While in the Christian Quarter we were also able to go inside the area where many families live. Our tour guide was raised in this environment and was able to deftly navigate the alleys and corridors to take us 'behind the scenes' where children's toys were scattered and clothing was on the line--life amidst the historical stones.
As we entered the Muslim Quarter there was an energy shift. It was full of people and markets overflowing with rich colors and smells. We sampled delicious olives--and candy!
From Old Jerusalem, we traveled a short distance to the Garden of Gethsemane. Here we learned that the name Gethsemane is derived from the words for "olive press." as out tour guide Andre pointed out "when we are pressed, we pray."
I had been warned the small size of this garden would surprise me. What I did not expect was the overt tourism on display as crowds encircled this small fenced in plot. As dozens and their tour guides bustled around the lot as if it were an exhibit on display, it was difficult to find prayerful stillness. It was a stark contrast to the peaceful, lush, quiet, personal place of reflection I had envisioned. However, we were delighted to find that just across the street was a private section surrounded by stone walls, available for entrance and reflection. Our group gained admittance and was able to have a short service of praise and worship before scattering around the garden to pray in this serene place.
While the olive trees we sat under and against are not 2000 years old, they have been carbon dated as some of the oldest ever discovered--over 1000 years old! They are likely descendants of the shoots of the original trees that grew in this area.
My personal faith doesn't lead me to conclude anything magical happened simply by praying in this place. Nevertheless, it was powerful to envelop myself in the sights, sounds, and context of Jesus' prayer vigil here before he was handed over to the authorities for crucifixion. I was challenged anew to consider the depth of His surrender and the eternal implications (and daily call) in my own life and I was truly filled with purposeful peace.
Our afternoon consisted of a solemn visit to the Holocaust Museum. We discovered after we exited that the age restriction for the museum was 16 years and up--but the kids handled it with remarkable maturity. My husband wisely paced our one hour visit so that the first 50 minutes were spent understanding the build up/causes of the Holocaust. We rushed through the graphic portions of the exhibits, but lingered in sections that focused on the survivor stories. We solemnly attempted to absorb this horrible period in World History. Although we came to the Holy Land to see the places, God continued to remind me of all we could learn from its people.
We returned the Jewish Quarter at night to explore the underground tunnels and pray at the Western Wall. Perhaps it was because of the lights on the wall against the darkness and the prominent Israeli flag--but standing in the prayer plaza was a surreal experience.
Women did not have to cover their heads, but men did. Apparently, any head covering will do, so while Parker and big Ryland had to don yarmulkes RyGuy's Northface baseball camp was deemed perfectly acceptable.
There was a divider in the prayer plaza that sorted women to the right and men to the left--as the two genders were not permitted to pray together at the wall. Kate and I entered the women's area clutching small slips of paper with our prayer requests to leave there between the stones.
As we took our turn praying here, the spot believed to be the closest one can get to the Temple Mount, we were surrounded by devoutly religious people experiencing the Wall in different, demonstrative ways. As many around us rocked, cried, prayed and covered their faces with holy texts, I felt a bit uncertain. I looked over at Kate who seemed to be having the same uneasiness. As we walked away I realized it was because I didn't feel I had to travel across the world to a stone wall to feel like the Lord heard more prayers. I rejoiced that Jesus tore down the wall between us and God so we can speak to Him with the same intimacy in our bathroom shower in Georgia as at this historical place.
After a 13 hour day of touring, we returned to our hotel this night with MUCH to process!