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Oh Little Town (and Small World) of Bethlehem

Dear Anne,

Now that I finally have reliable Wifi I’m feeling that joy!  I think I’m going to take a cue from our itinerary and reflect on the sites we visited in ascending order of gut-wrenching emotional intensity.  The power of our experiences has touched us–just when you think you’ve prayed and wept and processed it all, you have a breakdown at dinner.  More on that another time.  In my jet lagged condition I might start bawling again.

You mentioned the exhausting fellowship (and by fellowship I think you meant drinking).  You are right, pilgriming all day and fellowshiping at night is hard on a girl.  But that WAS a nice Golan Heights Pinot.

I was blessed with a very special fellowship opportunity–to be a Eucharistic Minister at Mass in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  (You will note that the EM dress code is loosened while pilgriming.)IMG_8907

I shared the body of Christ, the Bread of Life, with the group of people I was going to break bread with later that day.  That’s some awesome fellowship right there.

After that, I touched the spot where Jesus was born.  Just let that one sink in.

At home, I hear people say, “How do you know that’s the spot?”  Americans are natural born skeptics, I suppose, but more than that, we don’t know the deep connection to a history which extends back millennia.  For Israelis, the Bible is not just The Word, it’s history, it’s the land they live on.  Mount Zion, Bethlehem, Moab–these are not abstract places in a story.  They can point to them, walk there.  So when we asked, “How do you know it’s the spot?” Shafik (don’t pronounce the k), our amazing guide, asked the mothers in the group to raise our hands. “Do you know where your children were born?”  (After your Milk Grotto post, I realize he should have asked “Do you remember where you were when your children entered your life?”)

Well, duh.

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There has been a shrine over this spot since the 1st century–the followers of Jesus would have certainly asked Mary where he was born.  A mother knows where she had her baby.  I touched the spot where Jesus was born.

There’s that joy again.

I witnessed the Holy Spirit working in our group this week. Two of our pilgrims met on the streets of Philadelphia (both visiting from out of town) during the Pope’s visit because they were wearing the same sweater.  They became friends that day and decided to take this trip together.  I saw individuals challenged by illness in themselves and loved ones be comforted and supported with such loving mercy.  I saw folks laugh themselves silly, my personal favorite type of fellowship, next to the liquid kind, of course.  I even saw hookah fellowship.

And we came away with a sister we never knew we had.  In chatting with one of 20-somethings on our bus, talk turned to college and something (I wonder who!) made me ask if she was in a sorority.  “I’m an Alpha Phi”.  Well, lookee there.  A sister.  We only had to travel 6000 miles to find her.

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Love and AOE, Sisters!!  (Yeah, that’s a deeply secret sorority thing.  Live with it.  We’d have to kill you if we told you what it meant.)

The joy of the risen Lord was with us last week and you are right, we need to hold onto that pilgrim-type of joy.  To take the raw emotion we felt in our most painful reflections and have it be reborn in love and mercy.  And maybe share a nice glass of fellowship, too.

Love,

Susan

 

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