a deacon's trip to the holy land

by the rev. daniel mcmillan, deacon

Deacon Daniel took a trip to Israel this spring and visited many ancient holy sites. He shares a few photos and thoughts here. If you would like to speak with him, please email him to set an appointment.

the dome of the rock

The “Dome of the Rock” as seen from Mount Scopus. Mount Scopus was the first stop of our tour’s

pilgrimage. This beautiful golden dome was for me the focal point of all East Jerusalem. This holy space

is the geographical mark whereupon Judaism and Islam converge. For practitioners of the Islamic faith, it

is the place where the Prophet Muhammed rose to heaven AFTER he had been transported in a dream

from Mecca. The dome reaches into that liminal space where the eternal and the temporal intersect. For

practitioners of the Jewish faith though the dome is literally built directly over the “Holy of Holies.” This

construction happened during the Second Temple period. The Holy of Holies is the room that only the

High Priests could enter. At the time that I first saw this it didn’t seem real because I had never seen

anything like it in the United States. But as I got closer, I began to feel the history and the drama the time

then and now encloses.

the wailing wall

The Wailing Wall is the last remaining vestige of the second Temple built by King Solomon. It is a sacred and holy site for people of the Jewish faith. Here, my friend Brooks, is saying a prayer. Notice how he wears the traditional yarmulke which is required of men while approaching the wall. What you do not see is that this is the men’s side which is divided from the women’s side. Also, the enormous monolithic stones on the bottom of the wall are reputedly the largest stones in the world. As testament to the political strife and sacredness of the wall there was a young man asking the men as they filed through, “Are you Jewish?” I remember replying, “No, I’m Episcopalian.”

above the holy of holies

Here, we are directly below the temple space of the Dome of the Rock, but just above the room called The Holy of Holies. It felt like we were in an historical cave with the green light giving the space a kind of alien feel. Behind these people was a window on the floor that peered fifteen to twenty feet down that is considered the actual room considered the Holy of Holies. The site is literally one holy space built on top of another!

dome of the rock detail

The attention to detail and the gold embedded on the inside of the Dome of the Rock is really a marvel. To me, it felt like a very holy space that I felt privileged to be in. The stained glass below the dome reminded me of St. Andrew’s by-the-Sea and perhaps how our faiths may be more similar than we would care to imagine.

The garden of gethsemane

The Garden of Gethsemane was beautiful and mysterious. That day the sky was clear and you could really see the roses, grass and Olive trees that festooned the path. Some of the enclosure was fenced and as I passed, I found myself looking on both sides of the walkway trying to detect where Jesus might have prayed to have his Father’s will put into him rather than his own. There were occasional sprays of red flowers as if the gardeners may have had inklings. Driving to work in my car today, I thought all of this “trying to detect the place” was silly and that what I needed to realize was since God had access to the entire earth, that meant all places were holy. Still, this was the place where the historical Jesus walked and prayed, and it was good to be there.

the church of the holy sepulcher

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher was crowded! It is also the holy site whereupon Jesus’ tomb is and from where he was resurrected. Representing the final stations of the cross, our guide is here drawing our attention to the wealth of ornamentation on the walls as well as the gold. Unfortunately, it was hard to appreciate and grasp primarily because of the abundance of tourists (of which we were some of those). However, the experience for me took me a while to process; that I was really there, and by the time I realized that profundity, the group was already going through the exit. One final note: there is a place in the floor that has just enough room for an arm to go through and when you did that your hand touches a surface that you cannot see which is the place where Jesus’ cross was mounted. I felt in awe…

tourist buddies

Meet Claudia and Pam! They were my tourist buddies that I just met. The trip was so much more fun because of their presence, authenticity, and humor. You also notice that they are both wearing head scarves that men did not have to wear. At this point we were in another mosque in Hebron. Here though the mosque was divided from the Jewish temple. In fact, there were walls that separated the sides. Dividers were the telling sign this day as we passed in our tour bus Jewish men AND women in their twenties and thirties at security check points with AR-15 rifles on their shoulders. Strangely, I never had any fear while touring the West Bank and I chalk that up to our adept Palestinian and Christian tour guides as well as a lot of prayers.

abraham's tomb

This is Abraham’s Tomb. I felt a very palpable silence near this space. It helped that there were less tourists. I loved the green and the gold embroidery on his tomb. Abraham is called “The Father of Faith” because he was willing to sacrifice his only son to Yahweh, but as he held up the dagger with intentionality he is stopped by an Angel of the Lord and is commanded to sacrifice a ram that has just gotten its horns stuck in a bramble. The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote a series of meditations on Abraham’s resignation and faith. He titled the book “Fear and Trembling.”

palestinian life

This pic taken in Hebron is one glimpse into the kind life Palestinians live. The houses are for the most part run down; some are amid patch-working like this one. But families stick together as most of the younger generation have built their houses on top of the older generations. You see a lot of Olive groves and vineyards below the omnipresent limestone. There is a lot of poverty in the city, but I felt the political situation is the main contributor and the people that have lived in this land for years are often trapped because they cannot get through Israeli check points for whatever reason to get the things they need. A large part of my experience in the Holy Land was witnessing this division and how I could learn more about it so that I could work as an agent against it anywhere I saw it.

st. george's cathedral

St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem is a huge bright light in the city. It is a materialized hope among others that the plight between the Palestinians and Israelis can be resolved. It also served as an appropriate book end to my time in the city allowing my friend and I to bury Father Bill Broughton’s ashes in a place not far from where he lived when he was one of the leading Episcopal priests in Israel. It is my hope that seeing these pics will inspire you on your own Jerusalem pilgrimage. I see the whole world now in a larger more inclusive frame that I didn’t think possible. It also gave me FOUNDATION and we all need that when moving through necessary change.

the via dolorosa

The Via Dolorosa is Jesus’ passion. It is the path he trod while carrying the cross beam to Golgotha, the Place of the Skulls. Since there were fourteen stations of the cross, I was able to walk one of the stations. After carrying the cross, we then were asked to read that part of Jesus’ passion. After I finished, I remember getting to know one of the women. She told me she was there to gain strength because her son had cancer. I think and I am hoping that when it was her time, that she became emboldened to do with Christ what was before her then and now.