Stay long enough in Jerusalem and you are bound to meet people you know. This has always been a meeting place in the world and, indeed, so many old maps placed Jerusalem at the centre, the meeting point of the nations. So it was great when I discovered that a group from the Diocese of Southwark had begun their pilgrimage and were staying just a short distance from the Cathedral.
So I managed to get myself on their coach today. It was great to be able to spend time with people from Caterham, Whyteleafe, Woldingham, Chaldon and elsewhere with Fr Tim Goode and his wife Bernie leading them on their pilgrimage. Tim is the priest at St Luke’s Whyteleafe.
Today they were due to visit the Western Wall, the Temple Mount, follow the Via Dolorosa and walk along the Cardo and through the Jewish Quarter. Though I’ve been to all those places before and during these weeks here it was lovely to see them with this group of pilgrims.
For most of them it was their first time in the Holy Land and so they were experiencing all the joys and enjoying all the surprises that this place holds and they were working at understanding the tensions that exist between the communities in this city. As their Guide reminded us, Jerusalem means ‘City of Peace’, the city that contains the wholeness of life – its joys and its sorrows.
Every Guide has different insights they share with their pilgrim group. I didn’t know, for instance, that the notes with prayers on that are shoved between the stones in the Western Wall are regularly gathered to create room for fresh petitions to be left. But, as they contain the name of God in the message, they can’t be burnt and so are buried somewhere on the Mount of Olives. Nor did I know that the two ringlets Orthodox Jewish men wear called payot serve as a reminder of the law not to glean to the edge of the field, not to take every grape, every olive but to leave something for the poor and the sojourner. I’ve also found in Leviticus this instruction
You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. (Leviticus 19.27)
So the truth may lie somewhere between or it may derive from both instructions. But I prefer the former as it reminds me of the story of Ruth who came as a foreigner to the land and was allowed to glean in the barley fields of Bethlehem by Boaz who she would ultimately marry and through whose line David was born. Her story gives us a view of things through others eyes.
When you visit the remains of the cardo, the street that ran through the heart of the Roman and Byzantine city, one wall has been painted with a scene to show you what it would have looked like. But a joke was included in the bottom right hand corner. There we see a little girl from those former times greeting a little boy, complete with backpack and trainers, from our own time. Worlds and times meet in this amazing city. Walking, talking, sitting, praying, singing with these Southwark pilgrims gave me their gift of fresh insight and renewed joy in being in this wonderful, challenging, complex city.
Seeing the world as others see it is something that we are not always good at. Perhaps today has been a reminder to me of just how important it is.
All-seeing, all-knowing God,
may I see the world through the eyes
of the young and the old,
of the happy and the sad,
of the rejoicing and the weeping,
of the free and the prisoner,
of those who know you
and those who have yet to see,
know and love you.