Editor's note: Mary Page Jones, who lives and writes in Wapiti, Wyoming, lived in East Jerusalem from 1996-2000 with her husband, Bishop Bob Jones, retired. She recently returned to Jerusalem for a course at St. George's College, a continuing education center of the Anglican Communion since 1962. Jones started an international project called Rag Dolls to Love several years ago and has since distributed thousands of the soft, hand-made dolls to children around the world.
Like an onion, I am beginning to peel back the layers of experience and feelings from a recent Jerusalem trip.
A layer of the holy in the onion were Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. Walking from Bethany/Beth Page into Jerusalem, where the occupation today was evidenced by a 25-foot concrete wall keeping the walk from tracing the entire route, was a reminder of Jesus walking into Jerusalem to free people from the occupation of the Romans.
Friday morning I walked the Via Dolorosa alone finding myself walking beside a Romanian man who was dependent on crutches due to a leg that dragged. He had a cross tied to his back. He fell at the eighth station and I, with others, helped him up. The market place was bustling, few paid attention to him. We arrived at the Church of the Resurrection and he read the Bible story in his native tongue. The Easter Vigil at the Anglican Cathedral was poignant and joy filled.
Those events along with extraordinary lectures on Eastern liturgy at St. George's College gave Holy Week a remarkable depth. The course I attended, "Eastern and Western Liturgies," joined orthodox services with the Armenians, Coptic of Ethiopia, Syrians, Greeks, Romanians and
Russians. Their services last at least 2 hours! Three foot washings on Maundy Thursday and a walk with the Anglicans to the Garden of Gethsemane in the evening brought the Bible stories to life.
The onion peels back the feeling of love and incredible pain as I know the love and welcome from friends and feel the joy of being back in a place of heart for me, then feel the pain as I pass through the 25-foot wall surrounding the West Bank separating families from each other, farmers from their land, residents from any sort of employment. This pain kept tears in my eyes when I spent a day in Dheisheh refugee camp with a Palestinian family who was our family when we lived there. I heard the father, who has given years of working for peace, say "We (the Palestinians) are being pushed into a corner. The Israelis want to rid this country of us but we won't go away. It has made me no longer a man of peace." The pain was palatable when I spent a day with an eye clinic in a small village deep in West Bank and met families who live without electricity. I felt their acceptance as I spoke with them in halting Arabic and gave them dolls.
Another layer of the onion I will carry for a while is the wonderful food: breads, dates, sweet oranges, green almonds, whole lambs cooked to celebrate Easter in the traditional way and other traditional dishes of macluba, medjeddera and schwarma, all served with delicious Arabic coffee.
So many more layers remain. The people, the dust storm, the birds, the land, the children, the beautiful children. They swarmed me when I was handing out dolls and their smiles, as they looked at their new friend, was a gift from God. I return with a full heart, filled with joy and pain, love and wonder, despair and very slight glimmers of hope.
Pray for peace there and in the world.