The Wailing Wall+the Courage to Need

I am the same as everyone: I wanted to find Jesus. To get close to him. To touch him. 

Or at least the places he had been. I got on a plane and flew all day one day, from Kodiak to Seattle to Newark, where I spent the night. Then started up again that afternoon, from Newark to Paris to Tel Aviv, flying all night, arriving at 4 pm the next day.  There, in the Country of Jesus. 

I went to Jerusalem. It had been 30 years since my last time here. My son with me this time. We walked the Via Dolorosa, crowded into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, lined up for the Wailing Wall, elbows up for the bump and grind of the crowd.  

I watched them all. At the Church of the Holy Sepulchre  people knelt by the slab of stone called the stone of anointing, where it is believed Jesus’ body was anointed for burial. 

People bowed, knelt, kissed stones, waited in long long lines to see, to touch a place where Jesus might have been, where he might have been born, the rock where his cross might have been placed, where his body might have been anointed. I watched people fall to their knees before the anointing stone, slide their hands reverently over its glossy surface. One man knelt, pulled out a sac and from the sac pulled necklaces, cheap necklaces the kind they throw at parades. He slid them around on the stone then placed them back in his satchel quickly, furtively, as though we were not all watching. (Would he sell these necklaces that had touched the stone where Jesus’ body might have laid? Would he claim special powers for those plastic jewels?)

I walked behind groups of pilgrims singing in Polish, Italian, Ukranian at each station of the cross on the Via DelaRosa, faces somber in worship.

In the Upper Room in the Old city, a place that is certainly not where Jesus had his final meal with his disciples, people from every nation poured into the stone space, where some sat in a circle, praying with eyes closed. Others sang.  At King David’s tomb four women sat over their Hebrew scriptures singing.

At the Western Wall,  men and women collected in their appointed places, gathering two and sometimes three deep wanting to touch the ancient wall, the stones the closest to the Holy of Holies that anyone can come. They pray, men and women of all nations, colors, languages, hands on the wall, touching . ….  And I too waited behind a tiny old woman, bent, with a headdress. Finally she ducked under me and I stepped into her place, my hand there, there …  It was cool, this stone, and full of centuries of prayers, spoken prayers, prayers written on scraps of paper and stuffed into crevices until there was no more room for more prayers …  I stood at that wall and tears came. I had no words, no words to say. I did not pray at the wall, I only cried.

I don’t know if it is the wall itself, the history and the future it both entombs and shadows, the churches with all their opulence, the places where Jesus might have walked . …. Is it any of this that prods my heart?

Or is it them. The ones who have done as I have done, leaving all behind and coming so far, so very far. Wanting and needing to touch, to claim the places Jesus walked and lived and spent his being.  It is this, the craven need, the boldness and desperation to fall on their knees, to lay their arms on stone, to bend into a tiny space to lean and touch . ..  I did some of this too.

And some are so foreign to reverence and need they photograph it as something strange, a novelty they want to bring home from their trip.

These others are not afraid. Not here. Not afraid to lose dignity, not afraid of being judged.  Not afraid that someone will see their insides and turn them outside. This is a parade of craven hearts and bent backs and broken hands, and no one will send them away. No one will laugh.  We understand.  No masks or disguises here.  The curtain is torn.

And here is the Holy in this holy place: these ancient walls and rooms are made holy not by history or the presence of priests or even the passing of Jesus---but by our need of Jesus.

Without need, without the courage to confess our need and the fierceness to pursue the only one who can meet our deepest-down needs----we remain lost and numb in an unholy house and land, where walls are silent, knowing nothing of prayers.

Don’t be afraid to need. And don’t be afraid to let your body speak the language of need. Get out of your chair:  kneel, clutch, bow, fall, rise, rock, cry, touch, seek.

Need opens the door.