I had collected prayer request written on pieces of paper from friends and family put in the cracks of the wall ( a custom) and had written pages of my own prayers to leave there. They had been carefully secured in my suitcase for the long pilgrimage to this sacred place!
I remember ascending (or as the bible says, “going up “) to Jerusalem one hot summer evening after dark. It is one of the most overwhelming sights I have ever seen. I was pressed to the glass of the bus window trying to make my mind believe what my eyes were seeing!
The huge wall (not the Western Wall) around the entire old city was softly lit… casting a golden glow into the dark night sky! Was this real… was I really entering through the thick stone arch of the Jaffa gate into JERUSALEM?
Our bus made its way through the quiet streets to a guest house at Alexander College in the old city across from the Tower of David. A group of us were determined to get a glimpse of the Western Wall… even though it was late at night. Hurriedly we got our bags to our room then stared down the labyrinth of narrow streets towards the Western or Wailing Wall. At the bottom of a long, wide set of stairs was a low balcony and beyond that we could finally look down on the Wall… which was lit up much like the wall around the old city.
What I was not ready for was the security checkpoints that scared the beauty of the panorama before me and the guards with machine guns dotted here and there, keeping an ever watchful eye! Looking beyond the security I could see where I had a date with God… where God would touch my heart like He had never done before!
The wall was huge… stories high.. and just like most of the city, the color of sand. In the summer all of Israel seemed to be the color of sand! The wall was made from of huge hewn blocks of stone tightly stacked on top of one another. It surely was a mighty retaining wall! Our group spent time taking pictures and excitedly talking in hushed tones about being in the old city… still quite unbelievable!
We were everyday people who had become willing yet rather unlikely scholars of this beautiful land and God’s inspired Word.
For tonight all I could do was look at the Western Wall.. but tomorrow… that would be the day!
The next morning I was so anxious I could not eat breakfast… and the heat of the 100 degree day was distractingly oppressive. I was jumpy and nervous… and already very emotional. Finally, the day had come to meet God in a totally different way.
Our group started down to the Western Wall just before noon. The security checks were thorough and invasive, but I was so focused on what I was about to experience I would have gladly stripped naked and walked on my hands to get to the Wall!
The men and women were separated at that point. Men went to the left to the “men’s area” of the Western Wall.
The women, wearing holy garb… leg covered, shoulders covered and head covered, went to the right… to the “women’s area of the Wall. A large white partition, a little taller than myself, divided us. Men and women did not worship at the Wall together. An orthodox custom dating back a long long time.
As I got closer to the wall I could see an old Jewish woman were selling red threads. These were to be tied around one’s wrist to bring good luck or to ward off the “evil eye” (ayin rah). A woman thrust a red thread into my hand. I handed her a few shekels in return. I later found out that this is just part of the modern tradition of being at the wall. Sorta like a souvenir. Not even the holiest places are immune from commercialism, I thought!
I approached the Wall almost breathless knowing that I was standing on holy ground! My knees were literally knocking! I adjusted the white filmy scarf with shaky hands covering my head so it hid my shoulders and upper arms as a sign of respect and modesty. Placing the prayer requests that filled my pockets in the cracks and crevices in the Wall I kept repeating to myself, “Don’t forget this moment… don’t forget this moment”, over and over!
Women on either side of me were praying. Some bobbing their scarf covered heads back and forth, some stuffing their written prayers into the cracks in the Wall too, and some standing as still as the stones themselves. It was not as quiet as I thought it would be. Not that it was loud… but there was a dull hum of whispering and what I thought must be praying.
Gently, I reach out and placed each hand a little more than shoulder height against the Wall and let my forearms collapse against the Wall, too. Then I rested my forehead against the smooth stone. I was very surprised how hot the mammoth stone was! So hot I thought I had probably burnt my skin! But instead of removing my arms and forehead from the wailing wall I pressed in closer.
And then I started to pray. It got hotter and hotter. I could feel the intense heat from the stone burning my cheeks. The heat made rivulets of sweat run down my face. This was no way to meet God… burnt and wringing wet with sweat!
I put those trivial thoughts out of my mind and again focused on meeting God… He knew I was coming! I had many a conversation with HIM about “when I meet YOU at the Wall” for months before this day! After all this was the closest place to the spot on earth that the very presence of God resided with men.
I kept praying… waiting for God to fill me with His presence. To make my face shine like Moses… to hear His audible voice like the prophets… to be touched like Jesus touched the lepers!
Time got lost in prayer. Time, what was time in the presence of the great One who created it?
Praying … and… praying … and praying… until I ran out of prayers… and… nothing!
Just more and more unbearable heat billowing from the holy stones… and more and more sweat pouring down my forehead and off the tip of my nose. And now tears of hurt mingled with the sweat. They stung my eyes… they broke my heart! Is this why they call it the Wailing Wall?
What went wrong? Where was He? “God, you know I am waiting for You! You know I came all this way! You know this meeting was to be the highlight of my life!”
“Wasn’t I supposed to meed You here?”
No answer… no feeling… No God! At least I should feel your presence in these holy stone, right? But I felt NOTHING!