Sunday morning we went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (more accurately called the Church of the Resurrection or (in Greek) the Anastasis) around 8 am. There was a little Coptic service going on in the chapel behind the actual sepulchre. I listened to the beautiful chanting for a while and enjoyed the enormous clouds of incense that the thurifer generated. A little later the Greek Orthodox began their service in a much larger chapel on the other side of the sepulchre. It was a little amusing to watch the Greeks. A group of acolytes or priests unrolled a red carpet on which the patriarch (or some lesser bishop) walked into the chapel. Once inside, he began chanting to a virtually empty room. Nearby is the chapel in which it is believed that the actual crucifixion of Jesus took place. It was quiet and prayerful at that hour of the morning and a few people sat or stood in intense meditation.
Afterward we walked to the Jerusalem campus of Hebrew Union College where Reform rabbis from all over the world go for at least part of their education. David Marmur, a British Jew, is their academic dean, and he talked with us for a while about perceiving God. Using texts from Exodus, 1 Corinthians 13 ("through a glass darkly"), the medieval Jewish thinker Maimonides, and the 20th c. scholar Abraham Heschel, he led us in a wonderful discussion about whether and how different religions perceive God. According to the Old Testament, only Moses actually saw God; other prophets (and by extension, other faiths, perhaps) only caught a glimpse of God.
One of my conclusions from Rabbi Marmur's talk (and our other conversations) is that we can only approach God through our own traditions. The more deeply we delve into our own faith, the more points of contact we find with other faiths. But if we try to start with spirituality in general (if there is such a thing), the less likely we are to find God, or at least to have a deep experience of God.
After visiting with Rabbi Marmur, we returned to the Scottish Guest House and talked with an American rabbi, Arye Ben David. After teaching in an Orthodox religious school (yeshiva) for many years, he became troubled by how difficult it is for many Jews to talk about their own experience of God. Consequently, he developed a course that helps Jews go more deeply into their own spiritual lives and experiences of God. I suggested that perhaps he was really giving Jews a way to talk about experiences they were already having but for which they did not yet have the right words.
In the evening, we visited with David and Ariel Morrison. David is an old friend of mine from Birmingham. He was married to my close friend, Jo Ann Hess, who died after they moved to Jerusalem. David is a very fine Jewish historian and Ariel does Jewish education.
Today we began with a visit from Rabbi Kinneret Shiryon, a classmate of Jonathan's and the first woman rabbi in Israel. After 3 trips to the Israeli Supreme Court she won the right to be recognized as a rabbi and for her congregation to receive financial support from the Israeli government (as all other synagogues in Israel do). She was absolutely delightful. She talked about how she prays while she swims every morning and how important music is to her spiritual life. She also shared about how she has helped develop Jewish liturgies that incorporate feminine as well as masculine images of God.
After our visit with Kinneret, we had a walk through Mea Shearim, Jerusalem's ultra Orthodox neighborhood.
Happy Independence Day, everyone!