While Farid, a member of the staff at St. George's pilgrim guest house in east Jerusalem, always welcomes me (and everyone, I imagine) with a bear hug, this is the first time I stopped and asked where he's from. "Zababdeh, in the West Bank," he said -- and that was a Holy Spirit moment, because we 30 St. John's pilgrims will visit his home town a week from tomorrow. Farid's a Roman Catholic. We'll meet his Episcopal friend and colleague, the Rev. Nael Abu Rahmoun, at St. Matthew's in Zababdeh and get a tour of the Penman Clinic, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, the hosts of our 12-day pilgrimage.
The spirit has surely been with us so far. Because of the storms in the southeast, nearly 2,500 U.S. flights were canceled Monday, mostly in Atlanta. For us to make it to Jerusalem tonight, three Delta flights into or out of Atlanta had to operate -- the two we were on and the one supplying the 777 for our outbound flight to Tel Aviv. Above you'll see a concourse the busiest hub in the world at 8 p.m. Sunday evening. The airport was so empty that the security guard in our part of the terminal spent an hour in the lounge, watching the Oregon-Auburn game with pilgrims Andy and Duane. Sure, we left Atlanta nearly four hours late, which included a noisy, hour-long chemical baptism for the 777, aka a deicing. But it's pretty amazing under the circumstances that we even made it out of California.
Our guide and friend Canon Iyad Qumri met us at Ben Gurion airport and joined us in reading Psalm 87 as we began to make our way by bus up to Jerusalem. It's the psalmist's miraculous vision of a city embodying the fulfillment of God's vision of perfect unity for his people: "Of Zion it shall be said, 'Everyone was born in her'." Within two hours of our arrival in Tel Aviv, we were gathered over a late-night snack in the St. George's dining room, marveling at the practical miracles that had brought us so far against such odds. Pilgrims Kathy and DJ even ventured onto the roof for a glass of pilgrim Chardonnay.
We'll spend tomorrow getting our bearings in the Old City, whose Damascus Gate is a 20-minute walk away down Nablus Rd., past the U.S. Consulate. We'll be the Lutherans' guests for lunch and get our first look at the ineffable Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It will be hard for days 3-12 to top that -- but remember, as people here always say to explain every surprise, ambiguity, and sheer wonderment they encounter: This is the Holy Land. We anticipate a great pilgrimage, and not just because God and Delta Airlines expended a considerable amount of energy getting us here.