In late October and early November, twenty-five Christian pilgrims from Houston's Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian church traveled to the Holy Land with JPB co-founders, Canon Nicholas Porter and Stuart and Angie Kensinger. Our journey began with the Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem , and Jesus' Nativity, and it ended with the Via Dolorosa and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
We visited and prayed at holy sites in Bethlehem, the Judean Desert, the Galilee, and Jerusalem. While in the Galilee, we visited Nazareth, including Mary's Well and the home of Joseph the Just. Orthodox tradition remembers the Archangel Gabriel first appearing to Mary at the well, and terrifying her. She ran home, where he appeared to her again.
Checking out the Ethiopian Monastery near the Church of the Holy Sepulchre "Mary" shortens the name "Miriam," a name meaning "stiff necked" or "stubborn," suggesting that in agreeing to carry the Lord, Mary had to overcome her own nature. St. Gabriel's Greek Orthodox Church in Nazareth contains an icon of the Annunciation in which Jesus already appears in Mary's womb: perhaps at the very moment she said "Yes!"
Throughout the trip, we met Middle Eastern women and men of different faiths working with Jerusalem Peacebuilders. Courageously, patiently, they overcame the history of the region as well as their own personal histories in order to say "yes" to becoming advocates for peace rather than for conflict.
Like the stones we saw at the 1st century home of Joseph the Just - the lintel framing the door of the house, a street immediately beyond, and a stone that covered the entrance to a tomb - these are living stones that reinforced our own faith journey with Christ Jesus. As Fr. Nicholas regularly reminded us, "Holy places move." We, too, can become holy places of peace in our joyous, sometimes painful, and blessed life together.