The mount of olives
We had planned to visit the Dome of the Rock, which is a mosque built on the place where the Jewish temple used to stand. However, to our surprise we found out that this Muslim place of worship was closed on the Jewish Shabbat. I never found out why, as I don’t think mosques elsewhere are closed on Saturday. But maybe it is part of the fragile balance that allows Jews and Muslims to co-exist in Jerusalem.
Instead, we decided to walk to the Mount of Olives, which is East of the Temple Mount. I didn’t realize that Jerusalem is built on such hilly terrain, but there is a rather deep valley East of the Temple Mount, which gives a very nice feeling of open space. The first thing we saw as we walked around the walls was a huge Jewish cemetery on the South slopes of the Mount of Olives. There are supposedly over 150,000 Jews buried there, as they believe this is the first place where the Messiah will appear—that is when the real thing finally decides to show up instead of that impostor, Jesus. Thus, the Jews believe that those buried there will be guaranteed to enter the kingdom—again a clear attachment to a particular physical location.
The Garden of Gethsemane with 2,000 year old olive trees.
It was a rather long walk down to the bottom of the valley and over to the other side, where we had to climb again. There was no shade and the temperature was around 25˚ Celsius. As we started walking up the other side, we first came to the Church of All Nations, a church built through a collaboration of a number of Christian nations. It has a huge mosaic on the front, but otherwise the building has a non-distinct architecture. It was extremely crowded and we ended up not wanting to fight our way inside.
We did go into the Garden of Gethsemane that has a number of olive trees that have been tested to be over 2,000 years old, so it is assumed they were around when Jesus was there. In order to get in, Helen again had to cover her shoulders. When she asked why, she was told that there might be some holy fathers inside. I couldn’t help but remark that if they could be distracted that easily, maybe they weren’t as holy as they thought, but anyway.
I know, this is supposed to be a kind of holy ground because Jesus might very well have walked here. And you do see tons of Christian pilgrims who walk around with reverent faces, which I am not in any way trying to put down. However, I personally have long ago given up the belief that any piece of land is inherently holy. I see Jesus as being beyond time and space, meaning that I can tune in to his Presence anywhere, anytime. It is no easier for me to do so in a particular spot in Jerusalem than anywhere else on this planet. I got the distinct impression that Jesus is deliberately NOT placing his Presence here because he does not want to encourage this form of idol worship.
Apparently this is what God looks like.
We next followed a narrow road that led up the rather steep mountain. From across the valley we had seen the golden onion-shaped domes of the Church of Mary Magdalene, a Russian Orthodox church commemorating Mary Magdalene. We found the entrance and fortunately it was open. There was a stepped walk up through a beautiful garden, which led to a small monastery and then the church. The outside of the church was beautiful and there was a nice view of Jerusalem, the temple wall and the Dome of the Rock across the valley. There were also several shady benches, which we really appreciated, as it was getting close to noon. The inside of the church was unremarkable and very dark.
Our next goal was the Church of Dominus Flevit, which is supposedly built on the spot where Jesus wept for Jerusalem. All along I had been looking for a place to take a dictation that I knew Jesus wanted to give in this general area, but so far every place had been too crowded or directly in the burning sun. As we come around a bend in the road, I see a woman sitting in a wheelchair that is wedged up against the wall. It turns out her companion had walked ahead to see how long and steep the road was. So I decide to push her up, which was actually quite a task, given how steep and slippery the road was.
The Church of Mary Magdalene.
After a while, there is a little turnout and I push the wheelchair in there for a rest. It turned out to be the entrance to the Jewish cemetery with row after row of graves. Some of them were falling apart, and I expected bones to be falling out, but either humans or dogs must have cleaned up. We took a rest and had a nice chat with the lady in the wheelchair. She was from Sweden and her name was Bambi. She had been given too much anesthetic during a routine operation and was paralyzed from the waist down and declared a paraplegic. However, by sheer willpower she had retrained herself to have movement of her upper body and normal talk. She even sang and had given a performance in a Swedish church not long before.
She was a very inspiring testament to the human spirit, and she was also quite open to spiritual ideas. A few years ago she had gone back to her native Catholicism, but had retained a lot of New Age ideas. We all felt a great heart connection to her and enjoyed her company. Shortly afterwards her friend joined us and when we had rested, we took turns pushing the wheelchair the rest of the way to the Church of Dominus Flevit. There were tall walls on both sides of the road and I breathed a sigh of relief when I got to the entrance to the church—only to find the gate locked.
The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives.
Outside the gate was a bit of shade, and a group of ladies from India were sitting there, waiting for the church to open. A couple of them were very talkative and we had a nice chat with them. They were Catholics from Goa, which up until recently had been a Portuguese colony on the West coast of India. So we learned something about India, among other things that the financial crises has barely touched the Indian economy.
At one point a Franciscan monk walks up and wants to get in, so a couple of the ladies had to move. They try to talk him into letting them in, but he says his boss is very strict and would punish him for disobeying the rules. I blurt out that my Boss is a God of unconditional love and he wouldn’t mind us being let in. The monk literally says that maybe his boss should talk to my Boss, and I answer that all he needs to do is tune in to Him in his heart. Needless to say, he still didn’t let us in.
The beautiful garden around the Church of Mary Magdalene.
Given that the church won’t be open for a while and that we are getting hungry and thirsty, we decide to walk up to the Seven Arches Hotel on the top of the hill and see if we can get some lunch. This is a modern hotel that created some controversy because it was built on ground that was a cemetery many years ago. Again, a testament to people’s attachment to land.
On the way to the top, we passed the Grave of the Prophets, but it was – of course – closed on the Shabbat (one presumes even the dead rest on the Shabbat). The hotel had a gorgeous view (but was very expensive, which is why we didn’t stay there) and after some running around, we found the dining room where we were the only customers. It took a while, but we finally had a nice lunch and some cold water and milk shake. The dining room had one wall with all glass and a fabulous view of the Old City. Couldn’t ask for a better view for lunch—or better company for that matter.