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Notes from the Holy Land: The one place where praying is forbidden

March 10, 2014
by  Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
General Secretary, The Canadian Council of Churches
After what seemed like luxurious sleeping-in compared with our early start of yesterday, we began Day 3 of our Path of Abraham study tour by hearing the challenging, heart-wrenching, soul-wrenching story of a Holocaust survivor, Hannah Pick. She knew Anne Frank when they were both living in Amsterdam and encountered here again before Anne's death in a death camp. Anne's story lives on in her book and in the narrative and life of Hannah Pick.

Less heart-wrenching but challenging none the less was the fact that the next part of our day involved separating from each other as colleagues in faith. Because of the politics of this place, only Muslims are allowed to pray or even go into the Al Aqsa mosque.
The rest of us walked down the Mount of Olives, re-tracing the footsteps of Jesus on Palm Sunday and stopping from time to time to read parts of the Gospel story of that triumphal entry which lead to Jesus' suffering and death on a Roman cross. mount of olives
Our journey took us to the Garden of Gethsemane, the 2000 year old olive trees and the sombre and magnificent Church of All Nations that stands in the midst of the Garden. Again we read some of the Scripture passages of those places, we remembered, we felt, we shed some tears.

We were together again as the children of Abraham as we then journeyed to the complicated, multi-leveled (both physically and spiritually) site that includes King David's tomb, the Room of the Last Supper of Christ and a mosque. Sadly, there has been so much disagreement between the three faiths that hold this place to be sacred, that the United Nations has had to forbid any praying there.

How does, how can prayer lead to such a level of conflict? To any level of conflict?
But it does here and to not see that is to walk these ancient paving stones with our eyes and our ears closed.

western wall praying togetherTo conclude our day together, we prayed in the Sabbath together, at a special place at the Western Wall where a group of three faiths together can gather in prayer together. Then we experienced Shabbat at the more well-known part of the Western Wall. Men on the men's side singing and dancing in the tremendous joy of the Sabbath. Women on the women's side in prayer and community in faith. The sky was an exquisite shade of blue, the moon a clear, bright crescent, the stars twinkling and the birds swooping through the air.
It is time now for rest. It is Shabbat, I can type this blog to you as a Christian but for our Jewish colleagues rest, true rest, real rest means to rest from any form of work, typing a blog included. It is time now for rest.
All photos courtesy Rev. Dr. Karen Hamilton
Top photo: View of Jerusalem from the roof of the Austrian hospice

Middle photo: Study Tour members walking down the Mount of Olives

Bottom photo: Study Tour members praying together at the Western Wall
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