Well I am tired. It is 11:58pm in Jerusalem, 1:58pm in the Bay Area, and we have been on a 14 hour direct flight. In case you were wondering what a 14 hour flight feels like: It feels like sitting in a seat that is slightly too small and pretending to sleep, for 14 hours. Also there were lots of families on our flight and very engaged Israeli dads juggling what seemed like unfeasible numbers of children. To their credit the children seemed to get that crying was ok for hours 1 and 2 and then again 13 and 14, but that it would be less tolerated in the middle!
When we got here our perennially cheerful tour leader Abby Porth, of whom I am sure I will write more later, corralled us on to a bus. I wondered if this was going to be tough with a range of self starter civic leaders all ready to head out in their own directions. Then I realized, we had all led things like this before and knew how tough it could be. No one caused Abby any trouble at all.
On the bus, our Israeli tour guide Jesse, pronounced Issay, produced an instant sense of wellbeing in my tired self. It felt like we were going to be looked after by someone who understood his role and would carry it out with charm and humor.
On the 45 minute drive from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem Jesse popped up from time to time to give us bits and bobs of information. They were scrambling to make up time as our flight had been 45 minutes delayed, but you would barely have noticed. One of his monologues included a reflection on "Earthliness vs Heavenliness". 'Earthliness' included the following: this drive is 45 minutes long, drink plenty of water, when we get to the hotel there is check in followed by a snack, breakfast is at 7:30am. 'Heavenliness' reminded us that: people come to this city because of dreams, they come here and are full of emotion and passion, Jerusalem is like many other places, and unlike any other place.
His talk reminded me of the many pilgrims who had made there way here over the millennia. I was different and similar. Different as I was on an air conditioned coach driving rough the night to the holy city, not walking with a band of pilgrims up a hill. Similar because I am searching for something, and hoping that this group of civic leaders will form a community over the next 10 days and this civic tour will become sacred in its own way.
I decided to read the first three psalms of ascent: Psalm 120, 121 and 122. I love these psalms and my vivid imagination can take me back to the time when the tribes would gather in the foothills around Jerusalem before a holy day and ascend the mountain together singing these songs.
The first is a reminder to call for peace, even when everyone else is calling for war. The second asks us to look for our help in these hills, where we will also find the presence of God. The third says it is good that we should go to the house of the Lord and reminds us to pray for Jerusalem as we cross its border. Even in the coach, at night, it felt right to contemplate those thoughts.
So I am here. I wonder what this trip will bring. Tomorrow will come soon enough. Bed time now.
From the UK, Matthew loved US culture from the first time he picked up a Fantastic Four Comic when he was 12.