December 12, 2009

Have you ever felt as if someone was looking out for you?

Do you have any idea how hard it is to find an internet cafe in the Old City of Jerusalem? It's like trying to find a Christmas tree in Berkeley.

OK... it's time to come clean. I didn't come to Israel for the waters, nor the nightlife. Some months ago I realized that major life changes are in my future. Jerusalem is my pilgrimage. It has confirmed my faith and made me all the more confident in my decision.

Since my childhood I have heard many spiritual and downright breathless tales of visits to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. The church includes within its walls the last 5 Stations of the Cross:

10..........The site where Jesus is stripped of His garments

11 & 12...The site of Christ's crucifixion and death on the cross

13...........Where His body was removed from the cross and prepared for burial

14...........Jesus' tomb

That's my preface. Read about the place. It's amazing.

A friend of mine told me that he had heard that, through the centuries, there have been times when pilgrims have been allowed to stay within the church after it had been locked and secured for the evening, allowing for an an exceptional opportunity for prayer and worship. It requires permission from a whole lot of religious folks who don't always get along. I had contact leads from US officials, and other recommendations from religious mucky-mucks. I was told that approval was a slam dunk. When I arrived here, I learned that was not the case. I was told "It can't be done".

For a week I appeared at the Church twice a day... each time requesting permission and each time being refused. After a week of requesting, the Franciscan priest near the entrance rolled his eyes and said "Be back here at 5:00 tonight. No promises. We'll see."

OK, here we go. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered the most holy Christian site on the face of the planet. Every Christian in the world would, once in his life, like to stand and worship where Christ was crucified and died, and pray at the tomb from which he rose. There is no chance of getting to view the tomb without a lengthy wait and some level of security.

The small tomb, of course, is decorated with priceless collections of gold, icons, lamps etc. There's a priest eyeballing the waiting throng for suspicious characters. There's also a priest inside keeping the process moving... no dawdling, keep moving, don't touch that, etc. No bags, backpack or purses are allowed. There is usually a line of pilgrims from all over the world, hundreds deep, waiting to spend 10 seconds in the tomb. It was my hope that my overnight visit would allow me to horn in on the Carmelite nuns' ever-present nighttime vigil to allow myself a reasonable amount of time to complete a prayer.

When I appeared at 5:00, Makmoud (the young Palestinian doorkeeper whose family through the generations has been given the responsibility of locking and unlocking the Church) escorted me to meet what seemed to be the Friar-on-duty. He had a New York accent.

So you want to stay the night?


We close the doors at 7. Be here at 6:45 and sit on that bench. That will tell the police that you'll be staying. Bring a bottle of water, something to eat, and dress warmly. We'll let you out when we reopen at 4 in the morning.

That was pretty straightforward, so I did as he said. I was there on time. The friar came over and sat with me and waited while the Israeli police cleared the church.

Here are the rules. First, no singing. The acoustics here sometimes tempt people to break into song. Second, no sleeping. Third, don't light any candles. The Greeks (the Greek Orthodox priests) will be here at 11:00 for a mass. When you see them starting to gather, leave the tomb. Otherwise, you have the tomb for four hours, 7 to 11. The Greeks will be out of here by 1:00. After that, you will be the only one in the church. The priests will all begin reappearing at about 3:00. Go where you want to go. Pray where you want to pray. Touch what you want to touch. Take all the photos you want. Just don't break anything.

(I couldn't believe what he was saying.)

And the nuns?

Not tonight. It's all yours.

Don't you have any paperwork? Do you want my name?


(My head was actually thumping with excitement.)

I won't share (and I'm not capable of sharing) what happened during those 4 hours or the hours at Golgotha (Calvary). I will tell you that many of you and your children were included in my prayers. Even you, Odie.

I do miss blogging and look forward to battling the dark forces again when I return after Christmas.

Happy Hanukkah and Shalom



Bungalow Bill said...

Wow, what an incredible experience! I wish you could share more, but I understand.

Woodsterman (Odie) said...

Thank You Nickie, I'm very excited for you. You even brought tears to eyes with your good fortune ... ENJOY!

Anonymous said...

I have prayed for you, brother, each day of this trip. i was especially reminded to pray on Thursday.

I am so excited for you and can't wait to hear the story. Amazing. Simply amazing.

sig94 said...

Amazing. Simply amazing. Reminds of Luke 18 where persistence pays off for the widow seeking justice from a judge.
[3] And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, 'Grant me justice against my adversary.'

[4] "For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, 'Even though I don't fear God or care about men, [5] yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually wear me out with her coming!' "

In all your endeavors, keep coming Nickie.

Christopher said...

I am happy in your decision and your good fortune in th Holy Land.
Stay safe.

Anonymous said...

Sig, that is outstanding insight. The scripture you reference teaches us that if an unjust judge will grant justice with persistence, how much more a just God will do so. Great stuff.

What a blog!!

Fredd said...

That indeed sounds like the visit of a lifetime.

Myself, I wouldn't visit any country in the Middle East, not even Israel even if you paid me: I look way too American, and the sentiments towards us over there these days is not what anyone would call warm and fuzzy, correct me if I am misaken.

Anonymous said...

That sure beats my weekend at mt sister-in-law's house.

RP Free Speech said...

Signor Goomba:

Thank you so much for sharing with those of us who could not be there with you.

Your 'trip' inspires the least of your followers.

You have found God, the Creator, which is so terribly important in the world today. I have much respect for you, Signor, and wish for you a continued wonderful excursion through life.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this.

Snarky Basterd said...

That's beautiful, Goomba. And inspiring. If I ever I have the chance to do that, I'll be as persistent as you. Thank you for sharing this. I'm going to send it to a few friends.

sig94 said...

I feel so fortunate to have stumbled across this site. Indeed, what a blog!

Wetzy said...

This is my favorite blog on the Internet. I try to read it every day. It has real people.

Rhod said...

Nickie, I suspect your solitude inside those walls wasn't solitary.

The clamor, cant and commotion that absorbs you into this world is wicked, and you can know that however you feel about a Creator. You have to get shut it out to make contact.

Looking toward distant hills has always done it for me, and there's a line of scripture for that enchantment.

Your EMail was to me was overwhelming. Thank you.

Amusing Bunni said...

Thank you for posting this Nicki!
You had a real calling from GOD to visit this holy place. I know you will take the Blessings with you forever throughout your life. Thank you for sharing with all of us. Stay safe, and God Bless.

T. F. Stern said...

Sounds like you had an experience worth putting into your journal. Someday, perhaps, you will enter one of the modern day temples and have the ordinances done that will take you beyond time and all eternity, also worth putting on your things to do list.

Teresa said...

Awesome, Nickie! Your perseverance paid off. It sounds like you have had a wonderful visit to Jerusalem so far. Be safe and have a great time!!

JN Kish said...

Awesome story- I emailed it to my friends and family. I'm happy that you were fortunate enough to have such a wonderful experience- and thankful that you were able to share it with us.

The_Kid said...

Nickie, I'm very happy for you.

It was obviously meant to be. For you.

FatScribe said...

Nick -- i harbor great jealousy and feel ineffable longing for something like that to happen in my life. very cool. many blessings to you on becoming ordained eventually ... Proverbs says that "a longing fulfilled is sweet to the soul." May it be so for you my ultra-conservative goomba! -Jg.

Toaster 802 said...

It is awesome that you have heard and are exploring your calling. I had taken that step myself five years back. Letting go of the self and truly wanting to have His will be done is the most frightening and liberating thing a person can do. In my case I was not for the cloth but have now a wonderful wife and a healthy moose of a son born 2 months premee last Christmas eve.

If you can listen then He will answer, and it will be your happiest path.

God Bless and safe home.

Velcro said...

Nickie, that was amazing and inspiring! Thank you. What an amazing experience for you!

Opus #6 said...

Nickie, I am moved to tears by this post, too. Thank you for sharing what you can. Very inspiring!

Anonymous said...

That's an incredible story Nickie - what an experience! Safe travels.

Frances Davis said...

What a precious story, Nickie!

(I don't think I would have been able to pass up the temptation for the singing, though.)

Thank you for your prayers.


LSP said...

That was a fantastic post - and, with you, I love the Holy Sepulchre. An amazing church.

Be assured of my prayers for your calling - I'll say a mass for your intention.

Every blessing from Ikerland.

RightKlik said...

Amazing account. Thanks for sharing NG.

Red said...

It would be difficult not to sing. I can't imagine how you felt. How amazing an opportunity to be closer to the footsteps of our Lord and Savior. God bless you Nickie and Merry Christmas. Thank you for including so many in your prayers.

Caeseria said...

Oh wow, Nickie!!! I can't imagine not singing. I'm a chanter in my church. To be in a place like that and not CHANT - anything! - I can't imagine it. I am so jealous. And so very, very, very, very, very happy for you!!! That is just amazing.
I'm so happy for you! What a Christmas blessing.

Renegade Radio said...

WHile reading your post, I recalled my visit to that site last March. As you developed the story to its end my mouth actually dropped open!