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Day 9 ~ Just Like Columbia County
January 27, 2016, 3:44 PM

"It is like pudding with cheese." (Said with a German accent). This was a description of our dessert tonight, given by one of the staff from our guesthouse at Christ Church. Every night it has been a kind of guessing game. A bowl of fluffy looking stuff appears at the end of dinner in various colors--bright pink or green the first two nights, so I didn't try it. But tonight it was pretty intriguing. It was a pale yellow with real chocolate shaved on top! So I tried it, and she really nailed it...pudding with cheese. Sigh....this country is not known for its sweets, let me tell you.

But the scenery cannot be described adequately enough. Today we went to Masada, a mountain top fortress overlooking the Dead Sea built by Herod (please Google this for much better pictures than I was able to take!), and the subsequent stronghold of the Sicarii people, a small Jewish sect. The Romans built a 4-mile long boundary around the whole mountain n order to seize the fortress in 66 CE, and rather than surrender, the entire population opted to die. (For a great fictional account of this, read the Dovekeepers.)

The view from Masada was stunning. The Dead Sea was turquoise ringed by white salted edges from wwwwaaaaaayyyyyy up high. I'm going to be at a loss for words again, because I felt something bigger, expansive, when I was up there today. As difficult as life must have been (carting water and supplies up the mountain every day up the SNAKE PATH--real name.), it was so beautiful to feel as though you were perched up on the edge of the world. If you have ever been to Olana in Columbia County, kind of like that, but with spare, desert scenery plus, well, the Dead Sea.

We were held up by the road washout, which I talked about in Facebook. Everything came to a halt. It had rained in the mountains, not anywhere near us, and the resulting water caused mud and stones to flood the road in front of us. We considered it part of the whole experience and we all got out of the bus and ran to the front of the line to watch the bulldozers clear the road of debris.

We made a short stop at Ein Gedi, where David hid from Saul in a cave and spared Saul's life while Saul was, well, peeing in the cave as he hunted for David to kill him (you cannot make this stuff up, as I have said before--see 1 Samuel 23). It is a desert oasis.

Then on to the Red Sea where we were, once again, the only tour group. Winter has been generous to us and we have had NO lines, but really horrible weather :) I would choose no lines over good weather anyway. In good weather, the lines are sometimes so long that people can't do or see the things they came to visit, like the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (tomorrow's scheduled trip although, as you know, I already stumbled in there) or the site of Christ's birth.

The Red Sea was just fun. I did not swim, and hadn't intended to, but several people did and it was such a kick to watch them bobbing around in the water. You can just sit in the water and it supports you! I did dip my finger in and it tasted unbelievably salty. The salt also makes the bottom quite slick and challenging to negotiate. But our crowd managed to slather on some Dead Sea mud and then float around for about 1/2 an hour.

I think it was there that I really began to miss everyone already. We have such a great group of people, several young priests that I would be proud to call MY priest. Samuel, the 30 year old chaplain from North Carolina who is simply good to the center of his being; Andrew, a new dad from Florida who came with his wife Mimi and who updated us every day with pictures of their new son, aged 8 months and staying with Grandma, and Matt with his wife Liz, the horticulturist who delighted us with her own delight in all the plant life. Today's surprise was a beautiful purple basil growing wild. And Brook and Dawn who hold a special place in my heart. Brook is a priest in FL also, and he and I are going to try and work together to get a group to go to a teaching conference in Kenya since the bishop from there has asked me to come and teach his female clergy. Brook is on the board of SOMA, a missionary organization.

Then there are others--Hali and Grant. Hali is a Jersey girl who made me feel right at home. We laughed at so many things--like how Northern girls say 'Dawn' very differently than southern girls. Bert and Charlie are a married couple--62 years!--who are traveling with us and I have never seen more fortitude, or more love than I have in these two. Imagine taking your first trip to Israel in your 80's!

So be prepared for me to come back a little lost and a LOT tired. The sickness I referred to has me in its full grip right now, and I am praying that I am well enough to keep the agenda tomorrow. I know I will, even though we will be outdoors for 8 hours in the cold rain...sigh...again. And tomorrow's agenda is the best--the Mount of Olives, the Garden Tomb and, once again, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

They have saved the most emotional things for our last day, capped by our last dinner together. God has been so generous to all of us, creating a new family where there was not one before, giving us new understanding of Jesus' own life story as it affects our own lives. It I not just that we are walking in his steps, it is that our steps are now recorded in this place too, that this has become a kind of home for us. Once you have been here, you are not the same. It is not a vacation or a frivolous trip, but a transformational experience. My heart is branded by the beauty and the suffering, by the stories that I have heard as well as the stories I am now part of. Such grace. With God, there is always more.

And now I better try to rest for tomorrow, carrying all of you with me as I visit the places of crucifixion and resurrection. I pray you are well, and would appreciate your prayers that I am well tomorrow.

Blessings and peace,