Saturday, October 22, 2011

What is the Divine Feminine?

I was asked to write about the Divine Feminine. How does one write about something that is beyond words? I gave it my best effort and thought I would add it to my blog. I am about to begin the second Annual Aloha Goddess Retreat with Faith Rivera in Keauhou, Hawaii. This article ties into the focus of our retreat this year.

Divine Feminine
She stands gracefully within a large seashell as though offered up from the depths of the waters that lap beside her. Her hair cascades over her breasts as if to embrace the swells that hold the sweetness of life. Her graceful body is uncovered and her belly is slightly rounded as if to hint of the life born of her life – birthing the entire universe. At once she appears soft, graceful, serene – which belies another image of her as the fire goddess birthing the new land while at the same time clearing away all that is in her path. The image changes again to a squat figure with pointed, erect breast and huge belly and thighs – the quintessential Ma – immediately recognizable.
I look in the mirror. I see the reflection – white hair, sagging breasts skin loose around what was once a tiny waist. I look into my own eyes and see the evolution of a life – from child to adolescent to woman and mother to crone. I see the wounds, the tears, the heartbreaks, and I see the triumphs, the joys and the wide open loving that finally broke open my heart. The belly sags from the carting of new life within it. But this body, as all the bodies of all women everywhere carries so much more than what is seen in the mirror.
How does one describe the Divine Feminine? I am the Divine Feminine, just as all women everywhere are the expressions of the creatrix, mother, lover, nurturer and warrior that we are.
And this essence indwells the male manifestation as it does the female.
I always knew she was within me, but growing up I was shown a caricature of “feminine” which I tried to emulate. Soft spoken, submissive, perfect housekeeper, immaculately coiffed, ready for dinner guests at a moment’s notice. Behind the sweet smile there was a rage and weeping that took place in the dungeon where the prisoner lived in darkness chained to an expectation that could never be met.
The mystery was too terrifying, to difficult to understand, too wild and it had to be contained. How could the “feminine” be Divine? Was that not the realm of the patriarchs?

On a soft, moonlit night in the midst of winter, the tides rise high and cover the marshes over with the cool waters of the sea – the mighty ocean is tamed by the pull of the moon, and even on a wild night when the seas are tossing their waves so high as to topple ships, the moon has her pull – her waxing and her waning.
There is a power there. It is a deep ancestral pulsing that calls with a siren song, or a lullaby or the ecstatic expression of the orgasmic moment. It is the soft whisper and the rage filled scream, the ancient call of the indigenous, and the aria of Carmen.
It is a Spirit- it is felt and cannot be adequately named. It plants star seeds and harvests great love. It has the power to tear it all apart and to plant again. It is the tenderness that caresses the infant suckling and the power to protect her own when threatened.
She is the whirling, twirling dervish in a fluffy pink tutu, the quiet women who walks consciously across the planet for peace, and the one who defends her nation to be burned at the stake.
She is the keeper of mysteries, which she holds in her depths and only shares with those who deserve to know. She is the provider of warmth and nourishment when there seems to be only a crust of old moldy bread in the house. She is the wise one, and she is the naïve one. She is the vulnerable one who allows the sacred wound, and as her heart is pierced, she is the one to cry out her forgiveness.
She sits in circles and knits mantles of peace as she weaves her spell of light and grace around the children dancing at her feet.
How do we describe this life force we call the Divine Feminine? She expresses through the heart. She cannot be measured. She has many names, she moves fluidly in gossamer ribbons of mist through our souls. We cannot capture her nor can we contain all of her – she is the mystery, the essence, the warmth and the bringer of life. She has always been and will ever be. She is Love, she is Life, she is Divine.
Rev. Dr. Peggy Price
Written in Keauhou, Kona, Hawaii
October 21, 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fly Away Home

Fly Away Home
I don’t want to let my thoughts fade too quickly as I return home from this memorable trip.
I wrote a prayer for the ministers while I was in Istanbul, and I want to be sure to include it in my blog, as it was most significant to the way that I was feeling on the morning of June 6.
Istanbul, Turkey -
Outside my window, I can see the spires of the Blue Mosque. As I crawled into bed last night, the call of the muezzin for night prayers echoed across the Old City. Again this morning, at dawn, came the call to prayer. While in Jerusalem, I could hear the call to prayer from the Dome of the Rock, followed a bit later by church bells that rang out over the Old City. Countless numbers of people responded by facing Mecca, or attending morning mass, or praying at the Western Wall. What gentle reminders to turn our thoughts to God!
So this morning, I offer to all of us a call to prayer -

In the morning light and in the evening quiet, I rest in God. I know that wherever I am i am in the Presence of the One - all Knowing, ever present, and all powerful Has-hem, Allah, God. In the Call to Prayer from the minaret, or the bells from the church tower, i am reminded over and over again of the Presence that is my very life, and the creative Spirit of everything that is.

I see the faces of the people wearing hijab, Yarmulkes, top hats, long, flowing robes and Arab headgear, and I know that God is expressing itself in myriad ways. So we, too, feel the call to prayer. We turn within to feel at our center, the power, the grace, the love and the joy of life itself. As we go through this day, and each day, we turn to remember God, and as we do, we find we are guided, enfolded and sustained as we go through what is before us to do.

I accept and embrace the gift of prayer, and all that it offers in my daily life - prayers for others, for the planet, for ourselves, and most of all prayers of gratitude and knowing that Grace is taking place in every moment of every day.

I know that our ministries are blessed, and that we are given all that we need for today - enough - so that we might be a shining example of the call to prayer in who we are.

I gratefully release my thoughts and words into the universal Mind and rest in the Truth.
And so it is.

One of the remarkable things about countries where Islam is widely practiced is the call to prayer from the mosque.  In years past, the muezzin (the one who leads the call to prayer) would climb to the top of one of the minarets or tall spires that stand alongside the mosque and call out to the surrounding area a proclamation that invites all believers to stop what they are doing and pray.
As you may know, Muslims pray five times daily. They do not simply stop where they are for five minutes, say a quick prayer and go on. They first do the ritual washing as I had explained in an earlier post, then do a very active prayer that includes kneeling, bowing, standing, and saying both rote prayers as well as personal prayers.
Today, most mosques have loudspeakers at the top of the minarets, and the call to prayer can be heard from a farther distance than before. In Istanbul, which is sometimes known as the city of mosques, what one hears is almost like a call and response; one muezzin will begin the call, pause, and down the way another muezzin begins the call to prayer again. One can almost tell time by these calls – at least one knows when it is dawn, when it is mid-morning, noon, sunset and the last time for evening prayer.
The first time I was awakened by the morning call to prayer was on my earlier trip to Turkey, and I was staying in a village with a Turkish family for the night. The mosque was within a city block of the house, and the window was open. I must say that it startled me awake, as I was not expecting it, and I found myself slightly annoyed. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t want to be awakened by that every morning.
After hearing the call of the muezzin in both Jerusalem from the Dome of the Rock, which was close to our hotel, and also from the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, I found I was able to simply incorporate it into the sounds of the day, and realized that I had found it rather comforting. It was a time to remember God. I am impressed by the devotion of Muslims to the practice of prayer five times a day.
As one who is part of the New Thought movement, which I feel suits me very well, I realize that we do not have rituals in the way that Orthodox religions, Islam, and many other religions do. I realize there are both pluses and minuses to this, yet I found I great sense of commonality in them. As we visited a number of churches that had been built at holy sites, we sat in on several masses. One always knew where they were in the mass, even though it was being said in different languages. A global consciousness builds out of that – the web of the Eucharist binds them together. I see the same to be true for the Muslim who daily answer the call to prayer. Wherever a believer is in the world, they are in unison five times a day.
There can be a kind of arrogance about one’s religious practices. We pray affirmatively, and I have heard colleagues criticize those of other religions who do not pray that way, as though we are somehow superior to others because of the way we teach affirmative prayer.  I am of the opinion that one prayer, regardless of how it is spoken, if expressed with a sincere heart, is as valid as another. Spirit within, or God outside are still one God, and prayer works from the inside out or the outside in, changing us, not God.
In Jerusalem, the ringing of church bells would follow the Muslim call to prayer. I would imagine that somewhere in the city there might also be the sound of the Shofar – the ram’s horn used by the Jews for purposes of worship.  The sights, sounds, and even fragrances (incense, etc.) of worship all add meaning and allow us to involve more of the senses in our reaching out or within to experience God.
That is what religion can do best. It can give us a vehicle to experience God. I felt such a deep connection when I touched the spot in the small cave at the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. I felt it again at the Dome of the Rock when I entered the grotto and saw the people praying at the foot of the tock of Abraham. I felt it sitting on a bench at the walkway between the Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque, watching the pilgrims from all over the world who had come to admire these historic and holy sites.
You and I, and all of humanity, are such tiny intersections in the web of life. We are interconnected, and we are all here for a brief moment. We are here for a breath – a heartbeat – a glimpse of something ineffable. To experience God is different than worshiping a dogma or doctrine in which we make the religion more important than the experience. In that, I think one cannot really find the very thing we seek- because it has been lost in the set of laws that entangle it. The Ineffable is within us – and it is everywhere, but sometimes, a place, a fragrance, a sound, a whisper of a breeze or the call of a muezzin, reminds us once again of who we are and where we came from.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A Day to Reflect

Time out from "herding."

One of the challenges of a group tour, even when the group is small, is that one is "herded" from one place to another. I decided that this was my day to step off the path, and give myself permission to meander. We are in such a lovely place - the Old City of istanbul is so charming with its narrow cobblestone streets, ancient buildings, quaint shops and tearooms, mosques, and the diversity of humanity that walks by my window Our hotel is small - only 29 rooms, and so comforting - duvet comforters, Turkish tea (my favorite), and gracious staff - the name of the hotel  - in case you come to Istanbul Is The Almina Hotel.

I found I needed to be quiet for a while- i love my traveling companions,and we have become a family as we have journeyed far and wide together. I will miss them. I find I have been teary-eyed a lot these past few days, just thinking of how we have bonded. Our group ranges in age from 19 to well - my age (ahem), and we have five students, several educators,one Jewish, one a Sister of St. Joseph, an Imam, a Carmelite priest who is also a microbiologist and geneticist, one Quaker, two Unitarians, and me. Counting our three leaders, there are fifteen in all - a good size for a trip such as ours.

I was thinking about water again this morning, and how significant it has been on this trip. First is the simple necessity of staying hydrated in the desert areas we have visited. As I thought about water, I realized that I had crossed many American rivers, the Atlantic Ocean,  several smaller bodies of water and European rivers, before ever arriving at my destination.  As I shared in my post last night, we floated on the Sea of Galilee, and the Bosporus in boats, and floated our bodies in the Dead Sea. We put our toes in the Mediterranean at Caesarea, and filled bottles on the banks of the Jordan.

We were sprinkled with Holy Water at a Trappist Mass spoken in French in the hills of Israel, and watched as Dr. Shafiq showed us the Islamic ritual of ablution at the Blue Mosque.

Each of us expressed gratitude for good showers in some hotels, and grumbled in others. The cleansing, purifying life-giving and refreshing gift of water has been both necessary and a blessing for us as we have wandered the lands of the prophets. When I think of the great challenges water must have been for the people of these lands throughout the ages, it is no wonder that for some it is like gold.

We noticed that much of the Palestinian agricultural land is parched and dry. It relies mostly on very sparse rainfall, with no infrastructure for irrigation. The Israeli fields have irrigation systems more often than not, and the quality of the crops is dramatically different.

Most of the stone in Israel is limestone, and the color is a yellow-beige. Every building in Jerusalem, old and new, with the exception of a few ancient structures, is made of this stone, and the dry, dusty ground is pulverized from this rock. When the bible speaks of shaking the dust from your feet, it is no exaggeration, as one looks at their shoes or sandals at the end of the day, we see how true the images are. Running water over our feet at the end of the day was another small blessing.

Some thoughts as I prepare to go home--

I want to share some thoughts about my impressions of the situation in Israel. First off, it is complicated. There are no easy answers, and there is no singular answer.

Some of our young students commented that they thought we would have many more religious encounters than we had, and they wondered why everything seemed so political.
The quote from Gandhi ran though my mind often as we reflected on history itself, and the journey of the three Abrahamic faiths through this land of such rich heritage. Those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is.

During the Roman Empire, both Jews and Christians had to carefully move around the land in order to co-exist with Roman rule and the consequences of stepping out of line. 
Each ruling empire, the Crusades, the Ottoman Turks, all had religion interwoven into politics. Today is no different. 

in addition, each group, whether it be Jewish, Muslim, Christian, has their own narrative about the Holy Land and what it means to them. The Jews believe it is their land, that God promised it to them, and they have won it fair and square. The Palestinians believe it has always been their land, and that they should not have their homes destroyed, walls built on it, nor should they be denied access to move freely across the land. The Christians are simply trying to say, "We're still here" although the numbers seem to be dwindling. Many of the Arab Christians have left for other countries where they feel more comfortable as both Arabs as well as Christian.

Some progressive Jews have compassion for the Palestinians, and many of them are working together for some kind of peaceful solutions. The grass roots organizations are working to find pathways to better understanding. The many Orthodox Jews (and this is the majority of religious Jews) do not wish to budge on the issue. There are also many secular Jews who live in Israel and love being where they feel they are at home with their heritage, even thought they do not practice their faith. In fact, several of the Jewish educators and rabbis we spoke with told us that the biggest problem in Israel is not that Jews and Palestinians do not speak to each other, but that Jews and Jews do not speak to each other!

Remembrance of the Holocaust is also a powerful motivator for the people of Israel. The memory of the eradication of 6 million of their own relatives, families, neighbors, and friends, cannot be easily forgotten. It plays a major role in what may appear at first glance to be a kind of paranoia about the neighboring countries surrounding Israel. The narrative here is "people tried to eradicate us before, what would stop them from trying to do it again?"

It would be naive to think that something as traumatic as the Shoah could be healed and released in only one or two generations. It is in the bones and DNA of the Jewish people and will remain there for many long years. For many, it colors their daily lives, and even in their own homeland, they still feel the tension that come from not feeling able to fully trust what life brings them. To me, this affirms the concept, "it is done unto you as you believe."

On the other hand, the Palestinians we met who are working for peace seem optimistic about the future. They are working on the ground to build relationships with the more open-minded Israeli people, and the younger generations are finding ways to connect. if you Google Israeli peace organizations, you will see how many groups there are that in some way are working to bring unity to a divided land.

Patience, persistence, and prayer will be required in very large doses as the Middle East moves forward toward a new paradigm. How I wish it would come easily but history continues to show there is a high cost for bringing about change, even when it can be positive. I think the youth "get" what it mens to be free - how they get there may be a long and difficult road, but at least there is a potential for it now.

For me, I am more committed than ever to serving as a bridge of peace between people of all faiths.

Yesterday I was outside the Suleiman Mosque looking for a special style of Muslim prayer beads that I had found here on my last visit. A man asked me, "Are you Muslim?' I answered "No, but I am a teacher, and I want people to know more about Islam in my country so they will stop being afraid." I told him that I was here to learn more about all three Abrahamic traditions, and that I know we are all the children of one God. He said, "I will help you do anything you need." Unfortunately, he couldn't find the beads I was looking for, but he walked all over the area around the mosque, pointing to me, and asking the vendors if they knew where I could find such beads. it was clear I had made a friend.

If I can be remembered for anything in my lifetime, it is that I have wanted to express love in as many ways as I can in my lifetime. I have not always succeeded; in fact, sometimes I have failed completely. Yet, I know that at the core of every faith tradition, love is found there. It often gets covered over by dogma, doctrine, history, narratives, and the like, yet when we touch the spot where love dwells, hearts are broken open, the tears flow, and miracles happen. I want to know that whatever I have done has contributed to that.

I am going home tomorrow, and I know that this trip will linger on within my heart and soul for the rest of my life. I am so grateful that I came.

That's all for now - and it's enough.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv is that starting point for this, which will probably be the last blog I write before returning home to reflect on the entire trip.
Let me say that If I had to choose between LAX on a busy day or Ben Gurion, I would happily choose LAX. I do not want to bore you with the details, but let me summarize it this way:
Stand in a very long line that keeps shifting to different areas of the airport, meaning schlepping bags back and forth, to finally have passport and ticket checked. Place the luggage you plan to check into the scanning machine, and await its return from the other side via a kind of rocket launcher that shoots it up in the air, guaranteeing that anything fragile you may have packed carefully between layers of clothing is now broken. Move to another line where the bag is inpsected because it is believed one has ceramic plates inside, which I did have prior to the rocket launcher - it goes on from here, but you get the drift. It is excessive officialdom and suspicion from beginning to finally boarding the flight.

Returning to Istanbul is a joy. We are staying in the Old City, in a small and gracious hotel with Turkish hospitality at its best. We can see the spires of the Blue Mosque from the rooftop, as well as look out over rooftops to the Bosporus beyond.

I love the Old City. I have visited the sites we have seen this time on a prior visit, but what I enjoy most are the people themselves. Schoolchildren walk by and say 'hello" and giggle when we answer. They are excited to speak English with us, and delighted when we answer them. Shopping isn't just a hurried in and out visit - there is a cup of tea served and an invitation to sit a while and speak English with the shopkeeper. Meals are prepared and served to be shared - so we have many different plates on the table and we all partake of portions of each one.

The weather has been beautiful. We have sailed on the Sea of Galilee, floated in the Dead Sea and yesterday we motored in a boat on the Bosporus. The boat was an older one, which was chartered just for our group. the top deck appointed with cushions worthy of a Sultan, and all of us flopped down on them to sink into God and enjoy the beautiful view of the palaces, mosques, resorts and exquisite residences along the shores.

The pace here for us has been slower, visiting the usual sights - Topkapi Palace, which is filled with the artifacts of the lifestyle of the rich and famous Sultans as well as articles believed to have been worn or used by Mohammed himself - including hairs from his beard.
One thing I must say - as we visited the many holy sites, and were told the history of each place, we also learned to be a bit skeptical about the validity of some of the claims. For instance, it seems the Angel Gabriel really got around - he is mentioned in nearly every holy site we have visited. At the Topkapi museum there is a clay impression believed to be the footprint of Mohammed. Yes, no, maybe? How is this verified? We don't really know.

Today we spent time at the Blue Mosque, and Dr. Shafiq demonstrated how the Muslims do their ablutions, or ritual cleansing before entering the mosque. We then sat in circle while he talked more about the practices of Islam, and gave us history of the building of the Blue Mosque.

We took a short walk to the entrance of the Hagia Sofia, one of the most magnificent structures built during the reign of Justinian the Great between 532 and 537.
After many years as a Christian Church and enduring a fire and rebuilding, it was converted to a mosque during the reign of the Ottoman Empire, and is now a museum. 

It's late and time for sleep. Tomorrow we take the ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul to visit a university. then back here to pack and prepare for our return home. There is much more to share as I reflect on the trip when I get back.

Read more:

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The Desert Experience


Today was our desert experience. The area to the south along the Dead Sea is some of the most arid land I have ever seen. It rivals Death Valley - minus sand dunes. In their place are high, rocky mesas built up of layers of sediment from the waters the once covered the land. We traveled most of the distance below sea level, leaving early in the morning to precede the intense heat of the day. We passed through Jericho and Qumran – the site of the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls and could see from the highway a cave where some of them were found.

Masada has a rich place in Jewish history – not in a religious sense, but in the sense of the pride of the people and the narrative of the Jewish ethos.

Masada sits high on a plateau, thousand of feet above ground, but in actuality, only 33 meters above sea level. We rode to the summit on a graceful cable car, rising 900 meters from the building where we embarked. There is also a serpentine trail to the summit, which at one time was a narrow pathway that could only be traversed by carefully placing one foot in front of the other, or risking a very quick and rocky end to one's life. The trail now has both paths and stairs, but is still a climb for an athlete and not a "wuss" like me. None of group climbed up, but seven did walk down, taking 40 minutes to do so. I opted for the cable car.

According to Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian, this was the site of the last bastion of the Jewish freedom fighters at the end of the second temple era. These people had inhabited the top of this mountain that had once been one of the palaces of Herod. The Romans attacked the Jews by building a ramp up one side of the mountain along with a very high structure with a battering ram to break down the walls that protected the fortress.  When the Jews knew they would be defeated, they made a chilling decision: they would not allow them to be taken into slavery or be slaughtered by the Romans. They did not want their women abused, nor did they want their children to taste slavery, so they chose to kill one another. When the Romans reached the summit and broke through the wall, they found all of them dead, with the exception of two women and five children who were found hiding in the cistern.

Because there is so little rainfall, the buildings have remained in excellent condition, making it possible to fully understand the lives that were lived here - first by Herod the Great and secondly by the Jewish rebels.

The story of Masada  is one of triumph - even in loss, and is a symbol of the Jewish spirit, especially in this country of intense national pride among the Israelis.

Floating in Water
It was hot in Masada, so it was now time for a swim, or I should say, a float. Off we went to the Dead Sea, visiting a spa – resort along the shores of this unique body of water. It is much larger than I imagined, and as we look across to the mountains on the other said, we were looking at the coastline of Jordan.

Floating on the Dead Sea was a trip! You can recline in the water, and completely relax. It was difficult to get my feet back down to the bottom so that I could stand up again.  The water is intensely salty. I got some in my mouth and it was unpleasantly strong tasting!
The bottom and the shore are very rough, as they are covered with mounds of salt crystals, so I wore my flip flops into the water. The seawater was warm, but very pleasant. My skin feels velvety soft from all the minerals.

There was also a huge vat of brown mud on the shore which we all rubbed over our arms and legs, then showered off with more salty, then fresh water. The final step was a plunge into a large fresh water pool, then back to the dressing rooms for a shower and our departure from the spa.  The outdoor temperature was over 100 degrees but the humidity was so low that it didn’t feel hot until we got back into the minibus.

As we drove along the road, we saw camels with their babies, and the beautiful rams (Ibis) that have the horns that make the shofars. We went through an area where many of the Bedouins have their tent villages, even watching a sheepherder running to catch up with his sheep as they were descending from a hillside.
What an amazing trip!

I Come to the Garden

it's Saturday now, Shabbat Shalom! our morning began with a short walk down a steep hill to the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Church of the same name. What a perfect morning for this! it is pleasntly warm here, as it has been during our entire stay.
The garden itself is small, but the olive trees within the garden are believed to be over 900 years old. I have never seen such thick trunks on an olive tree. The trees are surrounded by short pathways, and beautiful roses and other flowers. It is peaceful there. It is, of course, the place where Jesus went to pray, asking that this cup be taken from him. Instead, he also said the Sacred "yes," knowing that what was before him would be hugely difficult.

In this same garden came Judas Iscariot with the Roman soldiers, to arrest him. 

The story goes that Peter, in his rage, cuts of the ear of Malchius, the slave of the High Priest. Jesus tells him this is not the time for anger, and heals the ear. Even in his final hours, he was an advocate for peace.


King Herod the Great loved building monuments to himself. First was Masada, then Herodyon, which is also believed to be his burial site. Since there was no cable car in sight, we hiked to the top of the mountain where he had built another palace that included a very deep series of caves which housed the royal cistern. It was later occupied by Jewish rebels who had also built a synagogue on the site. We took the stairs down into the cistern - some steps made of iron and modern, some old and uneven down into the earth to see where water was stored and where later in time the Jewish rebels had hidden themselves.

The Shepherd's Field

Leaving the Herodyon, we drove across Jerusalem back through the checkpoint into Bethlehem in Palestine to visit the field where the shepherds were to have seen the angels.
Although Palestine is predominately Arab, there are Muslim and Christian districts. The Shepherd's Fields are in the Christian district, and the land is cared for by the Franciscans.
Sammy, our driver knew where to find us a guide, and this man was outstanding. I would love to be able to tell you his name, but I can't pronounce it much less spell it. He walked us into the beautiful grounds of the lovely old church, and took us into a nearby cave. He told us about the way that the early people of this are lived in houses that were built on top of a cave, and that the shepherds of that area used these caves for shelter in the night.
Again, we were on a hilltop - is there a theme here?

What was most interesting to us was entering a large cave that represented a possible scenario for the birth of Jesus. The cave was open and spacious at the front, and became more narrow at the back. a small fence separated the back are, which was where the people brought their animals to stay warm and safe at night. When Jesus was born, and there was no room in the inn, the stable itself would have been in a cave like this. Mary, in her need for privacy, would have gone to the back of the cave to give birth, which explains why Jesus was laid in a manger. The stories are so practical when one actually sees how they came about.

Tonght we will be guests in a Palestinian home, just as we had been guests in a Jewish home. Tonight however, we will be the guests of Dr. Mohammed Dajani, founder of the Wasatia movement, which is offering an alternative to the muslims of moderation, leading to a peaceful co-existence between Muslims, Christians and Jews. If you want to know more about him and his groundbreaking work, please go to

Our time here is nearly over. We depart for Istanbul tomorrow afternoon. I have so many thoughts about Israel, and hope to articulate them more as I prepare to return home. Have I drawn any conclusions? Maybe not. Do I have a new point of view? Without a doubt, yes, I do. Do I think peace is possible? Perhaps. I think the Palestinian Muslims and Christians are more hopeful than the Israelis. That may come as a surprise to you, but what I have learned has much to do with the narratives that each group tells about themselves and the effect they have on their approach to peace. a lot more listening needs to be done. a lot more non-violent education needs to be presented on all sides, and more opportunities for the children to come together and learn to co-exist. And I cannot possibly express to you the complexities, paradoxes, and contradictions I have seen in my short time here. All I know is that I am so glad I came. I know I have been changed in very significant ways, and I look forward to seeing how my time here will guide me to waht's next in my own vision of facilitating a pathway to peace within and without for all people.
Tomorrow morning before we leave for Istanbul we will be visiting an experimental community where Jews and Arabs are living together in community to work for peace.
Caled Neve Shalom, here is what their web page tells us:

Neve Shalom/Wahat al-Salam is a cooperative village of Jews and Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship. The village is situated equidistant from Jerusalem and Tel Aviv-Jaffa.

Until my next post, Shalom, As-Salamu Alaykum, Blessings, Aloha.

PS - Dr. Eisen, who is the head of this trip, just came by to tell me that he wanted to give me his assessment of my participation in this trip. He told me I had contributed a very important and unique perspective, and that he was very glad I had joined the group. For me, this was exactly the kind of trip I wanted - multi-religious, multi-generational, and multi-experienctial. I have received all of that and ore. See you in Istanbul!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Jerusalem, Jerusalem!

it would be impossible to relate to you the sights, sounds, and aromas that I have experienced over the past few days. I am glad that I guaranteed you that my posts would be inconsistent, as we have been going from sunup to sundown nearly every day, and the only location for wireless is in the lobby of the hotel.

We are staying at the Inn of the Seven Arches. It has one of the most magnificent views of the city of Jerusalem. Our of my window I can see across nearly the entire western half of the city. In the dining room of the hotel is a spectacular view of the Dome of the Rock, on the Temple Mount -  one of the most Holy sites on the planet for the people of the Abrahamic traditions. it is believed that the Foundation Stone of Solomon's Temple which was the site of the Holy of Holies was located on this spot. Therefore, this place is also important to the Christians. To the Muslims, it is believed that Mohammed spoke with both Jesus and Moses, and also ascended into heaven with the Angel Gabriel.
it is at the heart of the Old City, which is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways lined with the shops of Arabs, Jews, and Armenians each in their own districts, selling wares of every kind.

Nazareth College
I must give credit to Nazareth College. I have not talked much about this remarkable school, up until now. This institution was founded in 1924 by the Sisters of Mary and Joseph in Rochester, New York to provide an alternative to the state colleges. As the school grew, the parish could no longer afford to support it, so the Sisters decided to make it a secular school, inviting non-Catholic Board members. to this day. only one Sister at a time serves on the Board of Trustees of the college. It has a student undergraduate population of 2000, primarily serving the Rochester area. What sets it apart is that it has a degree program in religious studies as well as in interfaith education, and international relations. They also have a peace and justice degree program, and offer many opportunities to travel abroad.

The college has made connections in Israel with many educators in both Israeli and Palestinian Universities, so we have had the gift of hearing many points of view while here.

Our three leaders of this tour are Dr. Mohammed Shafiq, who is Chair of the Interfaith Center, Dr. George Eisen, Chair of the Department of International Relations, and Dr. Susan Nowak, SSJ, Professor of Religious Studies.  They have exceeded my expectations in terms of the quality of the instruction we are receiving as well as the choice of venues we have visited.

Dome of the Rock
Due to our connections, we were able to enter the Dome of the Rock, which was built on the site of the Second Temple. Housed in this magnificent example of Islamist architecture is the Foundation Stone, which has its earliest ties to Abraham himself. It is also believed to have been the site of the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple, and is believed by the Muslims to be the place where Mohammed ascended into heaven with the Angel Gabriel.

One can touch the rock through a small opening in a glass wall that encases it, and when one pulls out their hand, it has a fragrance. I don't know if this is a "magic trick" but my hand had a light, sweet fragrance when I pulled it out from the stone. There is also a grotto area at the base of that stone where the Muslims go to pray. Dr. Shafiq invited me to enter the space while he prayed. I must say that once again, I was overcome with tears as I felt the history and sacredness of this place. So many pilgrims had come to this space, not only since the building of this beautiful mosque, but going back to the early Israelites who who believed this was the rock where Abraham had offered his son as a sacrifice in obedience to God. Whatever the beliefs were, it is a place to encounter the Divine - high on a mountaintop, where one could feel closer to God.

Al Aqsa

Following this, we visited the Al Aqsa Mosque, which is also on the Temple Mount. There is much I can say about this mosque as well, but once again tears welled in my eyes for a very different reason. This is where in the year 2000 during the Second Intifada, fighting went on between Palestinians and Israelis. There were marks in the pillars from the bullets. A glass cabinet housed some of the ammunition and gas canisters. Our guide told us that this artillery had come from the United States. He then said - "we do not blame the American people. It is our governments who keep this going." There were serious casualties on both sides (6500 Palestinians, 1100 Israelis), and both sides have their own accounts of this event.

Western Wall
Although the Temple Mount is not a large place, reaching each area requires a serpentine-like walk through these narrow alleyways. If one doesn't know where they are, I think it would be possible to inhabit the Old City for days without finally finding an opening. The Western Wall was crowded, as it was Jerusalem Day - the celebration of the liberation of Jerusalem - much like our Fourth of July. There is a men's side of the wall, and a woman's side. (guess which side is larger?) I wrote my prayers, along with Don's, and included my prayer list, and placed it in the crack of the wall, as so many others have done before me. The more faithful Jews, stand in front of the wall, holding their prayer books and rocking back and forth as they prayed. as they departed the place, they walked backward, I suppose so they would not turn their back on God.

Holy Sepulcher
We wended out way through the narrow streets along the Via Dolorosa, the street where Jesus was believed to carry the cross to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (a full description would take up another entire page) - suffice it to say that is it s magnificent building which has a number of different worship areas within it. Each area is overseen by a different denomination of Christianity, and since none of them get along, the key to the church is in the hand of Muslims, who tend to it without conflict. This is believed to be the place where Jesus was crucified, where his body was prepared for the tomb, and where the tomb is located. Since I am not the only clergy on this trip, I want you to know that none of us believed that to be true, including a Catholic priest. All of us feel that Calvary had to be outside the walls of the Holy City, and that the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea was in an area with a garden, not in the midst of a teeming city, and certainly not near to the site of a crucifixion.

We had about an hour to do some shopping and each of us found some "treasures" to bring home from the Old City.

After dinner, we had a lecture from, Zeina, our Palestinian guide, about the importance of narratives in the process of peace building. The lecture was abbreviated - we were all weary and ready for sleep.

Y'av Shem - The Holocaust Museum
How can one attempt to describe a three-hour passage through an encounter with the darkest of human behavior? What I will say is that our guide was a Catholic nun who is approaching 80 with the energy of a 25-year-old. Sister Gemma was a Sister of Charity who has been working for the museum for the past twelve years. her gentle and objective narration softened the stark confrontation of such human suffering and inhumane treatment of 6 million Jews.
This is the narrative that keeps the people of Israel so fiercely nationalistic and protective of their homeland. This is the collective story that holds many in a frozen state of fear that it could happen again. As an American who has never known anything that could come close to this experience, it is difficult to grasp the deep-seated and visceral memory that is held in the minds and hearts of those who lost their history in those dark days. All I can say is that my prayer is that all people everywhere can live together in peace.

And what do I think about Israel? Stay tuned. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Nazareth to Bethlehem

There is no doubt that the journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem was arduous, risky, and very long. I did not realize that both Jerusalem and Bethlehem are up high in a mountainous region. The road up to Jerusalem looks like some of the beautiful areas in Southern California as we wind our way to the summits of our local mountains. this terrain is more rocky, with lots of beige stone, but many of the trees and plants are very similar to those at home.

We arrived in Bethlehem yesterday after visiting the Mediterranean Coast of Caesarea - built by the Ancient Romans under the rule of Herod at the end of the BCE through the common era and on into the Crusades. there is an amphitheater there called the "human Theater" which was not for some of the more grisly performances but a place where plays were presented. Along the oceanfront are the ruins of a palace which had at one time been inhabited by Pontius Pilate.

The Mediterranean is actually an incredible shade of blue - and the water was cool but not cold. We walked along the beach and all of us found small shards of clay pottery that have continued to wash up on shore throughout the centuries as there had once been a clay pottery factory in Caesarea which had been destroyed by an earthquake centuries ago.

When we arrived in Bethlehem, we went through the checkpoint past the Separation Wall. it is covered with graffiti - much of it very artistic. I tried to capture photos, but we were moving quickly. Our hotel was built by the Russian Orthodox Church for pilgrims coming to the Holy Land. It is a definite upgrade from the kibbutz. One night at the kibbutz and four nights here would have been perfect!  We walked from here to the Church of the Nativity. To enter it one stoops down to make passage through a very low, narrow doorway into the church. the theory is that one had to become humble to enter the place where Jesus was believed to have been born.  The building is very ornately decorated with thousands of lanterns and chandeliers. Simplicity is obviously not a word held in value by the Orthodox.
The location of the manger is down some stairs in a very small room where in a small cave-like space, one kneels down to touch a glass window over the place where the manger once existed. I was surprised at my sudden flow of tears, feeling both the grace of this place, the great possibilities that were born here, and the millions of pilgrims thoughout the ages who had also come here to touch this spot. it is still a place for the hopeful, given that we are recognizing the Prince of Peace in a place where peace has seemed so remote for so long.

That evening we saw a film called Budros produced by a Palestinian women about the non-violent movement in Palestine. The people of Budros began a non-violent protest against the placement of the separation wall.  The Israelis were uprooting their olive trees, which for centuries had been the source of their livelihood, in order to build the wall on their land. After 51 demonstrations, including sitting in front of bulldozers, being shot at with live ammunition and enduring months of hardship. they succeeded in moving the border fence back closer to the actual 1967 green line. other villages also demonstrated and without violence saved their own land.

Today we are off to a yeshiva here, to Hebron, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and then to the Palace of Herod. The pace continues! There is so much to see - and although we will be here for a total of twelve days, it is amazing how much we will not see.

Dr. Eisen is not "tuned in" to the way we women like to shop makes it difficult to pick up little gift items. Dr. Shafiq is more easygoing and Susan Novak. our Christian educator, is our only shopping advocate. She has guaranteed us "sacred shopping time" in the Old City of Jerusalem, and at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.

I must say that eating lots of shawarma, pita, and every kind of hummus, dip and spread concocted in this part of the world, my waistline is disappearing. the food is very good, but I am beginning to crave a big, green, tossed salad, and a lot of fresh fruit, which is available on the street, but not often in restaurants.
We are about to board the bus- so more later.
Shalom,  As sallaam alaikum, blessings,

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Galilee

Dear Hearts,
Sorry these posts are so long. Wireless is only available in one small "hot spot." We often get back to our rooms so late that by the time I have finished writing I am in no mood to wlak outside to the outdoor area where I can access it.  There are mosquitoes here - not my friends. This kibbutz is more like Girl Scout camp than a nice hotel.
Here are my posts from the last several days - today we are off to Bethlehem - what an incredible journey!

Nazareth, Haifa and the Druze.
It’s Friday evening and it has been an incredibly full day.
We began this morning with an Israeli breakfast. Why is it that these people are not gigantic?  They feed us and then they feed us some more.  Sesame pastries, croissants, yogurt, hummus, more dips, cucumbers and tomatoes, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and more – and it is all delicious!
Three hours of sleep was inadequate for the day, and I took a couple of inappropriate naps during some lectures, but tonight I intend to sleep very well. Now that I know the birds have no manners, I plan to wear earplugs. I got a private room so I would be assured that the only person making noise would be me. I had not planned on the birds.
The buildings at the Kibbutz are very run down. They were probably built in the early fifties when so many Jews were coming here from Europe or Russia and beginning their lives by working on communal farms.  This kibbutz is a dairy, and if the wind changes, it reminds me of Artesia in the late 60’s.
It was warm today – probably in the high 80’s, but it was beautiful. We are in the Galilee district so today we rode across the valley where there were corn crops, beans, lots of sunflowers, and other crops. We drove up to  Nazareth – home of Jesus, Mary and Joseph (yes that does sound familiar). We visited the Basilica of the Annunciation where it is believed that the Archangel Gabriel came to tell Mary that she was to bear a child – named wonderful, counselor. The basilica’s outer walls are decorated with representations of the Divine Mother in every cultural interpretation from around the world – China, Portugal, Indonesia, Ecuador, South Africa – and many more. They are depicted mostly in mosaics, but others are large paintings. Inside the Basilica is a grotto, where the actual visitation is believed to have taken place. Groups come and go all day with priests saying mass for their groups. When we went inside, there were three Greek Orthodox priests who were singing the mass in harmony- they honestly sounded like the three tenors. It was beautiful – we could not have timed it better!
Our Christian educator Dr. Susanne Novak from Nazareth College gave us a lecture about Mary and the various versions as told in the Christian Bible, and also talked about the Jews of that time and their desperate straits. It was a time when a messiah was needed, and the prophecies had been realized in the birth of Jesus. She, a sister of St. Joseph, also was careful to point out that the stories in the Bible are not to be taken literally but to be experienced and felt in the heart.
Our Imam Dr. Mohammed Shafiq spoke of the significance of Mary in the Quran, and some of the differences between the stories.

On our way to Haifa, we stopped for lunch at a Falafel stand, and ate the most delicious falafel I have ever had! We are eating where the locals eat, so we are getting really authentic food. I can’t believe it really did eat the whole thing! So did all of us! Yum!
Off to Haifa, which is on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. It actually overlooks a large bay and on the other side of the bay is Lebanon. Haifa is the major ort of Israel. The Israeli Navy is al there. Outside the city is a nuclear power plant as well. University of Haifa is one of the finest schools in the world, and it is perched on the top of Mt. Carmel.
The Bahai Temple is also in Haifa. It rises up the hillside of Mt. Carmel with stair steps of symmetrical formal gardens. We visited there, and Dr. Shafiq and another fellow traveler who is a professor of mathematics at Nazareth College as well as a Carmelite priest, told us about the Carmelite order. I must confess my full tummy, the heat, and the lack of sleep made me a very bad student. I hope I didn’t snore.
We also visited the site where Elisha took on the form of Elijah. It is amazing to be in these places we read about in the Bible and see them for themselves. Every rock and tree feels like the Bible stories, although from a distance, it also feels like rural California, dotted with Cypress trees and eucalyptus instead of live oak.
Tonight was the real gift. We were guests of a Druze couple who own a restaurant in a Druze village outside of Haifa.  Druze are Arabs who broke off from Islam and began another version of the religion.  They claim that it is secret, so we will never see the inside of their worship center. They fed us another delicious home-cooked Middle Eastern meal, and I think I am going to pop!
We had an interesting discussion about the end of the world – and our conclusion was just as I often say – the end of the world will come at some point for each of us. What is important is how we live our lives while we are here.
We then asked our host what he thought of Obama’s speech and Netanyahu’s response.  He answered “For forty years this has been going on. We are tired. We want peace. Everybody has to give up something so we can have it at last.”
Our driver, Sammy, who has endeared himself to us, shared his point of view.  “I have lived here all of my life. I am an Arab Christian. I live in the West Bank. I don’t have this democracy that Israel talks about. I am a Palestinian. I do not have a passport, I cannot go anywhere, and I am even disallowed from staying at your kibbutz because I am an Arab. I want this to be settled. American dollars built the separation wall. What kind of democracy is that? There are over a million of us who have no homeland. We are tired. We want peace.”
If the people want peace, why is it that the politicians do not make it happen? Of course I know all the pat answers, but how can this land which has such deep meaning to many religions – not only the three Abrahamic faiths, but many others, find the peace they seek? Our lecturer last night told us the biggest problem is not so much between Arabs, Christians and Jews, but between Jews and Jews – many will not speak to each other! It is a very frustrating process.

Bodies of Water
The road to our kibbutz was going to be blocked off for a bicycle race this morning, so we were told that we had to be out by 6:50 AM. Anyone who knows me well is aware that I am not an early morning person.  I was the first person waiting for the bus at 6:50. Dr. Eisen walked up to the bus stop a few minutes later and told me that we didn’t need to leave until later because the bicyclists had changed the route.  I am learning that the Israelis are as casual about time as the Hawaiians, and that things can change very rapidly around here.
Our driver Sammy, always tells Dr. Eisen that he knows the BEST place to eat good breakfast, good fish, good Arab food, etc. When we get underway, either he can’t find it, or he goes to a place and it is closed, and we drive around looking for food to eat.  We ended up at an Arab bakery after trying two other places, and had pastries, yogurt, and either Arab coffee or tea. It was delicious – we stood in the parking lot eating our breakfast. We are all learning to be flexible.
We drove along the Sea of Galilee with the hillsides where Jesus most definitely walked on one side and the sea on the other.
We drove south to the southernmost point of the Sea of Galilee and stood on the shore of the River Jordan.  The location where we were had built a lovely pavilion and many stair steps leading to the edge of the river so that groups who wanted to be baptized could walk down and have room to stand as each person was immersed in the water.  The river water is a beautiful blue green – it is just leaving the Sea of Galilee when it hits this spot. There were abundant fish in the water – some very large, and the water was very clear. And we watched river otters swim right up to us on the banks, looking at us with utmost curiosity. A group of Christians from Southern India, all dressed in white, were being baptized nearby – singing hymns.
With the rich history of the River Jordan, I was struck by the life that was so evident in the water – given that this was the place where John baptized Jesus, and Jesus was visited by the Holy Spirit – it seems that the life there is a reminder of the living water of the Christ message.
Our next stop was at Capernaum - the site of the excavated ruins of the home believed to have been occupied by St. Peter. The Catholics have built a new sanctuary above the ruins with a glass floor surrounded by a beautiful contemporary iron railing so that one can look down into the ruins themselves. Standing in the sanctuary, one can also see a view of the Sea of Galilee.

We were to have visited the location where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, but it was closed. I was disappointed, since my personal belief is that this is the very core of Jesus’ teaching. I had wanted to feel what it might have been like to sit on a hillside and hear him speak.
We did visit the site where he divided the loaves and the fishes, but it had another church built on the site and it was very crowded and touristy.
Lunch was at a lovely restaurant on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. We were served St. Peter’s fish – a whole fish (with head and tail) that had been pan fried with lots of small salad dishes, hummus and pita from the salad bar. It was delicious. We learned later that the fish was Tilapia.
It was time for a ride on a replica of an old boat on the Sea of Galilee. –it was so relaxing to be on the water, and Dr. Eisen pointed out where we were in relation to the coastline.
Off we went from there to meet the Founder of House of Hope – an interfaith peace organization led by a man named Elias Jabbour, an Arab Christian. He has been working all his adult life to bring about peace and understanding for the people of Israel. He teaches a traditional Palestinian Peacemaking process called “Sulha.” He said his childhood had been taken away, as he could not play in the street like other kids, and he was conscripted into the Israeli Army as a young man. He said that separation and policing was not the answer to lasting peace. He wants better for his grandchildren. He, too, said the people of Israel; Arab and Jew, Christian and Druze, want peace. Dr. Jabbour was also very disappointed by Netanyahu’s response to Obama’s speech.
Dinner was in the home of friends of Dr. Eisen, a beautiful couple who graciously opened their home and cooked us an elaborate dinner. We sat and visited for an hour or so after our meal. The wife, Judith, was from Morocco, her husband Rav, was Israeli born and raised on a kibbutz. In the kibbutz, the children are raised collectively – not in a family unit. Judith did not think this was a good idea – she said she felt they were raised to be conscripted into the Army, but not given the warmth and love that only a mother was capable of giving.
The kibbutz is not as popular today as it was when Israel was in its infancy. More people now prefer having their own home to working on a communal farm.
Getting back to the room with heavy eyelids after another very long day –
Sunday – the other Sabbath
We have been filling up each day to overflowing. This day was different. We slowed things down and found more time to relax and get off schedule a bit. We rose later in the morning, and left the kibbutz around 9:00 off to spend the morning at Mt. Tabor.  On the way, we found a Bedouin Restaurant for breakfast. Bedouins are Arabs, who were nomadic people throughout the mid east. Many of them still live in Jordan but there are a small number who live in Israel.  The restaurant was perched on the slopes of Mt. Tabor in a village called Deboreah – named after the Prophetess Deborah from the Hebrew Bible.  She was a warrior goddess and a judge who held court at the city gates centuries ago.
On the floor were cushions from one end of the restaurant to the other, covered with dhurrie style rugs and small pillows. Between the rows of cushions were large raised trays upon which the servers would place the food.  And there was food – after feasting on all the typical Mediterranean salads, hummus and so forth, out came the baklava, which was the owner’s gift to us.  Little did he know that the first customers on his Sunday morning would be a bus full of Americans.
Up the mountain we drove to a point where we were taken the rest of the way on very narrow roads with switchbacks by Arab Christian drivers who knew how to mange their every turn in smaller VW vans. At the top was Terra Santa. Chapter 9 of Luke tells of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor. John and Peter who made their way to the top of this mountain with Jesus witnessed it. The richest part of this was attending a mass that was being said in Italian.  The priest looked like a cross between John the Baptist and Jesus, and the chanting and energy was absolutely stirring! it's interesting about the mass - wherever one is in the world, whatever language is spoken, it is the same - and in that it brings people together in community. This is one of the things I love so about interfaith understanding. There is richness in every tradition when we look past whatever the politics or world effects may be and we move into that which connects us.
There is so much more I can write about, but this is so long and I am weary.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Days One, Two and Three

Day One
According to the clock on my computer, it’s 4:45 AM California time. Which is 2:45 PM Wednesday afternoon in Turkey. We have less than three hours to go before landing in Istanbul.
I am forever grateful to the travel agent who landed me a bulkhead aisle seat in front of the bathrooms where I could get up anytime and stretch. The seats recline like a LaZBoy, so I have actually slept and awakened without the pain of a contortionist.
Here is what you get in economy on Turkish Airlines. A clean pillow, a clean blanket wrapped in sealed plastic, a little kit with socks, eyeshade and lip balm. A bag of hazelnuts (not pretzels), A bottle of water, a choice of HOT entrée served on a ceramic plate.  After flying American, United, and Continental frequently in the US where I’m lucky to get a can of diet Coke, this is the lap of luxury!
At the moment we’re over the English Channel. We flew north out of LA over Fargo, N. Dakota, into Canada, staying south of Greenland and Iceland. We’re now curving south to cross Europe and into Istanbul.
Most of the passengers are either Turkish or are making connections on to other Middle Eastern cities. The young woman next to me is a graduate in Finance from USC, going home to Iran to see her father. She has not lived there for over ten years. She moved to the US with her mother and then went to college. She worked for a couple of years after graduating from high school, and then went on to college.
I’ve been reading one of the recommended books for this trip – Crossing Mandelbaum Gate by Kai Bird. The author grew up in an American diplomatic family in Israel in the 50’s and 60’s. He writes from the point of view of a Christian child observing the changes taking place as the Israelis asserted their claim upon the land, and the Palestinians grew more marginalized. He writes about real life people that his diplomat father and mother knew and entertained, and the experiences they had living in a country seeking its identity with the interplay of American political interventions, and the Arabic countries surrounding Israel attempting to keep a stronghold on borders that were in continual flux. He writes of what it was like to be school child living in the Arabic quarter of Jerusalem, going to a Christian school, and making friends with families of every religion in a country that had
All the names are there – Abba Eban, Golda Meir, Abdul Nasser,  David Ben Gurion, and Moshe Dayan  of the six day war fame. It is very descriptive of the entire Middle East, as his family also lived in Saudi Arabia for several yars.
I want to keep my own mind as open as possible to see the complexity of the fragile peace process taking place in Israel and the surrounding borders right now. It seems to be that although American sentiment has been and continues to be in support of the Israelis, the Israelis cannot let go of any action that has ever happened in the short history of their country, and therefore tend to keep the conflict alive and keep retaliation for any act of aggression as overwhelming as possible.
However, I have never been to Israel, and I can only imagine what it must be like to live in a country the size of New Jersey surrounded by people who politically do not want you to exist.
How does one solve a challenge like that? Will I have any more clarity after being there? Can I play a role in any way to bring about a peaceful understanding of the issues when I get home?

Day 2 Istanbul to Tel Aviv
Ataturk Airport in Istanbul is a mega mall!  AS I had a six-our wait there, I had a chance to peruse the many shops – both duty free or not. I also enjoyed a delicious Turkish meal and sat at a table with a beautiful woman who now lives in Cincinnati, but was raised in northwest Iran – she was a professor of English Literature who recently left her position at Kansas State University as she and her husband moved to Ohio. She hopes to find a position at the U of Cincinnati. She and her four month old baby boy were traveling to Tabriz, Iran to see her parents.  We had a most interesting conversation about the misconceptions people have of middle easterners. 
She said she had been raised Muslim, but does not practice anymore. She said she views God as bigger than one religion, and that she sees people such as Gandhi, Buddha and Jesus as her heroes – people to emulate but not to worship. She was resentful that while she is back in Iran she will be required to dress with a headscarf, and deal with the suppression of women that is taking place there. She had a very low opinion of Achminijad (sp?), feeling that he and the Ayatollahs have done much to ruin the country.
After wandering the malls of the airport, and waiting for my gate to open for check-in, the flight finally took off at approximately 12:45 AM, arriving in Tel Aviv around 2 AM.
Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport has a very clean, sparse and somewhat cold feeling after the hodge podge energy of Istanbul. The attitude of people was also very different. The people on my flight to Istanbul were very relaxed, very friendly, very easy going. Most of he people on my flight to Israel acted as though they were on a mission. Getting off the plane was a crush. I sat in my seat for a lon period of time holidng my arm up next to my face because there was a man with a big camera bag standing in the aisle oblivious to the fact that he had hit me in the head two or three times. When I was able to walk off the place and on to  the waiting bus to take me to the terminal, and young man very politely assisted me with my bag which in the atmophpere was a major act of kindness. Inside the halls of the airport, no one spoke – they all walked as though they had an urgent appointment. I kept wondering “where does one go in such a hurry at 2 AM?” Thankfully customs and baggage were easy and efficient and I was out the door in into a taxi in short order. Arriving at the hotel, the driver had to clear security - a flashlight was shone into my face and I was asked what I was going to do there. They must have been satisfied with my answer, and they allowed us to pass.
My hotel, the “Sadot” was actually on the third floor of a major hospital. It had a very Euro-modern feel, and was so comfortable. I got to bed around 3:30 AM, and slept until nearly 11:00. I took one of those showers that feels as though you have sloughed off weeks worth of sweat and skin cells, and felt so refreshed to get into clean clothes.
Thus Began the Israel Adventure
I arrived back at the Ben Gurion airport to meet my group.  As I waited in the receiving area, I found our driver, Sammy. He is short and a bit portly, with a beard and glasses. Sort of an Israeli Santa Claus. It took a while for our group to get through customs, and out to our area. But we joined one another and off we went to drive to the Galillee area, and check into our Kibbutz. On the way, we saw many Arab villages, part of the wall along the West Bank, and signs posted pointing to Jersualem, Nazareth, and to get to our kibbutz, we were on the road to Damascus. We also passed by the area which is known to be the place where Armageddon is to begin. Interestingly enough, it didn’t happen last Saturday. So it looked like a very peaceful valley – crops growing, even fields of sunflowers! Not too ominous.
Our group checked in and off we went to our respective rooms. They to shower, and I since I had been refreshed with a good sleep and shower, to get organized a bit.
We then met a man named Rabbi Marc Rosenstein, an American who has been living in Israel for the past forty years. His mission is to educate both Arab and Jewish people about getting along together. His organization is called the Galilee Foundation, and one of the ways he does this is by having Arab and Jewish children learn to do circus acts. He says, “It’s about overcoming fear, and it’s about trust. It’s based on non-verbal communication, it represents a multi cultural tradition – and its purpose is to make people smile.” Learn more at
Off we went to an absolutely fabulous dinner at an Arab restaurant with all kinds of wonderful dips – hummus, baba ganoush, tabbouleh, other things I do not know the names of, but that were yummy, fresh home baked pita bread, and kabobs. We findihed with Moroccan Mint tea, and off we went to bed.
My room – I would rank it one step less than the ashram in India. The bed is a flat slab of foam. The hot water does work, and the shower was adequate. I discovered these little flying bugs in the room which seem to especially like the lights in the bathroom, and the mosquitoes, which liked to buzz bomb me until I applied my trusty Off wipes and left the dry cloth on my pillow for extra protection. No bites for me – but in this part of the world, the birds don’t seem to know that they are to be quiet until morning, so they began at 3 AM. Since I went to sleep just past midnight, this was a short night.
Day Three
Now it’s 7:15 AM and it’s time for breakfast. Today we go to Nazareth- then to a Basilica, then tonight to a Druze Village where we will learn about the Druze people and be hosted for a dinner. Then back to the kibbutz for a restful night’s sleep (my affirmation).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Floating in Mid-Air

The love fest at Seal Beach Center for Spiritual Living took me into an altered state. I am feeling a continual sense of gratitude for the incredible turnout of people, the wonderful words spoken, the inspiring music of Diane, Chelsea, and Faith, and the outpouring of hugs and love. I truly felt like I was floating on the ceiling! It was validation for the work I have chosen in my life.
One of the best things about ministry (and there are many wonderful things about it) is that I have had the sacred gift of very intimate and personal moments with so many people. Many of the couples whom I married were in the room yesterday, reminding me of the number of years they have been together. When I do a wedding, they work! There were young people there whom I had baptized, not to mention two of my most recent little ones - both Ryker and Jianna. There were people who have shared their hearts with tears in their eyes saying "thank you" for what came through us as we had explored their issues and challenges together.
In the daily work of ministry, one often forgets how precious those moments are. I, too,  often wondered if I was doing enough, or if I could have done more. Now I know it was enough. I am grateful for having learned that we are all enough for now - and we all have room to grow.
When I got home yesterday, Don was having lunch with my dad at his residence, so the house was empty. It seemed especially empty and quiet after all the festivities. I sat down for a moment, read the many thoughtful messages on the cards I had received, then changed my clothes and did the laundry! Just like the book Jack Kornfeld wrote - After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.

Since today was the first day of my "rewirement," when I woke up this morning, I said to Don, "So many people are getting up to go to work today, and I'm not!" It really hit me that I have retired, and although my ministry is my life work, it is different knowing that I do not have office hours, nor do I have scheduled meetings, at least for now.

This day has been spent doing the last preparations for my departure to Istanbul tomorrow. Don and I did take time out to walk in the park and see young hawks practicing flight while their watchful parents soared overhead. Baby coots were carefully fed and tended by their parents in the pond, not to mention countless quacking ducks who were happy to eat the chicken scratch that Don takes with him whenever he goes for a walk.
I feel so alive, and so excited anticipating this trip and my return home to begin a new phase of life.

I depart at 5:55 tomorrow from LAX direct to Istanbul, which will take fourteen hours. Six hours later, I will board a flight to Tel Aviv, where I will arrive at 2 AM, go to a hotel nearby, sleep and shower, returning to the Tel Aviv airport at 2:00 PM to meet the group arriving from New York. We begin our adventure at a kibbutz (Mizra).

I will be adding to this blog whenever I can access WiFi long enough to post, and hope to be able to provide some photos along the way. Rev. Josh will be my liaison for the blog, and you can also email me (no forwards, please), as I will have my Blackberry. PLEASE DO NOT PHONE ME as calls overseas are very costly. Also, there is a ten hour time difference, so if you call me at 5:00 PM, it is 3 AM in Israel. I am not friendly at 3 AM.

Join with me in knowing that Spirit is the constant in each of our lives, and that all of us are safely enfolded in the Divine Love and Guidance that we can always trust. May we also know that the peace process in Israel and Palestine is working, and that true agreement can be realized for a lasting peace.
Love to you all,