This is the second part of a post about my trip to the Holy Land. Part 1 (From Galilee to Gethsemane) began around the shores of the sea of Galilee, through Qumran and on to Jerusalem arriving at Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. This one begins at the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, journeys to Ein Karem and Bethlehem and finishes at the Separation Wall at the West Bank.
It has been on my mind for some time now to do a blog post on my trip to the Holy Land, which I took last year with my son and a number of others from university. I couldn’t make up my mind what to include in the post and my indecisiveness caused this lengthy delay. Looking through other pilgrims’ posts, one thing I noticed was the recurring pattern of similar photos taken at the more famous locations so, in the end, I decided I would post some of the less common images.
Part 1 of this post includes pictures I took around the shores of the sea of Galilee, our journey through Qumran and on to Jerusalem arriving at Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives.
Part 2 (From One Wall to Another) begins at the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, journeys to Ein Karem and Bethlehem and finishes at the Separation Wall at the West Bank.
I was jewellery shopping online the other night looking for a charm to add to my recently received bracelet. My head was beginning to ache with that “staring at the screen too long” throb when I spotted it. A little shining silver jalopy seized me and flung me some twenty years back into my past. It’s tiny silver grille, rounded headlights, and quirky square-topped roof had reminded me of my first love. In an instant I was sitting in the passenger seat of my father’s Mitsubishi. I remember the anticipation building in me as we drove out of Newbridge across the Curragh Plains through the military camp, stopping at Brownstown Cross, to head onwards to Suncroft village. We were heading to see a friend of my father who repaired and sold very particular second-hand cars: Renault 4s. All the wheeling and dealing had obviously been done between Kevin and my father long before I had set eyes on the car that was about to become mine. Nevertheless, my father introduced me to Kevin and, with the fleeting wipe of a rag across his oil-embedded hands and a hand-shake, the business of buying my very first car began.
With her bright red bodywork, silver grille and bumpers, and her two round eyes looking at me from the overgrown grass all around her, I fell in love with her immediately. She was magnificent. She was Renault’s “blue jeans” car; rural and urban at the same time. She was the chic city car of choice for Parisians all through the 60s and 70s but she also had that “picnic baskets at the weekend” quality about her. I trekked through the rusting rubble and remains of decaying car parts in this cemetery for automobiles in the hope that Kevin would tell me that she was road-worthy and promising as the car that was going to take me on the open roads of County Kildare. I opened the driver’s door to a red and navy tartan on a grey upholstered background. There was no sign whatsoever of a handbrake or gear stick and, worst of all, a gaping void existed where most of the floor should have been. Perhaps, someone else would have walked away to look at the “Cadbury’s purple” Renault sitting just yards away from this little red jalopy but I was smitten. I paid £300 for my red Reno and, with another hand-shake, Kevin promised that he would solve the floor problem, have her road-worthy, and ready for me within a week.
My father brought me out almost every evening to see how things were progressing. I learned a lot about Renault 4s that week. It turned out that rusting floors were a common feature (aka fault) but this was something that Kevin resolved through fibreglass. A year later that fibreglassed floor would save my life. The mystery of my missing gear stick and handbrake turned out to be no mystery at all. The transmission had been newly developed at the time of the car’s creation and the gear stick was dash-mounted rather than being in the floor where I had expected it to be. Seemingly, the gear stick was attached to a rod from the dashboard which ran over the engine into the gearbox, which was right at the front of the car. This meant that there was no gearbox paraphernalia in the floor between the driver and passenger seat. The hand-brake lever also turned out to be in a surprising location. It was under the steering wheel and it had to be pulled towards the driver in a horizontal position then twisted vertically into the locked position. Both these features meant that there was flat open-spaced flooring all the way across the front of the car and between the driver’s and passenger’s seats. My grandmother loved this feature. Each time she climbed into the car she could store her walking stick between us and just reach down for it when she was leaving the car at our destination. My Red Reno was a 1984 special edition “Legend” model. It came with its own unique front grille which incorporated an extra set of lights, as well as “Legend” decals and stripes on the bodywork of the car. I couldn’t find a picture online of the “Legend” with its extra spotlights and “go faster” stripes and after a laborious hunt through my old albums, I couldn’t find one there either.
The day finally arrived to get my Reno. I suppose I should point out that by this stage I had forked out £1800 for “third-party fire and theft” car insurance (yes, you read that sum correctly) and had received 4 or 5 driving lessons in the interim period. My father had wisely decided that this number of lessons was nowhere near sufficient to allow me to drive the car back home to Newbridge myself so he had arranged for Kevin to drive her to us. I waited and waited for what seemed like an eternity and then I saw her coming down our road weaving in and out of the parked cars on the street until she finally turned into our driveway. I couldn’t contain my excitement. I was out through the front door like a bullet and sitting in the driver’s seat moments later. I remember running my hands all over the soft leather steering wheel and my eyes over each and every button, lever and gadget. It even had a tape deck! Both Kevin and my father gave me a “crash course” on all the bits and pieces that I would need to know: how the handbrake worked, how, with practice, I would get used to the dash-mounted gear stick, how to change a wheel, how to use the manual choke, how to do the oil check, how to top-up the radiator and many other very useful tips that I would soon discover as essential when owning a 1984 Renault 4 Legend! By this stage, the two lads from next door had jumped the wall and were checking out the engine, the oddly placed gear stick and handbrake, and the very narrow tyres. Nowadays, when you buy a second-hand car it usually arrives spic and span after a full valet service. Not my Reno. She had previously been owned by our since retired community nurse who loved and travelled everywhere with her very hairy and moulting West Highland Terrier. It took me hours with our old Nilfisk to remove those dog hairs that had become imbedded in the upholstery. By late evening, my Reno was washed, waxed and polished within an inch of her life and I still hadn’t driven her a single yard.
It was about ten o’clock the next morning, a Saturday, when I took the key down off the rack and with a mixture of both fear and bravado announced to my younger brother and sister that I was going to take my car out for a drive. Both my parents were at work and both siblings were more than willing to be my first passengers. After all, I had received 4 driving lessons by then and even had a provisional driving licence! The car was facing down the driveway so I thankfully didn’t have to negotiate reversing. I pulled out the choke, clutched, put the gear in neutral, turned the key and put the slightest amount of pressure on the accelerator. She started! I clutched again, put her in first gear and, lifting one foot gently off the clutch pedal whilst applying the lightest amount of touch to the accelerator, she slowly began to move down the driveway. With an eruptious and exhilarating “hooray” from my two compatriots, I turned down the street and began my love affair with a Renault 4 “Legend” and the open road.
Someone rang my doorbell the other day. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed during these recessional times (besides my much lighter purse and bank account) it is the number of businesses and charities that are calling door-to-door. Anyhow, this time it happened to be a representative from a charity who asked me if I’d be interested in supporting the charity by signing up to a monthly direct debit. I explained that I sponsor a number of charities that are particularly relevant to me and my family and that I couldn’t really afford to sponsor any further charities at the moment. I told her I was happy to give them a one-off donation and that I certainly would not pass them on the street if they were collecting outside a store or a Church. It was the next part of the conversation that has stayed with me and prompted me to write this post. The woman said “I believe you because you’re very religious. Thanks for your time and thanks for listening.” I asked “how do you know that I’m religious?” “Because of the cross that you’re wearing, the picture behind you, and the cross on the wall” she replied. Our conversation continued for a little while longer and then she moved on to ring my neighbour’s doorbell. I closed the door and smiled at how observant she had been when I first opened it to her.
This encounter got me thinking about how much religious imagery was, in fact, in my home. It also got me thinking about how trusting some people are when they see religious symbols but that’s for a different post. I walked through my home and, to my astonishment, discovered over forty religious symbols, icons, and images. To be fair, some of these were very small such as miraculous medals that my grandmother had given me when I was younger or a set of rosary beads that my late father brought back from Lourdes for me. I have bibles, crosses, door icons, candles, a holy water font, a mezuzah and many other pieces that I will most probably write about at a later date but the piece I want to share for now is the picture behind me on the wall that caught my caller’s attention.
The picture is a tapestry of the Mother and Child that I bought a number of years ago when I was in Rome. I bought it in the shop on the roof of St Peter’s Basilica along with some other things to bring back home to family members and friends. I loved this picture the moment I saw it. I am not quite certain how I should say this but I am not the type of Catholic who has a devotion to Our Lady in the same way as those who travel to her shrines around the world. My devotion to Mary is a devotion to “Mary as Mother” and this is one of the few images I have discovered which has not divinised her to the point that I can no longer find any tangible connection to her as a mother myself. The babe in her arms looks so comfortable and content in his sleep. Security, restfulness and tranquillity are all present in the figure of the sleeping child. He reminds me of my own son who would fall asleep in my arms, cushioning himself on my breasts. I would watch him sleep soundly there. I would watch his tiny head rising and falling with each breath that I was taking and I would wonder if it was the sound of my heart beat that had rhythmically sent him off to his sleep.
The child in this picture sleeps safely but the child in this picture would later be gruesomely bludgeoned, whipped, and beaten then stripped naked, mocked and paraded through the streets carrying a one hundred pound weight patibulum. Nearing death, the child in this picture was then nailed to the cross with the aim of making his death as long and as agonising as possible. The nails would have been driven through his bones so they would not rip through the flesh of his hands and free him from the cross. They would have been carefully placed, avoiding all his major blood vessels so he could not bleed to death and avoiding nerves so he would feel every single agonising moment of his crucifixion. The child in this picture would have found it more and more exhausting to support his own body weight. He would have struggled to breathe with the crushing pains in his chest and his heart would have increasingly begun to fail him as death slowly approached him.
The mother in this picture is a young Jewish brunette. She is nothing like the statues and images that are more familiar to us as Our Lady. I love the rusty brown and straw-like headscarf she is wearing and the richness of the Persian blue shawl. The Virgin Mary is more often represented in clothing of sky-blue and pure white. There is a far-away look in this young woman’s face. Each day, when I pass her in my hall, I am reminded of the passage in the Gospel of Luke when the heavenly host of angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds: “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2: 16-19).” Is it pondering that I see in this young woman’s face? Perhaps I am merely projecting onto her the thoughts and fears that I had as a young mother. I cannot count the times I panicked and wondered how on earth I was going to raise my child in a world that’s far from perfect. Is Mary holding her child safely and wondering how she’s going to raise her child in a world that’s far from perfect too? I think so. I think this picture shows a mother who is concerned for her son’s future. I think it shows a woman who pondered and accepted the Word and Will of God but now ponders what this might mean for her son, her own flesh and blood. I’m not saying that Mary could have known what suffering awaited her son in Jerusalem but she did know that the child she accepted in her womb was to be named “Emmanuel” and that he would be “the Son of the Most High.” I see a worried mother when I look at this picture each day. I see an anxious and apprehensive look in her face and I see the same anxious and apprehensive looks on the faces of mothers everywhere. I see a mother who will, one day, cradle the lifeless body of her son and envelop him safely in her arms once more.
After a quick search online for a poem or prayer for my upcoming NCT (National Car Testing Service) I decided to write my own.
An NCT Prayer
Oh God the Father, God the Son, God the Spirit;
Three in one.
The boot is empty and the seats are clean.
I’ve removed the child-seat;
Not a hubcap can be seen.
There’s adequate oil and water’s up to the measure.
The seatbelts are visible;
Tyres are pumped to the correct pressure.
I know in my soul my car is fit to be tested.
I’ve my passport, my licence, registration certificate
(all the things they’ve requested.)
My number plates comply with current regulations,
I’ve route-planned my way to the NCT station.
I’ve removed all valuables, had headlight alignment.
I’ve fitted new brakes and taken all their advisements.
I’ve said my prayers and the Rosary;
Blessed the car with holy water from Medjugorje.
There’s nothing left oh Holy Trinity!
Help my car pass its NCT.
Today’s post is a guest post and the guest is my 12 year-old son, Daniel. After our recent trip to the Holy Land during March of this year, Daniel put together his own words on what he thought of it all. The only edits I have made to this post is some spellings and some punctuation but the content is all his. I hope you enjoy it.
I recently travelled to the Holy Land with my Mam and fifty other pilgrims from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth. Our Lufthansa flight left Dublin Airport on Thursday, 15th March and we all made our way to Frankfurt, Germany. Frankfurt airport was huge. It had a monorail system and some of the staff even had bicycles for getting around. Our plane to Tel-Aviv was also Lufthansa but much bigger. It had built in TVs, headphones, pillows and blankets, and I got a free football magazine in German. We arrived in Tel-Aviv at 3am on 16th March and got the bus to our hotel in Tiberias. We slept for three hours and were back on the bus with Abraham our guide to visit Ein Gev, a Kibbutz (Jewish community). Then, we took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee and I got a chance to steer the boat. As we sang a hymn which included “rolling thunder” a storm actually happened with thunder and heavy rain, which was amazing. To finish this day we had Mass back in Tiberias.
Saturday, 17th March was my birthday. I was twelve. We took the bus to Mount Tabor and I had a choice to climb it or take the taxi so I climbed it with my Confirmation sponsor. When we reached the top, the view was stunning. We had Mass in the Church of the Transfiguration and we met with an old friend, Yousef, a Maronite priest who celebrated Mass with Fr Michael. After Mass we took the bus to Nazareth where we got to eat what would have been a meal at the time of Jesus. We toured a replica village of Nazareth where we saw a 400 year-old olive tree, Joseph’s workshop and a tomb like Jesus’. I was first to go into it. We visited the site where Mary heard the message from Gabriel and the home of Joseph. We returned to the hotel in time for dinner, dessert and my birthday cake. I shared my birthday with another woman on the pilgrimage. Then we watched the rugby match: Ireland v England, which we lost with a shocking result of 30-9.
On Sunday we got on the bus and headed for the Mount of Beatitudes. At the top there was a garden and a Church. Inside the Church a security guard walked by me and spotted my Ireland jersey. He told me he was from Mayo. After that we went to the Primacy of Peter site at Tabgha for Mass. A few yards away from the site was the Sea of Galilee and I had a small paddle in it. When I dried off I collected some shells as there were millions of them. Next we visited Capernaum where Jesus performed most of his miracles. Over the ruins of Peter’s mother-in-law’s house was a spaceship-like Church with a glass bottom to see the debris of the old Church underneath. We also visited the Jesus Boat, which was 2,000 years old. The river Jordan was the last site of the day and when we arrived, people were being baptised. We saw ducks, big catfish about a metre long, an animal like an otter and some seagulls. While my Mam was occupied I went to Fr Michael and asked him to bless her birthday medal I bought for her. It was going to be her birthday in three more days. That night we went to a spectacular water fountain and light show in the town.
On Monday we left the hotel. We got on the bus and the first place we visited was Qumran where we watched an audio video and then went outside to see the ruins. Of course, this was the desert so the sun was beaming and it was a scorching morning. We had lunch beside the Dead Sea and then went swimming. There was muck everywhere and walking in it was impossible. When lying in the sea you couldn’t get up. Our next stop was Jerusalem. We went into a tunnel and the driver started a CD with the song Jerusalem on it and when we came out the other side we saw the Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall and the Garden of Gethsemane, meaning oil press. We had Mass at Dominus Flevit and paid a quick visit to the Garden of Gethsemane. Last but not least we went to the Western Wall where men were separated from women to different parts.
We got up early on Tuesday to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was packed but we got to see the tomb of Jesus. I knelt down and said a prayer while touching the stone Jesus was laid upon. We visited the Zion Gate, which was huge and the Upper Room where the Last Supper and Pentecost happened. We also visited the Dormition Abbey, King David’s tomb and Oskar Schindler’s grave. Abraham asked us to guess which grave was Schindler’s so I guessed it was the one with loads of stones on it left by other visitors and I was right. Then we walked the Via Dolorosa meaning the Way of the Cross. I was one of the Cross carriers. Along the way we did Stations one to ten and then arrived back at the Holy Sepulchre for stations eleven to fourteen. After dinner back in the hotel we went back to Gethsemane for holy hour, which was very special.
Wednesday was my Mam’s birthday and we went to Bethlehem with a different guide because we were entering Palestine. First we visited the Shepherd’s Field and the cave where the shepherds heard the message about Jesus. Mass was in the cave and I was glad to get out of the scorching rays of sun. Next we visited the Church of the Nativity where Jesus was born. I was at the front with my sponsor going into the cave but before we went in there was an Angelus procession which we got to watch. Then we saw where Jesus was born and the space where his manger was. After that we went to the Milk Grotto where we saw a painting of Mary feeding Jesus. Last was the Bethlehem University where we got a presentation about Palestine and a tour of the university.
The next day, Thursday, we went to the Israel Museum where we saw a model of Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago. The model was gigantic and took fifteen years to complete and here was I thinking it would be small as if we were giants to it. It was hot outside but we went inside another building to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along the tunnel were archaeological discoveries like pots, coins, oil lamps, knives and parchment that were found with the Scrolls. Our next visit was to the Yad Vashem memorial, the Holocaust Museum. We entered a tunnel and inside you couldn’t see anything so you had to hold a railing and feel your way. Children’s names were being called out. They were the names of over one million children who had been killed during the Holocaust. Only children over 14 were allowed into the main memorial so I waited with some others who didn’t want to go in. In the afternoon we visited Ein Karem, the birth place of John the Baptist where we had Mass and the site of the Visitation.
Friday was a free day to do what we wanted but we all got on the tram to go to Mass at the École Biblique with Fr Brendan. A few of us went back to the Holy Sepulchre and it was packed. We walked through the Armenian Quarter to the Zion Gate and to the Dormition Abbey for lunch. My Mam and I separated from the others for the afternoon and decided to walk the outskirts of the city, where we looked across the Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives and Gethsemane; we visited the pools of Bethesda and then returned to the hotel. It was a great day with my Mam. Saturday was our last day and we went to Jaffa, where we had Mass. I had so much fun with all the other pilgrims and will never forget my trip to the Holy Land.
I was introduced to this poem quite recently but from the moment I first heard it I knew it was something I was going to read again and again.
The poem is Felicity in Turin by Paul Durcan.
We met in the Valentino in Turin
And travelled through Italy by train,
I do not mean having sex.
I mean sleeping together.
Of which sexuality is,
And is not, a part.
It is this sleeping together
That is sacred to me.
This yawning together.
You can have sex with anyone
But with whom can you sleep?
I hate you
Because having slept with me
You left me.
I began to think of those I have slept with in my life and the number is relatively small. Of course, as the poet suggests, I do not mean having sex I mean sleep. “The unconscious state or condition regularly and naturally assumed by man and animals, during which the activity of the nervous system is almost or entirely suspended, and recuperation of its powers takes place; slumber, repose.” (OED) So, who have I slept with?
Well there were nights in my childhood that I woke from my sleep and, either from nightmares or from merely not wanting to go back to sleep alone, I climbed under the sheets of my parents’ bed and snuggled in safety between them. My siblings on occasion would, at times, feel exactly the same way as I did and inevitably there could be the whole family of six in the bed by the early hours of the next morning. When I’m troubled by something that I cannot “run away” from in my adult life, I long for those occasions to return. There was something comfortable about that bed and bedroom: the familiar family scents, the retro seventies wallpaper, the rhythmic breathing of everyone, even the voluble snores from my father.
I have slept with my best friend and I do not mean one of these “bff” best friends. I mean my confidant, my “sounding board,” the person who knows me better than I know myself. Those sleep-overs when we were younger have been relived in our adult lives when I’ve thrown a party and, inevitably, some of us have had to bunk together. I’m certain we become those much more innocent teenagers who tittered and laughed our way through the night over boyfriends, kisses and school. She has been there for me always and has waited sometimes patiently for me as I charged headlong through some of life’s mistakes and, returning to lick my wounds, she was just there.
I don’t even know where to begin when it’s time to talk about the sensory exchange that sleeping with my baby provided for me. The warmth, the tiniest of sounds, the “new-born baby” smells, the touch of his perfect skin, and all his tiny movements, were the most sensory phenomena imaginable and provided for a bond that most mothers know they would kill or die for. History then repeated itself as he had nights where he woke from his slumbers through nightmares or unrest and made his way sleepily under the covers for the same safety, comfort and familiarity that I had sought as a child in the night. He is much older now and wouldn’t even consider doing this but I do love the fact that he can “body slam” himself on to my bed on a morning or evening and talk about the things that are on his mind with me.
There is only one other person to mention that I have slept with. It was a very long time ago when he was Orpheus and I was Eurydice. No, I wasn’t literally dead like poor Eurydice but I certainly had not been living. Sleeping with Orpheus was sacred. I do not mean having sex. I mean sleeping with him. Of course, sexuality is, and is not, a part of sleeping with someone when you are attracted to them but it was my falling asleep with Orpheus so effortlessly and safely that caused me to realise that I was complete. We are most vulnerable when we are sleeping. We are at our weakest. Even the strongest among us has to sleep and it is then that even the weakest can just tiptoe into our lives and commit untold damage. In the Book of Judges, Jael killed Sisera, while he slept, driving a tent peg through his head until he was pegged to the ground, Macbeth killed Duncan as he slept as a guest in Macbeth’s home and, of course, there are the numerous victims of Wes Craven’s Freddy Krueger. Sleeping with Orpheus cast all those night time fears into some land of forgetfulness, no, not forgetfulness. It was a grace-filled letting go. It was absolution.
Durcan’s poem ends with “I hate you because having slept with me you left me.” Wow! What a line. I can never hate Orpheus.