Saturday, July 30, 2011

Searching for the Sacred and Experiencing God Here and There

It's been an interesting time here in Great Britain.  Our days have been mostly focused toward pilgrimage, as Barry has written.  We covered the southern pilgrimage route from Winchester to Canterbury, passing through places with holy wells, interesting old churches, and even a yew grove.  The highlight of course was Canterbury Cathedral -- its shrine to Thomas a Becket and its worship.
The chapel where Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury,
was murdered by 4 of the king's knights.The 4 swords used in the murder are portrayed
by the 2 swords at the ends of the cross--and their shadows.

I was excited to sense the presence of God, real and immediate, in the prayer chapels in the crypt of the Cathedral.
Looking up the nave at Canterbury, the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion.
When we attended Eucharist on Sunday we were pleased that
Archbishop Rowan was there, too.

I was moved to feel the awesome courage and presence of Thomas a Becket where he was murdered.  The worship services there in Canterbury Cathedral, however, had the opposite effect on me...they were done with precision and with Book-of-Common-Prayer correctness.  But they were celebrated rather icily, IMHO, and they spoke to me of the transcendent majesty of God instead of the immediate presence of God, what theologians would call God's immanence.  I am sure, though, that others might have very different impressions of the same services:  Holy Eucharist, Compline, Morning Prayer, Evensong.  However the two sermons I heard were just fine and spoke of God with us.  (I loaded up, knowing that we won't always be this close to Cathedral services.  And Barry was patient...)
Cloister at Canterbury Cathedral.  Note the ornate Decorated Gothic style.

Once farther north we turned toward the Inner Hebridean Island of Iona.  Iona is the site where Columba founded his mission to Britain, having been banished from Ireland.
Looking toward the Abbey at Iona from a niche in the Outer Wall of the medieval convent

From Iona Celtic-style Christianity spread across Scotland to Lindisfarne and then throughout Britain, encountering Roman-style Christianity in the successors to St. Augustine, first Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Abbey on Iona was restored throughout the 20th Century and is home to an ecumenical (generally liberal Presbyterian-types) community.
Shrine of St. Columba under the nave at the restored Abbey Church.
It was big enough for a little altar and four small chairs.

The prayer service we attended there was a service of prayer for Justice and Peace in mid afternoon.  In great contrast to Canterbury, this one was led by a fellow with great liturgical presence, but dressed in fleece and khaki.  The prayer book that the Iona Community uses is lovely, poetic, reminiscent of the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer.  Again, God's presence seemed much more easily felt here in this setting--at least to me.
The cloister in the restored Abbey at Iona

After visiting Iona we hopped on the ferry from Mull to Skye in the Inner Hebrides
View on the ride from Mull to Skye on the Hop Scotch ticket.
The water really is that blue when the sun shines.

and then from Skye to Lewis, one of the furthest-out islands in the Outer Hebrides.  (Our combination ferry ticket is called "Hop Scotch", which I love.)

Today after disembarking from the ferry on the Island of Lewis and Harris, we visited the stone circle at Callanish, which dates from around 2200 BC.
Stone circle--neolithic observatory and/or worship site????
This shot was particularly hard to capture as I needed to wait
till all the visitors were hidden behind the stones!

Archaeologists still have no idea just how these stones were used but a worship centered around sun and moon cannot be ruled out.  They are similar to Stonehenge but have no horizontal "lintel" rocks...those came a little later at Stonehenge than when this particular site was constructed.

It's so interesting how traveling in Britain reminds you that people have always sought the Sacred--God--and found God in many ways.  Distant or as close as a heartbeat--each of us is invited to be open to knowing the Divine, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit however we may, and however God wishes to reveal himself at any particular time.  Even the fellow I spoke with the other night at dinner in our B&B was seeking encounters with the Sacred, though he may not have voiced it that way.  Over a meal of Thai-style prawns and hot scallop salad, this middle-aged, unchurched gentleman waxed poetic about the spirituality within the Harry Potter series.  There was a downright fervent quality to his dedication to the books and their characters.

We seek God, consciously or unconsciously...and God is ready to be found.  I can't help but think that F, S, and HS are delighted by our grand or our unconscious attempts at communion.  This summer, as we relax from the usual hectic schedules of our lives, may we be open to God's wooing and respond with ready hearts--on the beach, on the hiking trail, at restaurants, sailing, or even in church!
Sometimes animals speak to us of God's power and sense of humor--
here is a Highland Cow.  They are shaggy and undistractable.
We are staying for next 2 nights in the farthest NW hotel and restaurant in  Britain--
it is remote and gorgeous here; accommodations comfy and basic.  Rooster right outside the window.  Oh joy.

And in a purely practical vein, we travel home next week and then attend 2 family reunions in the States.  Back to church the second weekend in August, and I can't wait.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Pilgrims Again--Barry

Canterbury Cathedral in early evening seen from inside the Close.    Our  room at the Cathedral Lodge has a great view of the Cathedral (and, unfortunately, an uncomfortable bed)

I am writing this from Canterbury, where we are ending our three-day stay visiting the Cathedral and attending services.  It is the last stop in a "pilgrimage" beginning two nights before in Winchester, another major English "cathedral town" southwest of London, followed by travels east through Hampshire, the Surrey Hills, and Kent, stopping at religious sites along the way before arriving here.

The walk to Winchester Cathedral at the start of this pilgrimage

A stop at a 10th century parish church in Shere in the Surrey Hills.    The building contains the remains of an anchoress cell from the 13th century.  (This cell was walled in from the outside and has only an opening inside to view the altar.)

Canterbury Cathedral nave following Eucharist on Sunday.   The Archbishop of Canterbury was present.

Our three-month trip has at times been fairly typical touring and sightseeing and at other times it has been something more--a pilgrimage?   Back in Israel, our course leader Father Andrew (C of E) spoke of the difference between the two types of travel: tourists move through places while pilgrims experience (or at least aspire to experience) the places moving through them.   I think I had heard this distinction before, but it resonated with me during our course and travels in Jerusalem, Israel, and the West Bank.   Even with modern conveniences like air conditioned minibuses to travel in, the Mideast pilgrim experience for me was challenging--long days, tight schedules, on and off the bus a lot, hot weather, plus the tension associated with observing the current situation in Israel and the West Bank.  So I'm not sure how often I experienced places as a pilgrim despite wanting to.

Bulmer Farm, where we stayed in Holmbury St Mary

England--a place we've been fortunate to visit a number of times--feels almost like home and so this short reprise or echo of our Israel travels is much more comfortable for us.  The only major difficulty has been finding some of the sites on our way to Canterbury--in some cases the directions we had were poor for navigating the roads on the southern fringes of the London metro area.  So we were reversing course a lot as we made our way east.   But the beautiful places we visited were worth it.

The second night we stayed in a B&B and horse farm in Holmbury St Mary in the Surrey Hills.   Of all the places in our travels, this one reminded me the most of Redding, with its hilly and leafy landscape and narrow, winding roads.   It made me yearn for home.   (I should point out however that it's been a pleasant 30 degrees F cooler here, so I'll be content to yearn for a short while longer.)

Chartwell, the Churchill's country home in Kent

We also stopped enroute at Chartwell, the longtime country residence of Winston Churchill that is a beautifully maintained National Trust historic site in the hills of Kent.  In considering the life of this great man, one might also view Chartwell as a secular pilgrimage site, and indeed I sensed a degree of reverence in my fellow visitors as we moved about the rooms and exhibits.   It appeared that many of these pilgrims could personally recall Churchill's time leading and serving the British nation.

Our journey now begins to wind down as we think more and more about returning to the US and Redding.   We are starting finally to do some "lasts" of this trip, such as last laundry run here in Canterbury today, while tomorrow will begin our last leg in Scotland as we fly into Edinburgh and pick up the last of our rental cars (we've rented ten in all).  Oh, and a final pilgrimage--this time to Iona in the Western Isles on Thursday.

Yet another self-photo, this time in front of the Cliffs of Dover not far from Canterbury. Emily and Chloe were with us at this location 13 years ago.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Schiltalp and the Oblivious Cows

The Swiss have made it so easy for hikers and skiers.  You follow one of the incredibly well marked trails up into the hills.

You have the most gorgeous scenery you might imagine.  You run into lots of other hikers who speak all kinds of languages--and yes there are lots of Americans and Brits whom you understand easily!  And then, just when your stomach starts to rumble, and you are ready for a comfort stop, just around the next corner way up in the hills is a farmhouse-restaurant.  We hiked one day to a farm called Rotstockhutte, way up into a valley, for a salami sandwich and some apfelkuchen (apple-almond-egg tart, just out of the oven).

But my very favorite farmhouse-restaurant is on a trail called the Northface Trail (so named because one sees the north face of Eiger, Monsch, and Jungfrau, right up close and in your face).  This little restaurant is at a farm called Schiltalp.  It sits in a valley under the peak Schilthorn.  Each time we pass there we've stopped for milchkaffee, which is coffee with warm milk.
The farmhouse-restaurant at Schiltalp.  Note the cow bells
that decorate the front of the house.
Milchkaffee at Schiltalp is distinguished by the high fat content of the milk.
Schiltalp's milchkaffee, accompanied by checkered tablecloth
and wildflower bouquet

So much so that it is yellow milk, not white, and a skin of milkfat rides on top of the milk in the creamer.  Yesterday I spoke with one of the kids who lives there and helps out in the restaurant.  She was about 9 or 10 and eager to try out her English (which was far better than my German!!).  She told me that the milk came from their own cows and was taken the day before.  They have 71 cows there, who are now in their summer pasture higher up the mountain.  There are poor roads there, of course, and milk trucks cannot come up the valley.  So they take their milk and make alpenkase (cheese), alpbutter, and save a little of the milk for everyday needs.  They make cheese right there on the farm.
Barry making short work of the milchkaffee

Switzerland has the best dairy products I've encountered anywhere, made even better sometimes when mixed with chocolate...
The regret of leaving Schiltalp is compensated for by the view.

So, as one hikes, one passes lots of herds of cows roaming all over the hills.  Each one has a bell around its neck and you can understand why, given the frequency of mist and cloud over the hills.

They are found by their sound, if they get lost.  I had a too-close encounter with a lovely but curious cow one day.  She pinned me up against a gate so that I couldn't cross into the next pasture.  Then she started to lick me all over and it was pretty gross.  Thank God her horns weren't too long.  Another group of hikers came by and shooed her away, so that we could get through the gate, which I appreciated very much.
Barry trying to distract the cow who was licking me

As I hiked past a lot of the cows I was struck by their behavior.  They seemed so focused on the eating process or on chewing their cuds.  They seemed oblivious to their surroundings (except for the one who was too curious about the hikers).

Here were these grazing animals, in one of the most awesome landscapes of the world, keeping their heads down and working on the grass.  They didn't seem to notice the next level of reality looming above them.  (Now it's not their fault; as far as we can tell they aren't made to perceive larger reality...not that we know of anyway.)  But I saw their behavior as a metaphor for how we all can go through our lives, looking for the most immediate gratifications, and oblivious to larger levels of reality all around...and I will stop here because it's not time to write a sermon...but really it's kind of provocative, isn't it?
Entering the valley in which we are staying we encountered
this cow parade for the benefit of the tourists, in the
little town of Wilderswil.  It was a nice way to be welcomed.  I've seen some
Easter bonnets that are almost as nice as what these cows are wearing!

Monday, July 18, 2011

East to West--Barry

Morning view of Murren outside our room door at Hotel Bellevue (if you come to Murren, stay here!)    Rabbits kept in the wooden and wire mesh box in the lower left, by the way.
This past week marked another transition point in our journey as we moved from hot and sunny Jerusalem through Istanbul--the bridge between East and West--before coming to the mountain village of Murren in Switzerland, which is currently experiencing cool (daytime temps in the 50s and 60s) and changeable skies, sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy.

Looking across the Golden Horn from the Old City, Istanbul
Outdoor terrace where we had supper with Chloe
and Camil

One of the Princes islands near Istanbul, no cars allowed.   With its luxury residences it's sort of like Mackinac Island in Michigan--in both places lots of horse drawn carriages in hot summer weather is not an entirely pleasant sensory experience!

In addition to the change in weather and scenery, we've moved from the unfamiliar (Israel and Istanbul) to a place we've been to before and are very comfortable in.  It's been a nice change as we are generally not "city people" when we travel on vacation.

Our four-day introduction to Istanbul and Turkey was an impressive one.   Besides seeing Chloe and Camil there on the day we arrived, we enjoyed being in a place which has a positive vibe, unlike the conflicted feelings you sense from being in Jerusalem and Israel/Palestinian West Bank and observing these two separate communities.   The standard of living in Istanbul--a vast urban area of 15 million people that seems to go on and on--was also higher than I expected, certainly greater than Bucharest (Camil and Chloe agreed).   On a rare night when I turned on the TV in our hotel room, I found it interesting to channel surf and watch commercials that show a nation rapidly becoming a Western consumer society much like ours (both its positive and negative aspects).  Seeing that CNN has a separate channel for the Turkish market (CNN Turk) is yet another manifestation.

Hagia Sophia, which Ataturk in his Westernizing ways turned into a museum from a mosque in the 1930s--a fascinating mixture of Christian and Islamic imagery
Another "self-photo", taken inside Basilica Cistern, a vast underground reservoir built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century
It was great seeing Chloe and Camil again.   See you again in August back in the States.

I felt a great deal of admiration for what the Turks have achieved.   Their moderate Islamism, economic dynamism, and transition to democracy (much like Indonesia at the other end of the Muslim world) strikes me as a model for other Muslim societies.   While waiting one day for a ferry to the Princes Islands in the Sea of Marmara, we talked to an Iranian tourist and it was so clear (and disheartening) that he wished his country's government was like Turkey's.

Seeing the Hagia Sophia and the Bosporus were like other magic moments during this trip when we saw places long imagined for the first time.   Being in this part of the world for three weeks, we found seeing mosques instead of churches and various forms of Islamic dress increasingly "normal".   One hard-to-get-used-to sight however was observing some young Islamic couples, with the man dressed in shorts and other typical tourist gear for hot weather and the woman in a full-length black burka exposing only the eyes, usually heavily made up.

Turkey, we'll be back (God willing).

Switzerland of course is thoroughly Western, and  Murren, which sits high above the steep Lauterbrunnen valley and is accessible for tourists only by cable car, has a tradition of welcoming English speaking visitors going back to when the Brits developed the first Alpine skiing resort here in the 1920s.  There are lots of well sign-posted hiking trails through the forests and meadows here offering spectacular views of Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau in good weather, and pleasant places to stop along the way for coffee or lunch.   In many places around here you can listen to cowbells coming from herds of what must be the most contented--and highly subsidized--cows on earth.  The network of cable cars, funiculars, and mountain railways here is just amazing, and you don't mind paying the high prices to ride them.   I really want to come here in ski season sometime....

On the walk back from Rotstuckhutte--Bernese Alps in background

Alpiglen, above Grindelwald.   We stopped here for CHF 4.-- (=$5) cups of coffee during our walk.   With views like this, we weren't complaining about high prices.   That's the north face of Eiger in the background.   The milchkaffee by the way was terrific.

The Panorama walk today at Schynige Platte, reached by a mountain "cog" railway.    This part of the walk near a 2000 foot cliff was just inside our comfort zone.

Compared to last time we were here in 2008, Murren seems less busy with tourists which is probably the result of the sky-high Swiss franc.   It's affected visitors from the UK and the eurozone as much--if not more--than the US, and a lot of people here have been talking about it.   While some things are quite expensive, other things like hotel room and meal prices do not have to be that expensive, especially in view of their consistently high quality.

Our next and final stop on this journey is the UK, the place we visited on our first trip to Europe with Emily back in 1986.    Since then we've come a long way.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Contrasts and Comparisons

I'm writing this now from Murren, Switzerland, located in the Lauterbrunnen Valley a little southeast of Interlaken.
Our town, Murren, from a trail high above

We arrived here 2 days ago, having first spent 4 nights in Istanbul, Turkey.  It's been quite a lot of changes lately and all these places have their specific characteristics--and differences from each other.  Istanbul was wonderful; we were able to connect with daughter Chloe and boyfriend Camil for a night, which was great.  They were there for a little getaway; they live less than 500 miles away.
Istanbul in the evening, ferry in the foreground

We were able to see some gorgeous and unforgettable sights in Istanbul, including Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque.
Detail of ceilings in the Blue Mosque

We had lots of kabobs and really enjoyed the food.  Baklava was superb and the Turkish coffee was really interesting.  If we made that at church we'd think something was wrong with the coffee urn, LOL.

We loved the frequent calls to prayer from nearby and faraway mosques, just like we heard in Jerusalem.  There was a nice terrace on the top floor of our hotel, and we spent a few evenings up there, sitting and enjoying the view.  Nearby, of course, another minaret.
The view from our hotel's roof

Women wore everything from the burka (totally covered in black in that hot sun, yikes) to Western dress.  I did see one young woman totally subvert the burka.  She was indeed wearing one, but she had gorgeous eyes, made up to the hilt.

The freedom of style of dress for women is something quite wonderful about Turkey, which is a moderate Islamic country.  We met a guy from Iran while taking a ferry and he told me if I dressed like I was on the ferry in Iran, I'd be shot.  What was I wearing?  A 'modest' LLBean T-shirt, capri pants, socks and walking shoes.  Yikes.

One thing I really loved was attending a Sufi music concert and a session of worship of Sufi dancers--whom we might call "whirling dervishes."  Their ecstatic worship was lovely to watch and to become caught up in.  Their costumes were incredible and symbolic.  One thing that struck me was how the human body often wants to respond in times of worship when we are carried away by the divine--the arms raise up in worship.  We see this in the Sufis but also in Christian mystics whom we call Charismatics--tho the Charismatics don't whirl around!  (Not yet??!)

It's interesting being in this part of the world.  There is a culture of selling that we found uncomfortable to be within, and we encountered this both in Old Jerusalem and in Istanbul.
Istanbul's Spice Market in early morning

Walking from our hotel to any of the main attractions in the city of Istanbul we were likely to encounter a good 10 or so guys trying to sell us things--guidebooks, spinning tops, carpets, trinkets, even a hat with an umbrella built right in.  We are much more comfortable in the West where if we want to buy something we walk into a store and the salesclerk waits for us to make a purchase.  It isn't that way everywhere...

One huge contrast we are experiencing is the weather.  In Jerusalem it was intensely hot, mid 80's, and very dry.  We used to laugh about hand-washing our clothing and hanging it soaking wet on the clothes line on the roof at the college--in 2 hours or less it would be totally dry.  Istanbul was hot, mid 80's, but humid too, and that was really uncomfortable.  In both these cities the sun was so intense that you learned really fast to look for shade.  We used a ton of sunscreen.  Switzerland is another story entirely.  Highs around 70, sunny but really pleasant.  Out come the long pants and the hoodies again, not seen since Australia.  Tomorrow we are due for a ton of rain, but we also need to do laundry and rest, so maybe that won't be so bad.  And I will catch up with Week 10 of The Artist's Way, too.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Like a Fish Swimming Upstream

It's been a real revelation to be in Israel for a few weeks.  We've been here for 3 Fridays and Saturdays.  That means we've been witness to faith groups' observances of their weekly holy days for three cycles.

On the first Friday we were here we were walking down to the Old City of Jerusalem as thousands of Muslims were exiting the Old City for their buses to take them back to Palestinian areas of the West Bank for their sabbath.  It was a jumble of people choking streets with the background of hawkers of vegetables, fruits, and bread entreating the passers by to stock up for their evening meal at home as they continued to celebrate their holy day.  Yesterday, another Friday, we were leaving the Old City just a little earlier as thousands of Muslims funneled in through the Damascus Gate to go to mosque in time for the post-lunch service.  This includes men in Arab dress (Yasser Arafat style), Western-dressed people, women in full chadors, scarved women with dark overcoats hiding their home clothing, children in "Sunday best" ("Friday best") being towed along.  Pre-pubescent little girls in this tradition are often dressed to the nines in pink ruffles and patent leather mary janes.

People streaming into the Damascus Gate for Friday
service at one of the mosques.

To be a person walking the other way during these mass movements of people is to be like a fish swimming upstream.

And we've been here of course for three Jewish sabbaths.  We've heard the Hasid rejoicing songs greeting the approach of the Sabbath on Fridays just before sundown.  We've heard the siren-like blaring each Friday at sundown that brings the city to a stop.  We've seen the astonishing reduction of traffic--as mostly everyone comes off the streets--beginning Friday evenings and going through daylight on Saturdays.

It is most amazing to be here as most regular tourist services close down and things are hushed on Saturdays.  We took a taxi today, the Jewish sabbath, (driven by a Palestinian) to our hotel on the outskirts of Tel Aviv.  There were so few cars on the road; it was so noticeably different than usual.  Our hotel follows sabbath custom and we are observing a good quiet day.  Actually we took a much-needed nap and we're being quiet now.  We are actually looking forward to sundown tonight, when the mall near here re-opens and maybe we can go for an ice cream.  Or something stronger.

Sunday mornings in the Old City were also full of hustle and bustle as groups of Christian fellow travelers descend upon the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Orthodox and Catholic worship.
Celebrating Eucharist in class in a tiny chapel
above Calvary within Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We received special permission from the
Greek Orthodox Patriarchate for celebrating in this space.
One wonderful piece of serendipity that lightened things as we prayed
above Golgotha was our discovery that we disrupted a cat from her home;
she was in and out during the service.

In our case we went twice to the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer for a taste of American style worship in a small, friendly setting in the Old City, around the corner from Holy Sepulchre.  One hears the deafening clang of many church bells at once, calling people to worship, and one is caught in the flow of pilgrims toward the churches.

The roundel of the Paschal Lamb of Victory
over the door into Redeemer Church.  I love how that
front leg wraps around the victory standard...

Closing time at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Now, given that all these great religions are engaged, supposedly, in following the Divine who loves us with amazing and nonstop love, why are things between God's people so difficult?  Well, I know, that is a naive question.  But isn't this the essential question in this land? (Or any land for that matter.)  What will it take for us to understand that loving each other, trusting each other, working past our own individual and national or tribal prejudices, is the only thing that will bring peace?  God help us, and God help the people of Israel, all of them.

Our reptilian friend at the garden of the Guest House
at St. George's prepares for the sabbath, too

Friday, July 8, 2011

Last Day in Jerusalem, Looking Back--Barry

Marilyn and I spent 17 nights here at St George's College not far from the Damascus Gate leading into the Old City of Jerusalem.   This morning we leave for Tel Aviv to stay a night before our flight to Istanbul on Sunday.

The accommodation at the College was comfortable--you might call it "dorm room plus".   The "plus" part was having an en suite room.   We also had a nice view overlooking the courtyard and Cathedral tower.
Our room at St George's College--"home away from home"
Looking back over the last three weeks here and at the two other places we stayed in the Holy Land, I find it difficult to pick out the "highlights".   Nevertheless, I will give it a go this morning and record what first comes to mind.

--swimming in the Sea of Galilee when we went up north and stayed two nights at Pilgerhaus, a very nice German-run guest house on the shore of this Biblical lake, which is 700 feet below sea level.  The water temperature was not too warm or cold, just totally refreshing after long days on the bus visiting sites.   I didn't want to get out of the water.
The refreshing Sea of Galilee, at Pilgerhaus looking east

--seeing and touching the rock of Calvary where Jesus was crucified.  The Church of the Resurrection (a/k/a Holy Sepulchre) was built over this rocky outcrop which was in Jesus's time just outside the city walls.  The Church itself is remarkable--a dark and deeply historic place, with the original structure dating to the time of Constantine and his mother Helena in the fourth century.
Calvary shrine at Church of the Resurrection--Jesus's tomb is nearby

--renewing our baptismal vows in the headwaters of the Jordan River near Mt Hermon in the far north of the country, just a few miles from the Lebanon and Syrian border.
Jordan River headwaters (Hermon Stream) at Caesarea Philippi
--experiencing with painful sadness the Yad Vashem holocaust memorial.
A haunting sight from Yad Vashem
--visiting the Israel Museum here in Jerusalem, a very handsome and well laid out set of galleries and outdoor exhibits, including a fantastic 1:50 model of Jerusalem during the time of Herod and the Second Temple.   Coming towards the end of our trip, I found viewing this large display a good way to integrate the knowledge I acquired when first visiting places with our guides Najati (a/k/a Mike) and Father Andrew.
Jerusalem at the time of Jesus including Second Temple and Herod's Temple Mount (Israel Museum)
--driving to Haifa and back.   Over the course of our visit, I screwed up the resolve to rent a car for the day and to brave traffic on the Israeli roads (which really wasn't too bad).   We got out of Jerusalem for a day to drive to Haifa via downtown Tel Aviv.  Of the three large cities in Israel, Haifa, with its hilly site at the end of the Mt Carmel ridge overlooking the Mediterranean, struck me as the most attractive from a "liveability" standpoint.   The drive back up to and along the ridge was very scenic before we got mired in commuter traffic near Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Haifa, from viewpoint near Carmelite monastery and Elijah's cave--unfortunately not enough time to ride "world's smallest subway", an underground funicular up Mt Carmel from downtown
When we shared our reflections toward the end of the course a few days ago, I said that Jerusalem, Israel, and the Palestinian cities we visited made a deep impression on me, but that it was going to take a  longer time for me to sort this out further.  I said this from both a Biblical perspective, in which coming here was a big "inflection point" in my faith journey, and from observing the current, very separate societies of Palestinians and Israeli Jews.   Before I viewed Jerusalem as a place I would visit once in my life and now I hope to return someday.
Oh, there was also time for some "retail therapy" in the Old City.    We can recommend a good jeweler near where this photo was taken on David St--they've only been in business here for 383 years!