So I guess I'll start with Jerusalem, since so many religious stories and traditions begin and end there.
[O Jerusalem, Jerusalem]
One of the first things we did while in Jerusalem was go to the Garden Tomb. There are two places in Jerusalem which are traditionally sites of the possible tomb of Jesus--one is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and the other is the Garden Tomb, which is outside of the Old City. Mormons generally gravitate to the Garden Tomb. It certainly is very peaceful and beautiful. And even though we don't know if it's exactly where Christ was resurrected, that's kind of beside the point for me (I know it's not that way for everyone, but that's how it is for me.) The point is that He was resurrected and that He does live.
[The Garden Tomb]
[Arguably the most important message ever given]
We also visited Gethsemane, which was a special and poignant place for me.
[Outside the Church of All Nations, which is right by Gethsemane]
[The lovely Dani]
Jerusalem has a lot of churches. A lot. It's great. And something I loved about Jerusalem was seeing so many people's worship and devotion. I know it can be seen as strange and overwhelming, but there was something really beautiful about seeing how people came from all over the world to be in the Holy City--some people had waited their entire lives to come here--and it was beautiful to see their faith and longing to be close to God. That goes not only for Christians, but Jews and Muslims, too, since Jerusalem is a city that means so much to so many. And even though the tension could be tangible, the faith there was, too.
[The Russian Church of the Ascension. There were Russian nuns there and I spoke Russian to them and they loved me.]
[The Antonia Tower. This was a German church.]
[Church of the Holy Sepulcher]
[And the outside.]
[Inside Alexander Nevsky Church. (Which was another Russian church where they loved me.) This is the "eye of a needle" which they say was the thing that Jesus was referring to when He said, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven." I got through. I don't know what that says about my spiritual state so much as that I'm smaller than a camel.]
[By the Pools of Bethesda]
[Traditional site of the Last Supper]
[Not a church, but these are the steps leading up to Herod's Temple before it was destroyed by the Romans. There is a very good chance that Jesus walked on these steps. Which is really neat, if you think about it.]
[I am including this picture for many reasons. One, I'm standing on the Jesus Steps, which is pretty cool. Two, I think it just shows the realities of travel. Especially travel in the Middle East at 100+ degree weather. This picture was taken at 3 in the afternoon. I'm pretty sure I had heat exhaustion, I was tired, thirsty, and wasn't even trying to look pretty anymore. There's a stain from my water bottle on my yellow shirt, my shirt is a bit too big for me, and there's a nice white band of a farmer's tan. This is real travel, people. #realtalk.]
One of my favorite places we went to in Jerusalem was the Temple Mount/the Dome of the Rock. I have dreamed of going there since junior high, and it was such a privilege to be able to stand there and just see the beauty of the architecture, history, faith, and tension there.
[Look at those colors.]
[Sometimes you accidentally end up matching with the Dome of the Rock, which is pretty cool.]
It was just a really, really, really neat experience for me that I will remember and treasure for a long time.
We also got to see the Western Wall, which was also beautiful. You can feel the sorrow and longing that accompanies the place.
[Women's side of the Western Wall]
In addition to the religious sites, we also enjoyed the marketplace. At least, I did. It's always fun to get the feel of a city--even if it's just a taste.
[The Old City]
[Although we were pretty exhausted after walking out in the sun all day]
[Case in point]
[Good thing gelato saves the day in any country. Especially when it's almond lemon gelato. Seriously. Another game changer in my life.]
While I was in Jerusalem, I was continually overwhelmed with gratitude--gratitude for the opportunity to be there and see this city that so many dream of. It's a place that sticks with you and takes time to process. It's not a city that's easily forgettable, to be sure. And I think that's the point.
(More posts to follow on the rest of the trip to Israel/Palestine.)