Saturday, June 30, 2012

Divine Polyphony

On Thursday, as the sun set over Jerusalem, we pilgrims gathered on the roof of the Holy Land Hotel for an abbreviated service of evening prayer. "O gracious light," we said, "pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven...Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises..."

But this was Jerusalem, so we weren't praying alone. No one ever is. When the time came for the Lord's Prayer, our voices were blending with those of muezzin calling Muslims to their sunset prayer (7:55 p.m. in Jerusalem, or about ten minutes after our service had begun). I could distinguish at least two chants, and there may have been three. Our hotel in east Jerusalem had three minarets within sight. So we joined hands and joined our voices to those of the muezzin and chanted the Our Father using one of the settings from the Episcopal hymnal.

You could say the moment was holy polyphonic. We weren't arguing or trying to drown out theological competitors. There's more than enough of that in Jerusalem without our adding to the mayhem. Something similar happens every day during scheduled worship in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where we got a behind-the-scenes tour on Friday afternoon from Rev. Fergus Clarke, one of the Franciscan priests who work with five other denominations -- Greek, Armenian and Syriac Orthodox, Coptic, and Ethiopian -- to operate and care for Christianity's holiest place. Fergus reminded us that his is the only church in the world where denominations worship simultaneously in different languages -- for instance Coptics and Roman (or Latin) Catholics at opposite ends of Christ's tomb, within 20 feet of each other.

I've heard it, and it's beautiful. While agreeing by and large on just one thing -- that in the tomb they preserve and adore, our God in Christ destroyed death and saved the world -- these Christians all worship differently, and so have we on our 10-day pilgrimage.

The Rev. Canon Michael Bamberger (shown here with pilgrims Brenna and Steven Hayden) and I took turns celebrating Holy Eucharist -- Mike on Saturday morning in the ruins of a Crusader church at Emmaus Nicopolis, I a few days earlier on a stone altar overlooking the Sea of Galilee. But when it came to our non-Eucharistic services, we mixed it up considerably, taking turns organizing our pilgrim worship.

One evening Fr. Mike borrowed a moving Compline, or close-of-day, liturgy from our Diocese of Los Angeles colleague Canon Randy Kimler. The next night, pilgrim Christian Kassoff, co-leader of an emergent Christian community in Huntington Beach called Thom's, invited pilgrims to reflect about their first few days in Jerusalem. Christian and his son, Damian, took turns anointing them at the end of the service. I did the honors with the holy oil after the Rev. Lisa Rotchford, knee-deep in the Jordan River, presided at a reaffirmation of our baptismal vows (that's pilgrim Ed Alosio with Pastor Lisa).

It was back to the rooftop when we gathered in Nazareth one evening by the light shining from the cupola of the nearby Basilica of the Annunciation. Another Thom's minister -- Christian's wife and Damian's mother, Shannon -- led us in yoga and guided meditation. During one of my turns, I stretched liturgical propriety even further than yoga instructor Shannon stretched our pilgrim hamstrings when I offered some doggerel to be sung to the tune of "Pray For The Peace Of Jerusalem," which our Galilean friend the Rev. Fuad Dagher taught us at St. John's back in 2010. I hoped to illustrate the pilgrim virtues of patience, flexibility, tolerance, and unity:
When we set out for Tel Aviv
Our departure time was a slidin'
We pilgrims has to sit and wait
The runway was reserved for Joe Biden

Cucumbers and yogurt and olives with pits
Like no breakfast we've ever seen
We knew we weren't in Kansas no more
When we saw that the orange juice was green

Muslims and Jews, Christian orthodox
For all kinds, Jerusalem's the place
We walk the ancient streets of this town
Amazed by diversity of faith

In Bethlehem we reached and touched
The rough stone that sheltered the Christ
His love proclaims such unity
That mocks all our conflict and strife.
We pilgrims also shared perhaps 25 scriptural readings connected to the sites we visited and 50 prayers and blessings, almost all in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I remember just two exceptions. After we'd heard a talk by a religious Jew and peace activist who elected to stay for our closing prayer, Fr. Mike left out the reference to Christ. Saying grace over our Saturday lunch at a shawarma restaurant on Salah al-Din in east Jerusalem, where we were surrounded by pious Muslims, I prayed in the name of the Creator, not to deny Christ but avoid disappointing him by excluding any of God's beloved non-Christian creatures who may have been listening.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Roberts Rules

My Nixon brother Hugh Hewitt doesn't like the Supreme Court's health care ruling. But he knows the chief justice, John Roberts, with whom he shared an office in the Reagan White House, and believes that he ruled as his conscience dictated:
The Chief Justice's decision is the consequence of his personal integrity as it would have been much, much easier for him to rule the other way. Critics of him will have to consider what they would have done if they believed the mandate to have been justified by the taxing power.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Missing Footnotes To History

In a History News Network post, historian and blogger Maarja Krusten accuses historians of complacency because of their inattentiveness to the slings and arrows hurled at former Nixon library director Tim Naftali by Bob Haldeman's operatives.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Did Jesus Live Here?

Visited mostly by pilgrims and other guests of the retreat house of the Religious Sisters of Nazareth, which shelters them, these ruins are known to include a Herodian grave complete with rolling stone (not Jesus's, of course; that was in Jerusalem), first-century as well as Byzantine and Crusader-era streets and floors, and remains of a first-century hillside residence (that's a cave to you and me, kids).

In Jesus's time, perhaps 200 people lived in Nazareth. So Jesus, Mary and Joseph and other members of their family probably at least walked through the portal into the front room behind pilgrim Brenna. Did they live here? There's not much on the web or even in guide books about this place. But there's evidence that people considered it holy for centuries.

More later. To follow our pilgrims' progress in the meantime, friend me on Facebook and check out the photos here.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Five For The Road

The St. John's Spirit of Jerusalem pilgrimage will begin its day (that's Monday to us) in the Judean desert and finish in Nazareth, land of occasionally sketchy wireless. To tide you over if necessary, some miscellaneous images, including our traveling Deb Neal fan club (that's Deb third from the right; out former Diocese of Los Angeles colleague, she's now the Bishop of Jerusalem's secretary).

You want to have a truly blessed time in the Holy Land? Then travel with pilgrims Brenna (8), Steven (13), and Damian (12).

Pilgrim Kathy gives pilgrim Cindy a back rub.

In Episcopal churches everywhere, including St. Matthew's in Zababdeh, children proudly bring their Sunday school handwork into the great congregation when that long episode called the sermon is finally over.

Singing one of my favorite hymns, "All Hail The Power Of Jesus' Name," with three of my favorite people, pilgrims Mike, Debbie, and Cindy? Words fail.

Holy Land graffiti is always worth reading, noting, and inwardly digesting.

The Greatest Man I Ever Met

In 1979, ultra-orthodox Jewish settlers (traitors to their faith no less notorious than Sept. 11 attacker Mohamed Atta was to his) raided a Greek Orthodox monastery in the West Bank town of Nablus and used an axe to murder the abbot, Archimandrite Philoumeno, who was especially beloved of the local Arab community.

The abbot, beatified in 2009, died while saying vespers. Another brother standing and praying nearby, Fr. Justinus, subdued St. Philoumeno's killer by smashing him with a chandelier and breaking both his legs, an especially remarkable accomplishment since Justinus is five feet tall and had been stabbed 16 times in the attack. The murderer and his accomplices were put on trial but acquitted by reason of insanity.

As outrageous as the verdict sounds, maybe the court got it right. Faithful people would have to be nuts to commit such an abomination at the site of Jacob's well, which, as disclosed by John's gospel, was where Jesus Christ asked a woman of Samaria (whom he should have judged unclean and unapproachable, according to the religious authorities of the day) to pour him a drink of water.

Yet creating new martyrs in a place remembered for the great patriarch as well as a supreme act of reconciliation is not as ironic as it might seem, according to Fr. Justinus. When we St. John's pilgrims visited him this afternoon, he told us that the attackers were motivated not by a reverence and preference for the site's Hebrew Testament antecedents but by their plan to twin it with nearby Joseph's Tomb as a money-making G ticket for Jewish and presumably Christian visitors and pilgrims.

Instead, Justinus picked up Philoumeno's mantle and spearheaded the construction of a magnificent Crusader-style church over the many-storied well, one of an elite category of Holy Land sites which are precisely what tradition purports. St. Photina's opened about 20 years after the settler attacks. Besides sheltering St. Philoumeno's remains, it's filled with Justinus's own exquisite paintings, murals, and icons, including one showing his colleague and friend's murder (above) and another depicting Jesus's encounter with the woman at at the well.

I've met presidents and their ministers and factotums but no one greater than Fr. Justinus -- near-martyr, brave wielder of the mighty sword of justice, church-builder, artist, and gentle and gracious pastor. He greeted us near the front door of his church with a friendliness and generosity of spirit you won't find in many rich, powerful people who can boast of nothing like his courage and character. He took time to pose with pilgrims Steven, who is 13 and about his height, and Brenna Hayden and stooped (though not very far) to kiss Brenna on the top of her head.

And yet after pilgrims Steven, Brenna, and Damian had lowered a bucket into the well, and we'd all drunk from the same ancient spring as Jesus, I was surprised to see Justinus step behind the gift counter and add master salesman to his repertoire. In three minutes he had deftly maneuvered me toward purchasing a hand-painted copy of his depiction of Jesus and the Samaritan woman.

Would you say no to Gandhi? Dr. King? He signed and anointed my purchase (a deep cruciform soaking that will mark this treasure forever) and the hands of everyone standing nearby, including the Rev. Lisa Rotchford, who's afraid she persuaded me to buy the icon. Not a chance. He had me at hello.

Fr. Justinus said he and the brothers had been praying for our bishop, Jon Bruno, and were delighted to learn that that his leukemia was in remission. "He is a big man, with a big heart," said the little priest. Takes one to know one.