Jerusalem, city of sacred hope
By Suzanne Estelle-Holmer, Instructional Services Librarian, and Kenneth Hughes '06 M.Div.
Suzanne - As we traveled the short distance from Bethlehem to Jerusalem I felt my mood lighten, as though a dark cloud had lifted. The town of Bethlehem was beautiful and its people were so welcoming and friendly, I felt guilty for feeling glad to be leaving. Yet, I knew we were traveling to Jerusalem, my Jerusalem, the city I had fallen in love with over 30 years ago – the city I knew so intimately, which had called me back many times to discover something new and unexpected. I thought about the first days of our trip and I realized why I had been feeling so low – the Wall encircling and imprisoning the people of Bethlehem, the barbed wire and steel fencing in the old city of Hebron protecting the local population from the savagery of the settlers, and the humiliation of walking through an electronic checkpoint to visit the Mosque of the Patriarchs.
Ken - Our entire journey through the West Bank revolved around spaces. Spaces enclosed, Spaces denied, spaces claimed, and spaces battled over. And the boundary markers for these spaces invariably were walls. Walls of stone, barbed wire, corrugated steel and grim, ominous, towering slabs of poured concrete.
Suzanne - As we glimpsed Jerusalem in the distance, I realized for the first time that the Old City, the most holy real estate of all of Israel was walled! Why had I not thought of these walls in the context of the new Wall, the so-called Separation Barrier, before? We arrived an hour early at St. Georges Cathedral where we were to attend church, so there was an hour for exploration. Without thinking I dragged two friends off to the Old City to admire the city walls and to dive into the Souk, or Arab market. There it occurred to me that the Walls of the Old City with their massive gates invite and beckon. They do not exclude, segregate or punish. Especially at the Damascus Gate, one always enters the city with a throng of humanity – Muslims on their way to pray at al-Aqsa, Jews rushing to the Western Wall, Christians on pilgrimage, and families shopping. During that morning and in the days that followed my greatest joy was in sharing Jerusalem with the group. This was the first time in four years that I was not traveling alone and it was exhilarating to be sharing the experience with others. It became apparent to me that any claims of exclusivity to Jerusalem are illusory. One of the things that makes the land holy is the sharing of traditions, the respect for one another's holy places. The three Abrahamic faiths share connections to one another so intimate they cannot be severed. A Jerusalem composed of only Christian sites or Christian believers would be meaningless to me. Jerusalem as shared space is holy space.
Ken - The walls of Jerusalem do not impart an oppressive spirit. Rather than dividing, they encompass; rather than segregating, they define communities; rather than ghettoizing, they mark passages through shared space. I was drawn to Jerusalem 's portals, doorways, gates, and avenues. There were domes with openings to the heavens, and stairways ascending to rooftops from which unrestricted vistas of the city and its surroundings could be enjoyed.
Suzanne - Throughout the long history of travel, pilgrimage and missionary efforts in the Holy Land, visitors, especially those from the West, have been disappointed, if not horrified, by what they encountered in the Holy Land. Many could not survive the heartbreak when they discovered a poverty-stricken, filthy city, with unscrupulous merchants and conniving clerics, homelessness and sickness, rather than the golden utopia they envisioned. Conditions have improved since then, but for me, in light of the conflict we have tried to understand, Jerusalem is sacred precisely because it is a real, living, city. Not only was Christianity born in this turbulent and troubled place, but it is only through the everyday human work of trust, sharing, compromise and love that Jerusalem will remain the city of peace.
Ken – There is a modeling in Jerusalem of the way things could be. Of spaces bubbling with blends of language, culture, religion, and simple human existence - Of environments notably free of the life of predator and hunted so much in evidence elsewhere in the so-called Holy Land. Jerusalem - not perfect yet, but a city of sacred hope.