my absolute favorite bloggers emailed to check up on me. …And then I also failed to respond to their messages for a really, really long time. Sorry to you guys as well. (And, interestingly enough, when I don’t write anything for a long time, the blog still gets about the same number of visitors per day that I get when I write regularly. Let’s just say the number is so small, it’s a nice lesson in humility.)

But, I’m back, and after the long silence I have much to tell. So stay tuned. But first, a flashback.

jessa camino

Me, on the Camino Santiago, rockin’ that sexy “pants-tucked-into-boots-in-a-vain-attempt-to-remain-remotely-less-than-muddy” look, common among pilgrims

When Rodolfo and I traversed the Camino Santiago in Spain last year, we became familiar with the notion of a triumphant entry. The trail to Santiago is marked with some very, very large hostels (or albergues), you know, the kind of mega-hostel where you can’t swing a wet towel without smacking at least five smelly Europeans… and, let’s be honest, that wet-towel-smack might be the closest thing to a shower any of them get this week.

monte do gozo monument

Rodolfo approaches the monument of JPII’s visit on Monte do Gozo

But the last mega-hostel on the trail is actually about five kilometers outside Santiago, on the poetically named Monte do Gozo, or Hill of Joy, the last big stop before arrival, a tall hill from which, presumedly, in olden times you could see the cathedral on a clear day. Today, there are too many trees and suburban buildings in the way, and the joy of the hill comes more from the available bathrooms, the Cola Cao at the snack bar, and the proximity to the goal than anything actually visible from the hill. But the tradition for many is to stop here to pass the night in one of the 500 beds, even when they are so close that they can almost smell the cathedral (that is, if they’re not sleeping next to a smelly European that masks the glorious smell of imminent victory). The reason is based in medieval tradition; after a long journey into battle and back again, the triumphant king and his faithful, victorious army didn’t want to roll into town looking like something the cat dragged in. So they stop just outside, have a good night’s sleep, and enter in the morning refreshed and renewed, marching rather than limping, heads held high, looking more like a parade than a pity party.

In fact, we have a similar tradition here in Jerusalem. In 1898, Kaiser Wilhelm II called ahead (or whatever the 19th-century equivalent of calling ahead was) to inform the city of Jerusalem that his impending visit would begin with a triumphant entry into the city, riding on his white horse and flanked by a full entourage. The gates of the Old City were built for defense, and their design specifically discourages that kind of entry for tactical reasons (and also, local legend tells, there was a superstition that a king entering the gates of the city on a white horse would come to rule the city, and they were actually hoping to avoid that). So, to solve both problems, they just knocked down a section of the 400-year-old wall immediately adjacent to the main entry gate to make way for Wilhelm and Co.

Meanwhile, there is Rodolfo and me. In our eagerness to get to Santiago, we decided to forego the triumphant entry in favor of the immediate entry, and went for the drowned-rat approach, tracking mud and carrying all of our gear directly into the church, in the same clothes that we had been wearing for a week, in desperate need of a shower and a good night’s sleep, but without the slightest idea where we would be spending that night. And we couldn’t have been happier. We literally dropped to our knees and kissed the floor of the church in a flood of emotion. And then we promptly had a short catnap on top of our backpacks in the very public square in front of the church. Yeah, not quite the way the kings of yore would have done it.

And, let’s be honest, most of our own “triumphant” entries into Jerusalem entail us tumbling out of a sherut shuttle at 4 in the morning following a 24-hour journey, dragging our unwieldy luggage up three flights of stairs to our apartment, and fumbling for our keys as one of us calls “shotgun” on the bathroom.



wedding lazo

This lazo has been in Rodolfo’s family for generations!

Let me introduce you to a beautiful and loving couple. Rodolfo’s aunt, María Guadalupe (“Pita”), and uncle, Jesús (“Chuy”) live in Monterrey, Mexico. Tío Chuy is Rodolfo’s mom’s brother, and they are our padrinos de lazo, for anyone familiar with Mexican wedding traditions (see above). And they came to visit the Holy Land this week with the biggest group I have seen so far: 750 pilgrims from all over the world! If you thought the herding mentality was bad in a group of 30 or 50, you should see this group!

Chuy Jessa Pita

Tio Chuy, Me, and Tia Pita. Sometimes when talking about them to my English-speaking friends, they point out that “Chewy-Pita” sounds kind of like some new Mediterranean snack food, rather than these lovely people.

But on their very first morning in town, we made them drag themselves out of bed super-early and leave their hotel outside the Old City to go to a private Mass in the Holy Sepulchre, inside the empty tomb of Christ. I felt a little bad making them wake up early on their first morning in town, but it was the only available Mass, and in fact, I realized later that it was the best that could have happened. For one thing, a seminarian that spent the summer at our church was leaving that same day, and so his final act in the Holy City was to join in on the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus in the place where it really happened. His was a triumphant exit.

And for Tio Chuy and Tia Pita, their first entry into the Holy City of Jerusalem was not on a tour bus, in a group of 750, being herded like cattle through holy sites as though it were Epcot.

Their first entry into the Old City was, in fact, triumphant, heads held high, walking at our side through the cool morning air to the center of the Christian Universe as the sunlight broke across the ancient stones, continuing a 2,000-year-old tradition of Christians who have moved Heaven and Earth to be in the Holy Land. And it was glorious.

PS. If you’ve been able to see past the idiocy of Miley-gate this week, you may be aware that things are pretty shaky in our corner of the world right now. Please pray for us, for our neighbors, and for our world leaders.


Filed under Catholic Life, Holy Sepulchre, Playing Tourist, Travel, Walking Where Jesus Walked