Today we visited the Accademia Gallery in Florence, the home of Michelangelo’s David.
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First all, I apologize for my absence! My keyboard broke about a month ago, the replacement didn’t work, and when I finally had a good keyboard, I was just starting my trip to Italy! So, let’s make up for lost time.
In Jerusalem lies the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, built on Golgotha, place of skulls, where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose again.
To reach the church, you travel through the narrow sandstone alleys of Old City Jerusalem. The light of the plaza is blinding after the dim awning-covered alleys.
From the ground, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre presents one wall, with arched colonnades framing an imposing wooden door. Through the door is a small alcove, paved in black-and-white marble. Brass lanterns of many sizes hang from the arches, each candle casting glittering splinters of light.
After the alcove, the first thing you see is a stone slab, raised about six inches off the floor. Brass lanterns with candles hang over it and people crowd around, kneeling, praying, and pressing clothing and crosses against the stone. This stone is where Jesus’ body, broken and bloody, was prepared for burial.
Of all the blood that has been spilled through history, the blood spilled on this rock signaled something more: life not death, the triumph of the spirit over the body, and the end of suffering.
Behind the first room there is a great domed room; the vaulted arches that support the dome, many rows of them, are spangled with brass stars and hung with more brass lanterns. A beam of light as beautiful as grace streams through the single hole in the center of the roof, illuminating the great reliquary. The line is long and jumbled; we wait to enter and pray by the plain stone sarcophagus.
Groups gather in corners to pray or sing. A woman in a holy daze passes, her hands shaking as she crosses herself, her eyes fixed on nothing you can see. Through it all thunder black-robed Orthodox priests, shouting, corralling, trying to corralling, trying to give order, but nobody listens; this place does not belong to them.
One room leads into another, up, across or down into the earth. The steps have been worn slick with the centuries. On one staircase, a series of black Templar’s crosses, as thick as graves in a cemetery, adorn the walls.
This path leads down and down, to a place underground where natural rock forms one wall. In the shelter created by the natural rock’s uneven tilt, a group is gathered, singing in deeply resonant and beautiful voices of the wonder of our Lord. “I stand amazed,” they sing. This place, some say, is the true site of his tomb of holiness, not the place with the vast reliquary.
I think this entire place, this church, this city, this land is riddled with sacredness, like air bubbles in glass. There’s always more to find.
We had planned to travel by car up to the north of Israel, to the area around the Sea of Galilee. At the last moment, a business friend of Daniel’s offered to accompany us, and that couldn’t have been more perfect.
The north of Israel is greener and more hilly than the rest. Flowering plants bloom everywhere, and I was told that it is even more beautiful during the wet season.
First we traveled to the Sea of Galilee. Here we saw two churches, each right next to the other. One was devoted to the miracle of Christ’s walking on water (and the anointment of Peter as his agent on earth, if you’re into that) and the other was supposedly set on the place where Jesus performed the miracle of multiplying the loves and fishes.
Across the sea are the Golan Heights. Like all Israeli citizens, Daniel’s friend had served in the Continue reading
We began our tour of the Old City at the Tower of David, at the Jaffa Gate. The Tower of David, or the Citadel of Jerrusalem, is a fortress built during the Mamluk and Ottoman periods on the site of an earlier fortification. King Hezekiah was the first to build on this area. The Hasmonean kings also built on the area, as did King Herod. The Tower still includes the three original towers built by King Herod.
You can go here to donate to the Nepalese Red Cross in order to support both Nepalis and Tibetans in the wake of the earthquake.
In Pokhara, Nepal, we found Tibetan Encounters, a tour of three of the four Tibetan refugee camps in Pokhara. At first we had some doubts. Would this be like a slum tour? Would it be awkward? Were we indulging in the worst kind of voyerism? But this tour was one of the best things I have ever done, and I’m happy that my money went towards this project.
I’ve divided it into two overarching themes: the spiritual and the political. We’ll start with the political.
Over Tibetan tea – which is traditionally made with yak butter and is very salty – our guide told us about the political background. In 1959, China invaded Tibet and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee. Our guide recommended a book, Buddha’s Warriors, on the subject of the Dalai Lama’s escape, escorted by monks turned guerilla warriors, through the Himalayas and into Nepal. Here is some information about how China has attempted to erase Tibetan culture and assimilate it into China since then. Our guide was born in Mustang, a region in the high Himalayas that is the most common crossing point between Nepal and Tibet, in 1960, a few months after the takeover. This region is ethnically Tibetan, but, according to our guide, in order to bribe the Nepali-Tibetans into securing the border, the Tibetans in that area do not face the same economic oppression as elsewhere in Nepal. Continue reading