It truly was the best of all bucket list experiences, changing my life forever! It so far exceeded my expectations and wildest dreams as we traveled across Israel, studying and seeing first hand the land of the Bible… learning it’s history and culture, living with it’s people and learning about the Jewish roots of Christianity.
The thing I looked forward to the very most about this trip was visiting the Western Wall. The Western wall is one of the most sacred sites for all Jews. As a Christian, it held great significance for me too!
Without getting too deep… here is a little history of the Western or Wailing Wall…
The Western Wall, located in the old city of Jerusalem, is the remains of the western retaining wall around the Temple Mount. It was built by King Herod.. the same king who tried to kill Jesus when he was a baby.
Why is the wall such a sacred place? Here is the very interesting part…
…now stay with me on this….
The sacred Jewish Temple that sat on the Temple Mount was destroyed in 70 AD by the Roman Empire.
The Jewish Temple held the most sacred place on earth… the HOLY OF HOLIES! This was a place in the Temple where the very glory of God …the Shekinah glory… dwelt on earth, among His people, the Jews!
Believe it, this is true!!!
Only the retaining wall was left after the Romans destroyed the Temple… and thus the HOLY OF HOLIES was also destroyed.
The part of the retaining wall that would have been closest to the HOLY OF HOLIES is the Western Wall… Hence, it’s religious significance.
The Western Wall is the closest point on earth, that is accessible to the Jews, nearest to where the HOLY OF HOLIES and the presence of God once stood.
I had imagined making my way to the Western Wall for months and months! I just knew God’s presence would be there… like no other place on earth! I was prepared for a face-to-face encounter with the very God of the universe!!! I wanted this more than anything I had ever wanted in my life!
I had collected prayer request of friends and family written on pieces of paper to 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 it’s way through the quiet streets to a guest house 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…or the guards with machine guns dotted here and there, keeping an ever watchful eye! Looking beyond that 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! It was made out of huge big 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 chatting about being in the old city… still quite unbelievable!
For tonight all I could do was look.. 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 seemed extra oppressive. I was jumpy and nervous… and already very emotional. Finally, the day had come to literally meet with my Maker!
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 to get to the Wall!
The men and women were separated at that point… the 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 me, divided us. Men and women did not worship at the Wall together.
As I got closer to the wall some 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). One of the 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… timidly, knowing that I was standing on holy ground! I adjusted the white filmy scarf 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 in between.
I was very surprised how hot the mammoth stone was… so hot I thought I had probably burnt my skin!
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 from 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!
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. I’m sure I had been at the wall for quite a while.
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 that I am waiting for You! You know I came all this way! You know that this was to be the highlight of my life!”
“Wasn’t I supposed to meed You here?”
No answer… no feeling… No God!
I turned from the hot holy stones… exhausted. I was a puddle. Melted by the heat and the emotion of being stood up by God! How do you pick up a puddle… How does it walk or continue a tour… or write in it’s journal. Can a puddle eat lunch or make small talk… or even breathe? How does a puddle put it’s heart back together…
Next Sunday… the conclusion!