[Jerusalem, 14, July 2007] This moring I checked into my comfy room at the American Colony; well known for accomodating writers and spoiled Americans, spent an hour on a treadmill at an incline of five at a brisk 4-5 MPH, did some upper body free weights, went for a swim, then headed down Nablus Road to the Old City of Jerusalem…
The stairway down through the Damascus Gate was packed with street vendors hawking cheap goods from China. It was shoulder to shoulder people until I arrived at the Via Delorosa; legendary route that Jesus walked while carrying a wooden cross. Only a few tourists were about, but I saw many more Israeli soldiers than the last time I was here in November 2006.
The shop owners were just as hungry to get me into their stores, but I told them all, "I am not buying anything today! I am on my way to the Pool of Bethsaida."
After many wrong turns and back tracking, I spied a Fransiscan brother and enquired, "Do you speak English?"
He replied with a Cheshire grin-but no guile, "For you? Sure!"
"How do I find my way to the Pool of Bethsaida?"
"You have arrived! Go in there!" He laughs as he points to the left of where we were standing.
It was different than the last and first time I had wandered into the ancient "healing site" for renovations are in progress but once more a most surreal sense overwhelmed me again. For nearly an hour, I was the only human being who stood, sat and meditated at a place where I had been 'twice' before and where Jesus asked,
"Do you want to be healed?"
In May of 2005, just prior to my first journey to Israel
Palestine I phoned Mother Agapia Stephanopolous, a Russian
Orthodox nun and the administrator of the Orthodox School
of Bethany in Jerusalem, to schedule an appointment for Spiritual
Direction and to discuss our mutual feelings about The Wall.
Mother Agapia is the sister of ABC News commentator, George
Stephanopolous, and she had recently and passionately informed
Congress about the fact that, “Israel is destroying the local
On April 18, 2005, Robert Novak’s article “Walling off Christianity”
reported on the nun’s letter to Congress and how East Jerusalem had
been cut off from the rest of the West Bank. Mother Agapia predicted,
“It is only a matter of time before Christians and Muslims will be
unable to survive culturally and economically.”
Mother Agapia spoke bluntly about the nine yards high wall of Israeli
concrete that have “shattered” the Christian communities. She told
Novak, “I witness the strangulation of East Jerusalem, and the
deprivation of her non-Jewish residents’ religious rights every day.
Even the United States seems to have been taken in by Israeli spin.”
On my very first afternoon in Jerusalem, on June 12, 2006, the nun
met me at the Ambassador Hotel in East Jerusalem and I told her that I
hadn’t been taken in by the spin, but what could I possibly do? She
had no answer.
I also told her of the surreal experience I had that very morning while
wandering around in the Old City. I had landed in Tel Aviv with ten
other members of the Olive Trees Foundation for Peace just a few
hours before dawn on that Sunday morn. We all checked into our
rooms at the Ambassador; they all crashed, but I was wide awake. As
soon as the sun rose I began to explore, and after attending mass at St.
George Cathedral I wandered around the Old City, which was eerily
empty. I stumbled upon the site of the Pool of Bethsaida and
experienced déjà vu, which was more real than imaginary.
Between 2000 and 2001, I was a first year student in the Episcopal
Diocese of Orlando’s Formation Program for Spiritual Directors. I
knew going into the program I would never be hanging out a shingle
as a Spiritual Director that I was there for other reasons. I was drawn
to the program because of the curriculum; to deepen my prayer life
and study the lives of the saints. During the first year all the students
attended three weekend retreats.