An Excellent Start

Where should one start exploring when going on a Christian Faith Journey? One might think a good place to start would be where it all started. There would be no Christian journey if Jesus was never born. So today we start exploring and we begin in Bethlehem.

Now there will be some who will want to be technical and say we were not in Bethlehem while at the Shepherd’s Field. And technically those folks would be correct. Bet Sahour, Bet Jalla, and Bet Lehem in our journey today have all merged into a metropolitan style growth pattern. You enter and leave without knowing the difference.

Biblically, it was all referenced as the Shepherds on the hillside outside of Bethlehem. The traditional hillside is now in Bet Sahour, which translates into House of the Shepherd.

We were allowed a leisurely morning with breakfast at 8 am and our exploring starting at 10 am. It was nice to have a chance to sleep in and not have to rush around trying to take off for a long day. We did discover that if you wait until 10 am to go exploring, it is already getting pretty warm. Something to think about.

Our first stop was the Shepherd’s Field. Scripture tells us that as Mary and Joseph were becoming parents, the angels were singing to the Shepherds tending the sheep along a hill near Bethlehem. They were told to go find the baby and spread the word our Messiah was born.

This site has been cleaned up a bit since I was there last. Looks like they are getting ready for some new developments. I’m not always in favor of such growth as I think it distracts from the site itself and the significance that site might have for what occurred and for the way we might relate to it.

None the less, we stroll down a beautiful lane that leads us to a Chapel. The walls are depicted with scenes from the Biblical story. We took some time to reflect and sing. What a gift and great way to start the day.  We left the Chapel and rounded the corner to discover a group have Mass in the Cave. We quietly left them and went exploring the hillside.  After a short time the Mass concluded and we made our way into the Cave located behind the Chapel. Shepherds are believed to have set up camp there while watching the sheep. If need be the sheep could have been drawn into the cave for ease in protecting them from outside dangers.

We did a little roaming, picture taking, and shopping. After all this was concluded we boarded our Coach and moved towards Nativity Square.

We took a detour to receive a presentation from a representative of the Holy Land Trust. This group promotes equality between Palestine and Israel. They also emphasize a Non-Violent approach to action that would address the needs and care for all those living in the Holy Land. Following the presentation we had lunch which was a choice of falafel or shawarma.  Today I chose shawarma. This is a shaved meat sandwich in a pita style bread surrounded by a cream sauce and chopped vegetable. I very much appreciate a good shawarma sandwich.

We moved on from lunch to Manger Square and the Nativity church. I have had some terrific experiences there and I have had some horrible experiences there. I was a bit anxious given the time of day and the heat. There were a good number of people on the Square and moving about Nativity Church. However, when we got in the church we found only two other groups already inside. One was just gathering in front of the Orthodox sanctuary and the second group was lined up ready to see the lower grotto with he commemorative start marking the tradition site of Jesus’ birth. We did a little learning and observing before soon lining up behind the group already moving into the back of the sanctuary and down into the grotto.

In no time at all we were ready to go in ourselves. The large group near the Orthodox sanctuary were still listening and observing. We had only a few folks behind us as we descended into the grotto. We observed and took pictures. As there were no crowds we even to the time to sing a Christmas Carol. Others soon moved in and we moved on.  Wow! That could not have gone much smoother. This time around the Nativity Church left me with a sense of awe and appreciation. I certainly cannot say that about his site every time.

Praise be to God for what is really shaping up to be a pretty good day.

Having moved through this place without any delays we find our time moving well. We have time to board the bus and move to the north end of Bethlehem. We are just blocks from the check point borders on both sides by a huge concrete wall. Just across the street where we stopped in a statement of social conscious. It is called the Walled In Hotel. It was established some time back with the help of Banksy. It is a working hotel; as well as, it contains an art gallery, a self-guided tour through the step of what has taken place between Israel and Palestine since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Peace Agreement. What was anticipated to happen did not. Many people do not realize just how far off the mark it has become. Going thru this place really can raise your awareness.

We took time to observe and learn. Hopefully we also took the time for self reflection to our own role and much needed support to see love and justice to prevail. We were given a chance to sit down with each and do some reflecting and enjoy some fellowship. In the room was a grand piano. I knew that our guide is a very accomplished pianist. I asked he would be willing to play for us and he accepted without hesitation. The room became quiet except for the melodious sound of the piano. It was the perfect end to our exploration.

We really needed this day. There was so much drama in the last 36 hours, we needed a day where things went right.  That is not to say there weren’t some bumps in the road…our driver got upset about something and told us he would not be driving for us after today. Some things like that. But it was really a very good day.

As we returned to our hotel, worn and weary, we were given a bit of boast as we found our luggage had just arrived at the hotel and was being brought it and prepared for us to retrieve all our belongings. I cannot speak for everyone, but for me, this was a great day.

We had some time to relax before dinner. The food was excellent. Some very special friends came to visit us and share part of their story. One of our group members gave us a devotion centered around “Finding Joy and Sharing it with Others.”

I do not expect every day to be like this. I sure needed it today. I keep hearing the small voice in the back of my head from a friend who I met over here. Her name was Suhaila and she was one of the best friends a person could have. As I reflect on this day with some sense of peace and awe, I hear her saying to me do not be so surprised; God know what you need and God is faithful. Yes, Suhaila, God is faithful. I miss you dear friend. For those who do not know, Suhaila passed away a year ago. She had life-taking cancer that was exacerbated by the CoVid pandemic.

Suhaila’s love for God, for her family and friends, and the children that had her heart in the school she ran for many years, never faltered. We will be with those children, the staff and her family in just a few days. Even now, through it all, she still gives me joy and peace.

I wish and pray for you, as you read this, you might find for yourself a great day and someone who can whisper in your ear, God knows what you need and is always faithful. May that bring to you some joy and peace. Amen.

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