“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it…” Luke 19:41
When I walked on Jerusalem’s prosaic cobblestones from the Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Armenian quarters, I was tiptoeing. It was a kind of tiptoeing that I could not comprehend. One, the profundity of being at the nexus of the cradle of Abrahamic faiths left me gasping for fresh air to make sense of history and sacrosanct timelines. Secondly, I told myself, this pulse, this prominent vibrancy, this subtle tectonics of a city is a tense experience on vicarious edge. I am on the theatre of peace attempts and sudden outbursts of hate and cycle of violence, IDF soldiers alert patrolling in pairs in nooks and crannies of the walled city. Three, I told myself, I am a pilgrim, walking in faith and abounding grace belonging to a proverbial flock of sheep not wanting to separate from the “shepherd tourist guide” among competing groups of Christians from Pennsylvania to a small congregation from Uganda. The plump moments of spiritual communion and immersion into Jesus’ footsteps and narrative, are personal miracles and transcendental discoveries. Beyond this incomprehensibility, the utter sense of minutiae in the domains of the sacred, of the ancient and pilgrimage-packed itinerary imbued in me sanity, gratitude that only a devout pause and the experiencing of the transitory now can adequately provide. I kept on tiptoeing, believing that my feet, my whole being, and my soul would penetrate the entire experience spiritually. Later I discovered that tiptoeing is an act of solemn faith, of reverence, of physically settling a small corporeal print into the ground layered with archeology that stretched back some 6,000 years ago. Tiptoeing from the simple observance of silence inside houses of prayers compels us further extend on the way we perceive things and events, the way we process and put meaning on the now, and the way we inhabit space we are existentially privileged to steward.
All I saw was a city filled with colors, psalms, the babel of voices, with prayers ancient and current right at the holy grounds of the walled city. Jerusalem is the holy city of prophets. This is the city conquered by David that became the Jewish capital. King Solomon built the first holy temple here. Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon in 605 BCE captured this city. This is the city where Jesus Christ was presented at the temple, preached, crucified and resurrected. This is the city destroyed by Titus dispatched by Emperor Nero to punish Jewish rebellion. This is the city where Muslims believed Mohammed ascended into heaven. This is the Old City whose walls were rebuilt by Suleiman the Magnificent in the 1500s during the Ottoman Empire. This is the Old City that during the different periods have varying numbers of gates, among them Herod, Lion’s, Damascus, Jaffa, Dung, Tanners, and Zion. This is the city that until now is at the fulcrum of global politics and religious call for tolerance.
Our small group of pilgrims stopped at the Mt. of Olives which is the best place to view the Old City. Located in East Jerusalem, this hill is frequently mentioned in the New Testament. This is where Jesus Christ wept over Jerusalem of its imminent destruction.
I tiptoed at the Mt. of Olives, before me the panorama of Old Jerusalem on a clear day with some solitary clouds meaning to reach out to each other. From left, stand the Church of St. Peter Gallicantu then the Cenacle and the nearby Church of the Dormition. My eyes slowly surveyed to the right with the Tower of David, El-Aqsa Mosque and the Pinnacle of the Temple. Right in the middle, the three holiest places, Dome of the Rock, Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall beckon. I continued to graze my eyes to the left side and there the Flagellation “Ecce Homo” Church stand. My eyes zeroed in too into the Kidron Valley that separates the Temple Mount and the Mt. of Olives. There lies the Moslem’s Cemetery, the Garden and the Church of Gethsemane. Noticeable too is the closed Golden Gate and the more than 3,000 old Jewish Cemetery that is just in front of where I stood.
Indeed, this panorama is that of civilization, conquests, crusades, conflicts and cohabitation as human beings their souls restless and reaching out high for the Supreme Being.
In that tiptoeing gaze, I stumbled two Jerusalem poems of Yehuda Amichai and Mahmoud Darwish intoning their verses of Jerusalem that are colorful representations of their poetic lexicon and personal convictions.
“Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity.
The Temple Mount is a great ship, a pleasure yawl
From the portholes of her Wailing Wall, jubilant saints
Peer like passengers. Hasidim on the pier wave
Goodbye, yelling hurrah, bon voyage. She
Is always docking, always embarking.” – Yehuda Amichai
Darwish’s poem reverberates with what is lost, the identity and the land, an uncompromising voice of a Palestinian poet.
“In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy … ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.” – Mahmoud Darwish
I paused a profound one after these two odes to the city. I heard our chaplain intoned in his priestly chant the verse from the Book of Revelation.
“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. “- Rev 21:2
I asked myself, what is the solitary poem lurking seditiously in the pilgrim in me? What is and where is my own Jerusalem?
As I tiptoed and immersed in my reflection, a voice told me, “My heart is my new Jerusalem, a dwelling place of my Lord.” Jerusalem will stay with me wherever I go, unbounded by competing territorial claims, infinite dissenting voices, unshackled by the burden of ancient stones and fortifications but cleansed, nourished lovingly and perfected by my King in this life’s pilgrimage.