Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Guest post from Bill Bergen in Jerusalem

Bill and his friends, Judy and Larry, in Jerusalem
Bill Bergen, who some of you know from his many years of lay ministry and leadership at St. Paul's, is currently visiting friends (Judy and Larry) in Jerusalem.

The other day, Bill emailed a few photos and a description of what he has seen and experienced so far on his trip. With his permission, I am posting his email and some of the photos. Hope you enjoy:

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Jerusalem -- With the new week and Larry’s return to work, Judy and I headed on Monday to Bethany-Beyond-the-Jordan, the site of Jesus’ Baptism and the ascension of Elijah in a chariot of fire. In contrast to the sometimes speculative claims made by all three faiths for specific sites in Jerusalem, the location of Jesus’ baptism is strongly supported by specific Gospel wording, archeological findings, and early pilgrims’ accounts. 
Until fairly recently the area lay in no-man’s land, and was laced with land mines (ironic for the site where Christians mark the beginning of the Prince of Peace’s ministry). The site is being developed as a pilgrimage site and tourist attraction, and several denominations have churches or are building ones in the area. 
The Jordan is no longer deep or wide, the water having been siphoned off by Syria, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinian Authority upstream. As I dipped my hand in the Jordan’s water I gazed across the mere 20 yard-wide stream to the other bank on which Israel which has built its own site to attract pilgrims and tourists.

Looking across the Dead Sea back toward Jerusalem at dusk
That night we drove to a sunset picnic on a promontory overlooking the Dead Sea organized by Irish/Italian friends. Directly across the valley to our south, on a prominent hilltop, is one of Herod’s Palaces. Here, according to Biblical accounts and tradition, John the Baptist was executed by Herod. The wind was fierce, and grew a bit cold, but the scenery as the sun set over the far highlands was nothing short of sublime. And the food was fantastic.

Wednesday was a quiet day as Larry worked and Bill and Judy caught up on rest and reading. On Thursday Larry took Bill to lunch at his favorite local lunch spot where he tasted genuine local food and enjoyed the typical Jordanian hospitality. That night Larry and Judy went to a reception at the Italian Embassy . . .

On Friday the three of us left early to swim in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth at 500 feet below sea level. Whereas sea water consists of only three or four percent salt, the salinity in the Dead Sea is 30 percent, and you literally cannot sink to the bottom. This was my first trip, and I found I had trouble standing up as your feet float out from under you. Afterwards Judy and I tried on the famous Dead Sea mud resulting in blackmail-quality pictures (see below) taken by Larry who was altogether too smart to join in.

Pool where it is said Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan
Next came a trip over a steep, winding road over a desolate landscape to the top of Mt. Nebo where Moses first saw the Promised Land that God had forbidden him to enter. He died on the mountain and was buried somewhere there though the exact location is unknown. 
We saw what Moses saw and viewed the ruins of Moses Memorial Church. We also examined the mosaics there before heading on to Madaba for lunch at a well-known local restaurant. From there it was a short walk to St. George’s Church, location of the famous Byzantine mosaic map of the Holy Land. As spectacular and fascinating as that is, the modern mosaics on the walls of the church were also worth study.

Pilgrims carrying a cross on the path of the Cross 
Saturday’s big excursion was to the north, to Jerash, to tour one of the best-preserved Roman ruins in the Middle East. It my first visit to such a site, and elicited from me such original exclamations as “Whoa!” and “Wow!” We clambered all over the ruins, examining Roman architectural details, road construction, Roman mastery of acoustics, the layers of history, and even how the Romans managed their scarce water. We had mint tea at the Temple of Artemis (Diana in Roman mythology) and viewed how the columns were designed to sway gently to accommodate the frequent earthquakes in the region, which explains how so many of them continue to stand. 
We also toured with guides and flashlights the chambers underneath the temple that served as the places of sacrifice. As we walked back through the site, we encountered a flock of sheep being herded through the site (see photo -- note the "marching pillars" still buried in the ground at top right). The timelessness of the flock and shepherds set against the modern city beyond the ruins is the sort of contrast you see often here.

Larry and Judy say I am their first visitor ever to be unaffected by jet lag. I know that is largely due to their hospitality and the adrenaline generated by the trip of a lifetime. I never imagined doing what I have done and seeing the sites and sights I have seen, and have been reduced to speechlessness by the wonder of it all.

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