Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ways in the Wilderness – Preliminaries in Jerusalem

On Mount Scopus with Jerusalem behind us before we left for the desert!

Overlooking the Judean Wildnerness
Mary Stahl's cottage Gleann Golaidh in Dornoch, Scotland

With Mary in her kitchen. 
A chance to catch up.   We’ve had very little internet access and when we have, we’ve been pressed for time.  As I write we are in Dornoch, Scotland where we’ve had a couple of days with St. Paul’s parishioner Mary Stahl, who has been visiting Dornoch regularly for 20 years (there is virtually no internet access here, so I will send from the hotel in Edinburgh when we get there).  Mary used to travel to Dornoch with her husband Larry when he was still living and they would stay here between May and October.   Before his death, Larry urged her to continue to visit Dornoch because he felt she would find it a place for healing.   As she said to us, “he was right as usual.”  I have fond memories of Larry.  He was Senior Warden when I was called to be Rector of St. Paul’s and was a trusted advisor my first year before he was diagnosed with liver cancer.
Dornoch is a quaint and very beautiful town on the northeast coast of Scotland about an hour drive  north of Inverness.  Susan and I took a train from Edinburgh to get here. The trip through the Scottish Highlands was absolutely stunning.    We passed through lush green fields and hills outside of Edinburgh into shades of green and brown as we passed through the highlands.  Fall has come and leaves are changing.   All along were hundreds and hundreds of sheep on the hills.
Sunday we worshipped with Mary at St. Finbarr’s Scottish Episcopal Church (Sorry, can’t tell you who anything about St. Finbarr except that he was an Irish saint!).   The congregation numbered about 30 people and it was “Harvest Sunday” so the hymns reflected the observance and included “Come, ye thankful people, come!”   
Susan and I have had many adventures since we sent on our way by St. Paul’s on September 5th.  I’ve written extensively about our time in Cody and our visits to Yellowstone.   Our “Ways in the Wilderness” course offered by St. George’s College, Jerusalem was an equally incredible experience.  We arrived in Jerusalem after our flight from New York and an eight hour layover in Paris (see previous entry). 
We arrived at Ben Gurion at about 11:00 PM on Monday, October 20 and were met by a driver from St. George’s.   The drive to Jerusalem and the College took about an hour (10 minutes was taken up at an Israeli checkpoint where we had to surrender our passports to an Israeli security officer).   When we arrived at St. George’s, which is in East Jerusalem, occupied mostly by Palestinians, it was quiet as everyone had already gone to bed.   A night watchman greeted us and showed us to our room – “The Jerusalem Room.”   The rooms are simply furnished and have the feel of college dorm rooms: two wooden beds, two wardrobes, two desks, two chairs and a bathroom with a shower.   We got ourselves organized and went to bed quickly.
On Tuesday, I woke up at 6 AM, because breakfast was scheduled for between 7 and 8.  I read Morning Prayer in the room.  The appointed psalm was Psalm 78, Part I which includes the verse, “Can God set a table in the wilderness.”  I thought that an especially appropriate verse for meditation as we preapred to journey into the wilderness. Tuesday, we were pretty much free for the day, so we wandered into the Old City for a while and then headed to The Israeli Museum, which unfortunately was not scheduled to open until later in the afternoon.  After that frustration, we decided to go the American Colony Hotel for lunch.  It’s a very short walk from the College.
St. George’s had scheduled a Eucharist at the adjacent St. George’s Cathedral for 6:00 PM.   The Cathedral, a lovely, small Gothic Church, is the See of the Archbishop of the Anglican Church of the Middle East. An opening reception at the College took place immediately afterwards.   This was the first opportunity we had to meet the rest of those who would make up our “happy band of pilgrims” for the next two weeks.   The group as predominately American, but we had two British priests and a Catholic priest from Australia as well as a British lay couple.  There was a clergy couple from Oregon.   A number of the participants were lay people from Cambridge, Massachusetts.    This was because the spiritual directors for this trip, Br. Curtiss and Br. David,  were two monks of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (S.S.J.E.) which is headquartered in Cambridge.   Curtis was on sabbatical leave from the monastery having served nine years as the Superior of the monastery.   Both Curtis and David were a great blessing to us all.
Following the reception and a very fine Middle Eastern meal in the College refectory, we gathered for introductions and a brief overview of the course and what lay in front of us.  This was led by Course Director The Rev. Canon Dr. Andrew Mayes, an English priest and well-read scholar on Desert Spirituality.   His 17 year old son, Adam, would also be on the trip and was a great delight.  Jill Need, wife of St. George’s College Dean, The Rev. Stephen Need, would be the “practical” staff person on the trip and also helped lead the opening briefing.   She was a fabulous organizer and “cat herder” throughout the two weeks.  It’s a role that Susan usually plays when she and I lead groups.   It was nice to have someone else in this role for a change.
On Wednesday morning we had a lecture on Desert Spirituality led by Andrew, most of us went out and about getting last minute provisions and especially getting the necessary cash we would need for our travels.  We were heading for the Judean Wilderness, the Negev, then into Egypt and after that to Jordan.  American currency was the preferred and most convenient currency of choice and it is especially advisable to carry one dollar bills.
At 3:45 Pm, we had a group photo taken and then it was onto a coach for a short drive to Mount Scopus (adjacent to the Mount of Olives) where we could look off on one side and see all of Jerusalem and then  board the coach, travel a few hundred yards and look off into the Judean wilderness.   That was where were to head the next day.
After this overview it was back to the college for dinner, a reflection afterwards by one of the brother and then bed.   We would leave the college the next morning at 8 AM and not return for 13 days.
In the next blog entries, quick summaries of our Ways in the Wilderness experience by day with photos.


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