Lent Pilgrimage, Palms

Today I have the privilege of worshipping with the Benedictine Sisters of Erie at Mt. St. Benedict. I made acquaintance with this community last Lent when they published these devotions as an e-course at Monasteries of the Heart. This Lent I am able to meet the Sisters IRL. Blessings to all as we enter Holy Week.

Palm Sunday

So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord, the King of Israel!” ~John 12:13

The Palm Sunday Chapel marks the place where Jesus is believed to have begun his triumphal journey on a donkey. Inside, the walls of the chapel are painted all around with life-sized frescoes of people waving palms. I feel as if I have entered the story. We sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” and I imagine I am one of the children, whose sweet lips sang praises.

How might you enter the spirit of adoration this Palm Sunday?

Prayer: O Lord, I adore you with a child’s heart.

The author in the Palm Sunday Chapel.

The author in the Palm Sunday Chapel.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Tears

Saturday after Fifth Sunday in Lent

As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it. ~Luke 19:41

Slide2Dominus Flevit is the name of a modern church on the Via Dolorosa, outside the city gates of Jerusalem. The church was built in the shape of a tear.

The front window overlooks Jerusalem to honor the tears that Jesus wept over this city. Jesus was unafraid of tears, which are part of the universal human experience. We are born crying. We will die as others cry. This life is a “vale of tears.”

Tears unite us with others. They bring cleansing and redemption.

What does it mean to you that Jesus was a Man of Sorrows (Isaiah 53:3)?

Prayer: Lord, redeem my tears and make me whole.

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Lent Pilgrimage, What We Eat

Friday after Fifth Sunday in Lent

You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you. ~Psalm 128:2

As the days wear on, there is increasing dissatisfaction about the food we are served, which seems foreign to some members of our group. Perhaps fears get externalized to this concrete action, this thing we are in the habit of controlling: what we put into our mouths. In some senses a pilgrim has given up control of their route, agenda, and schedule. Must we also give up control of our food? Or perhaps a facet of our resistance to eating like “the other” among whom we travel is our resistance to becoming like “the other”. We are experiencing a truth: Food can be a route to spiritual transformation. It can be hard to stomach.

How have you experienced spiritual growth through what you eat or don’t eat?

Prayer: O Spirit, I open even my mouth to you.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Lingering in Glory

Thursday after Fifth Sunday in Lent

We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. ~2 Peter 1:18

The Hebrews believed they were closer to God on top of a mountain. Mount Tabor makes that concept easy to understand. The air seems thinner here, as if there is less between us and the Almighty, whose home is in the heavens. The rock outcropping drops away to a vista over a fertile plain, a perfect setting for Jesus’ transformation. I’m jealous of the brown-robed monks who live here, playing guitars and smiling at pilgrims. Do they spend their lives lingering in the divine presence? Like Peter, I wish I could build a dwelling and stay forever (Matthew 17:4).

When have you wanted to linger in God’s presence?

Prayer: O Creator, I desire to linger in the heights with you.

Franciscan monks on Mt. Tabor

Franciscan monks on Mt. Tabor

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Lent Pilgrimage, Shortcut to Glory

Wednesday after Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them. ~Mark 9:2

Mount Tabor, which is believed to be the site of Jesus’ transfiguration, rises from a flat plain. The road to the top is a series of hairpin curves too intense for a bus. We climb into taxis. Previous generations of pilgrims would have spent days making this trek, which we accomplish in twenty minutes, slamming from side to side across the bench seat.

Have you ever made an arduous hike up a mountain to find God? Or do you sometimes seek a shortcut?

Prayer: O Creator, forgive my rush to moments of glory.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Holy Water

Tuesday after Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jordan baptism siteAnd people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to John, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan. ~Mark 1:5

So many pilgrims come to be baptized at this spot on the Jordan that there are helpful metal railings leading into the water, along with a vantage point for picture-taking. Nearby is a huge gift shop. You can buy vials of holy water in various sizes and containers. The woman selling the holy water seems tired. What exactly is it that we pilgrims seek to carry away from this place? What do we hope is contained in those vials?

Do you share the pilgrim impulse to stow away a vial of Spirit? Why?

Prayer: Spirit of the living God, fall afresh on me.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Expectations

Monday after Fifth Sunday in Lent

This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing. ~John 1:28

On our way to the Jordan River, we hear about the plethora of baptismal sites in the Holy Land—three in Israel and one in Jordan—and that each one claims authenticity. I am certain I will recognize the place: an expanse of desert on each side of a wide, sparkling river. That’s how the Sunday School pictures show it. When the bus pulls in to today’s “authentic baptismal site” I immediately notice the dense foliage on each side of a narrow river. The water is murky and green. My expectations are dashed. I have a sinking feeling.

When have you had to move past disappointment to hear God speaking?

Pryer: O Spirit, I cannot contain you in my expectations.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Picturing Jesus

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jesus did this, the first of his signs, in Cana of Galilee.  ~John 2:11

The church in Riene is just down the road from Cana. The worship service on a Sunday morning feels familiar: a small but fervent congregation with a good mix of ages inside a brick building. It feels a lot like my Presbyterian church back in Maryland. Up front is a stained-glass window of the Holy Family. I notice that the child Jesus is blond-haired and blue-eyed. Rather puzzling to find this, here in Palestine where hair and eyes are dark-colored.

How do you picture Jesus?

Prayer: Lord, may I see your face and not a reflection of my own.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Homeland

Saturday after Fourth Sunday in Lent

They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. ~Hebrews 11:13–14

In the stairway to the Chapel of St. Helen, a multitude of crosses carved into the wall by medieval pilgrimsIn many ancient sites we find crosses etched deep into stone. These were carved a thousand years ago by the Crusaders. I want to distance myself from the Crusader presence in our pilgrim past. Yet it is a fact. I trace the crosses with my fingers, imagining the mix of piety and violence that made someone lean against a knife blade to carve on sacred stone. Was that same blade used in violent ways? It is a distressing reality to ponder.

What did the Crusaders think they could claim here? How is that different from what you seek today?

Prayer: Holy Spirit, I acknowledge that I, too, seek after you in foolish ways. Forgive me.

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Lent Pilgrimage, Swimming in Galilee

Friday after Fourth Sunday in Lent

“Where do you get that living water?” ~John 4:11

Our lodging is on the rocky shore of Lake Galilee, a location too good to be true. After dinner we put on our swimsuits and splash in. Lights come on along the Golan Heights. The moon is full. We swim and talk, but mainly we laugh. We have the giggles. We float on our backs and make a giant flotilla by connecting our hands and feet. We see how long we can last—not long. Our laughter travels across the water. Did Jesus swim in this very water? It is almost too much gladness to be borne.

When has God delighted you?

Prayer: O Lord, buoy me with gladness!


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