Definitely not a normal day at the office. Mostly because we weren't at the office! Yippee! Today we had a staff field trip! Isn't that precious?! On the schedule: the Church of the Nativity, Mar Saba Monastery, Shepherd's Field, and the Herodium. I thought this would be a normal, uneventful event. How wrong I was....
So we started out heading towards Bethlehem which is only a few miles away in the West Bank. We made it through the checkpoint with no problem and headed to the Church of the Nativity. Well... we thought we were headed there. We ended up taking the "scenic route" around Bethlehem. But hey, twenty minutes later, we stumbled across the Church and we all got to see a bit of the town in the meantime! At each of the sites, we had arranged for someone to read a passage of Scripture that goes with the place and one of my coworkers who is ubber smart gave us some more history. At the Church of the Nativity we started out with the history, which was fascinating, but too long to go into here, then headed inside. As you enter the door is really short. Architectural error? Ancient people were actually really short? Nope! It was done on purpose so that everyone who enters no matter what their rank in society will have to stoop. This shows that every person is humbled before God. Cool, huh?
Once you get inside there are several different chapels all decorated in different styles since several different denominations run the Church. There is also an area that tradition recognizes as where Jesus was born and then where Mary laid him. (We don't know if that was it for sure, but it is nice to sit and reflect there.) There is also a tiny, dark, musty chapel way down in the bottom of the Church. Ok, I will give you a little history because it is so cool! Once upon a time, (like around the late 300's AD) this really smart guy named Jerome decided the Bible should be translated so that the normal old Joe could read it. Good idea, right? So he studied Greek and Hebrew extensively, headed to the holy lands, and holed up in this little chapel and did his translating. The result: the Vulgate. The Latin translation of the Bible. The word Vulgate actually means something along the lines of "common speech" since at the time Latin was the language everyone spoke. Well, fast forward a few centuries to Martin Luther. He freaks out at the Catholic Church because they refuse to translate the Bible into the common language. The translation the Church uses that Luther dislikes: the Vulgate. Latin is no longer the language of the common man, but nobody had taken cues from Jerome and re-translated it so that everyone could still use it.
So after wandering around the Church for awhile and reflecting on the fact that GOD humbled himself and became a human (WOW!), we met outside for a little Bible study. We read the beginning of John 1 in order to get a fresh look at Jesus coming to earth. (We're all so familiar with the Christmas story it seemed better to mix it up and think of it in the greater context of universe history.) Then we sang a few Christmas Carols! The funny thing... it is June 24th. We are exactly halfway through the year to Christmas Eve!
Then it was lunch time! We grabbed a felafel sandwich, downed some cokes, and headed to Stars and Bucks (Yes, you read that right! Funny isn't it!) for some ice cream! Then we were off to our next stop! Oh wait, slight problem. It's Friday. Muslim holy day. The Church of the Nativity and the parking lot where we had left our cars is right next to the biggest mosque in Bethlehem and they were having their afternoon service. Every inch of the parking lot was filled! So we hung out for a bit and waited for them to finish their prayers. Then we were off!
Our next stop was Mar Saba Monastery. We followed some signs and started driving and driving and driving. We stopped and asked for directions three times because we thought we must be lost! But no. We were going the right way. So once we had officially found the middle of nowhere we found the monastery. The scenery was beautiful! I know this may be weird but I think rough, desert, rocky terrain is some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. We camped out for a bit and read Psalm 63. Let me tell you, "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water," takes on a whole new meaning when you are sitting in the desert and all you want is water.
Then it was time to move on. Unfortunately, we had been moving a bit slowly so we ran out of time to see all the other sites. Some people needed to go back, but a good number of us decided to press on and see one more place. So the drivers were swapped around and we parted ways. Well, tried to at least. The first car took off with the only person who knew the code to unlock the other car. And in the middle of the desert, none of our cell phones had signals. Yikes! So this Palestinian on a motorcycle pulls up and tries to help us. At first we are resistant, but we realize we are out of options. So when he offers to give the only guy in the group a ride to the top of a mountain so he get a signal on his phone, we have to accept. So off he goes and the six of us ladies are left wondering if we will ever see them again.
Thankfully they did return about ten minutes later. We got the car unlocked and headed home. The guy on the motorcycle lead the way and we headed down some winding roads and up a mountain, only to realize our van was not going to make these tight turns easily. This resulted in a lot of shouting, praying, and me laughing quietly in the back seat. We did eventually make it up the road and stopped to get cokes to revitalize our weary souls.
Our last stop was the Herodium. Sadly, it was closed when we got there, but we still did a little bit of a history lesson. This was a mountain that King Herod (the Herod from Jesus' time) decided to build. The man (Herod, not Jesus) was crazy, but a brilliant architect and designer! It really is a remarkable structure and that was only one of his many works. He also had Masada built (another desert palace that we think he might never have used), many many aqueducts, and the Temple in Jerusalem. Plus others, but those are the ones I remember.
So yeah, that was pretty much our day. We came back, had a nice Shabbat meal and now we are officially in rest mode. As for me, I think a nice cup of tea, a movie with the girls, and maybe later a good book will be a great way to kick off our day of rest. Shabbat Shalom!