Jerusalem and the Three Abrahamic Faiths

By the time we ate dinner last evening at Al Nasser’s Restaurant in Jerusalem’s old city, we felt worlds apart from the airport in Tel Aviv where we’d landed in the morning.  We arranged to meet up with eight energetic students in a tour group from Kent State University.  Over dinners of chicken or beef kebabs, they told us what they’d learned about “Settler Colonialism,” the title of the course that was culminating with this tour.  And since our trip’s objective included fact-finding on this very subject, we had some animated conversations.  More importantly, however, they cleared up some mysteries we’d been wondering about all day.

Why were the streets deserted as the Nesser (taxi) wound its way through West Jerusalem to deliver us to the Damascus gate of the old city?  The Kent State students had already been here two weeks and they were pros.  That’s easy, they told us.   It was Shavuot, the Jewish feast of Pentecost, and Jews were observing the holiday.  We saw more evidence as we approached the Western Wall in the afternoon, where we encounted scores of black clad orthodox Jewish men and boys with distinctive black hats.  The Russian Jews wore cylinder-shaped black fur hats and some even carried hat boxes with them.  Toward evening large crowds of orthodox Jews made their way through the closing markets of the Muslim quarter in the old city presumably on their way to the Wailing Wall once again.

Earlier we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and arrived just as the solemn office for the Feast of the Visitation was ending.  Monks from several different Christian sects in colorful robes, one after another, were moving the throngs of pilgrims back as they processed from altar to altar incensing each of the holy sites within the shrine.   The church is shared in a complicated arrangement by the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholics, Egyptian Copts, Ethiopians, and Syriacs.  The young women on our delegation later shared that they were particularly moved by the experience of visiting the sites of Calvary and Christ’s burial.

And of course, our visit coincides with the Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan, still in its first week.   As we sat on the hostel’s terrace waiting to go to dinner, we observed an older couple at a nearby table quietly, and tenderly I thought, chopping vegetables and herbs to prepare a beautiful salad.  After bringing kabobs to the table they sat perfectly still.  Suddenly we heard what sounded like a cannon in the distance and the muezzin announcing the call for prayer from the minarets.  At that moment the man and woman lifted their cups of water to their lips and began their meal, and we realized we had been honored to witness this couple’s sacred iftar, the breaking of the fast.

Now after a good night’s sleep I’m sitting on the terrace of our little hostel listening to the racket of the markets in the Muslim quarter opening up.  We’ll be visiting with a member of Catholic Near East Welfare Association, CNEWA, today to learn about their work in Gaza and with Rabbi Arik Ascherman this afternoon about his work with Hagel. But for now, coffee, bread, and fruit and some cool morning air.  


Come and See, Go and Tell

It has been more than four years since I made my first trip to Palestine with a tour group led by my friend Sr. Paulette and her ministry Project Peace.  Now here I sit at Toronto airport with Paulette and a new group of travelers.  I promised I’d go back some time, because I knew I hadn’t yet accomplished what I’d set out to do back in 2013.  Daoud Nassar, a Palestinian farmer/activist from Tent of Nations near Bethlehem, had challenged us back then:  “Come and see; go and tell.”  I had come and I had seen, but I still had not done enough to tell what I had learned.

On the first leg of our journey today as we flew from Columbus to Toronto, I took out my journal from my first trip and read the detailed notes from the people we had interviewed.  I was fascinated by their stories of nonviolent resistance in the face of oppression, and now I’m ready to learn more.  And so I promise to write a few blogposts as I travel in the next ten days.  I hope you will join me for a virtual journey through Israel/Palestine, as we visit with Muslims, Christians, Jews, bishops, rabbis, UN officials, Bedouins, villagers, farmers, and more.

You may sign up to receive email notices on this blog page.  Or you might find notices of new posts on my Facebook page.

For now, we are gathering our energy here in the food court as we prepare for a 10+ hour flight to Tel Aviv. Talk to you later!





My cameo role in my daughter’s poem shows me mostly asleep. It’s a joy to be awakened by the poem itself! If anyone needs to know, she really did return to that place to live, nine years later as an Americorps volunteer who helped valley residents grow vegetables in the fertile dust.

City Sister & Mountain Mama

nevermind the dust
blowing in every direction

if you can take a breath
even if only for one moment,
you are alive
i graduated from eighth grade
my first kiss, a dare i chose
in a gazebo
on an early summer night

quickly, i touched my lips to his
in the middle of a circle of
eyes watching
the next morning
on the flight to Denver
my walkman in my lap
forehead pressed to the window

all i remember from the night before
is the rhythm of my knees shaking
in anticipation

the snow-capped mountains
are grand in their majesty,
i learned to say

always in the distance
and my mother can’t stop sighing
in the face of their majesty

but their jagged, rocky edges
viewed from the highway
bring me no peace of mind
we drive south,
my mom, my sister, and i


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springtime in the desert

My daughter’s poem.


City Sister & Mountain Mama


the desert in utah
fills with wildflowers in may

prickly pears
all blooming in
cadences of color
dancing in the
spring wind
i wake to the sound of
birds in green mulberry trees, singing
in delight to
see the sun
there are layers of life
so apparent in
sandstone mountains
salty, smooth but jagged

inside, i stand atop the misty canyon
at peace with
all the questions and scars
all the layers of my self

because valleys fill
and empty
over and over

grow wildflowers from
salty, sandy dust

sing songs in gratitude
to see the seasons
change as they do

it seems that
beauty can thrive in the most
unlikely of places



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Stop US weapon sales to Saudi Arabia

Project Peace

Josie made a plea to each of us today:
Now’s a good time to take a small action on behalf of peace.  We urge you to call your senators and ask them to block the State Dept.’s latest decision to sell even more weapons to Saudi Arabia to use in Yemen.  US weapons have killed many innocent Yemeni people in hospitals, schools, and more. (See NYT editorial below.)

Congress has the power to block this sale. They have 25 more days to do so by law.   Here’s a link from Codepink that will explain the issue and make it easy for you to take action:

Phone calls will draw even more attention to the issue**:

Senator Sherrod Brown 202-224-2315

Senator Rob Portman 202-224-3353

**I have these numbers stored in my cell phone so it’s easier for me to overcome my inertia and make a call!

Democrat Sen…

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Life’s just one long improv gig

Andrew and ducks 2

A friend of mine who does improvisational theater and comedy loves to regale us on Facebook with impromptu stories from his travels.  You thought being stuck on the tarmac for hours in an overcrowded airplane is excruciatingly painful?  So does Justin, so how does he manage to make a hilarious performance out of a cell phone conversation he overhears from the woman across the aisle?  You and I wake up in the night and stumble to the bathroom.  Justin tries this in Nigeria and suddenly an African-sized spider waiting for him in the darkness turns into a full-blown comedy skit.  After his latest Facebook episode I finally had to leave a comment.  “Justin,” I exclaimed, “your life is one long improv gig!”  His reply came as a surprise:  “Josie, isn’t that what life is for everyone??”

Now I really had to laugh!  Do you mean each one of us is improvising our lives every inch of the way?  If that’s true, I’m laughing out of relief.  I’ve spent most of my life convinced that there’s a big long script somewhere and I’ve forgotten the lines. There’s a right way to do things and there’s a right thing to say.  And I need to find them.  And someone has hidden the script!

Do you mean to tell me I am allowed to write my own lines?   That I can find my lines in the moment?  That if I stay present to everything the moment brings me, I’ll be ready to give back to the moment in the way that only I can give?

When I’ve watched improvisational theater, I’ve been awestruck at the actors’ agility.  They give back a striking and funny response to whatever their fellow actor throws their way.  How do they do it?  Sure, I’ll bet they are naturally funny, but I’m just as sure they are practicing a strict discipline.  I found a set of rules for improvisational theater and noted that the first 5 rules sounded spot on for daily living:

Fundamental Rules for Improv

  1. Listen: easier said than done, and that’s exactly the point
  2. Agreement: say yes and add something, don’t reject ideas
  3. Team Work: have a group mind, think of others
  4. Don’t Block: stealing jokes / not listening / changing topic
  5. Relationship: focus on connection between characters, not just subject of scene

These rules sound familiar.  I’ve heard them in spirituality books and nonviolence training manuals.  In daily life, ‘improvisation’ might just be another word for mindfulness.  And as if to prove that the moment will give me just what I need, today I received  an email with a reflection on Christian mindfulness by Father Jim Bacik.

Bacik explores Thomas Merton’s interest in interfaith dialogue with Zen Buddhism.  He tells us that Thomas Merton “was convinced that western Christians could grow spiritually through dialogue with the Eastern religions.”  Among the Zen teachers he met was the Vietnamese Buddhist peace activist Thich Nhat Hahn.

Hanh has advice for us:

  • concentrate your whole attention on whatever you are doing at the moment; wash a dish as if you were bathing the baby Buddha; practice mindful walking by being aware of your feet touching the ground and imagining a flower blooming in that spot;
  • be attentive to the holiness all around you, for example, the blue skies and the curious eyes of a child;
  • enjoy your work by staying relaxed and uniting yourself with the expenditure of energy;
  • be aware of your thoughts and feelings but do not judge them; consider the individuals you are actually with as the most important persons and making them happy your most important task;
  • concentrate on your breathing when meditating and when stressed because breathing unites our body and soul, helps us get hold of our feelings, and opens our heart to wisdom;

Merton offers a Christian perspective to enhance what we can learn about mindfulness from Zen practice.  Among the examples that Bacik shares are the following:

  • We should be attentive to each moment as a gift from God.
  • We can think of our ordinary daily routine as a way of practicing [St. Therese’s] Little Way of Charity.
  • Our work deserves our attention and best efforts because it is our way of cooperating with God in the ongoing creation of the world.
  • Our time spent with family, friends and colleagues takes on greater meaning when considered as opportunities to encounter the Holy Spirit present in all persons.
  • We can do a better job of attending to our thoughts and feelings without judging them if we remember that divine mercy has a fundamental priority over divine judgment.

That last point has special force for me.  What freedom there is when judgment morphs into mercy!  We can’t practice this by ruminating over past mistakes nor agonizing over future possibilities.  Just like a good improv performer, right here in the present moment is where we can best practice.  And as a Zen teacher once told me:  “We can begin again with the next breath!”