Day 393: The Wailing Wall, Jerusalem
After the encouraging Easter service (The Beauty of the Empty Tomb), we took a walk through Old Town Jerusalem, dodging friendly shopkeepers and aggressive tourists. We visited the Western Wall, and more specifically the Wailing Wall, which is one of the most sacred sites in Judaism. I’ve often heard of the Wailing Wall but was not prepared for what greeted us as we entered the plaza and began to slowly descend the stairs.
Before approaching the walls, we encountered hand washing stations used to ritually cleanse oneself prior to praying. While I can appreciate the symbolism of this act, the reality of our sin natures and the realization that there is nothing we can do to completely cleanse ourselves in the presence of the Lord struck me. Only Christ’s work on the cross could accomplish that. Wasn’t that what we were just celebrating at the Easter service just a few hours earlier? What a relief to be reminded I don’t bear the burden for my own forgiveness and salvation.
We slowly and respectfully approached the Wall, where we separated into two groups, Nick, Ryan, and the boys to the left, and Mikayla, Kathryn, and I to the right. Prior to arriving, we had written prayer requests on individual scraps of paper, intending to insert them into a crevice of the Wailing Wall, as has been done by many others over the centuries.
What surprised me was the number of people attempting to do the same thing. There were many with prayer books and letters filled with prayers, or desires and hopes for the future, fighting their way in to get closer. What was mildly disturbing, however, was the urgency, the desperation, and the intensity in which some people were making their way to the Wall, like their prayers wouldn’t be heard if they didn’t get there, didn’t touch the wall. We saw this same desperation at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as people pushed in to touch the walls of what some assume may have been the burial and resurrection site of Christ.
Yet again, my thoughts were turned to the work Christ did on the cross, and the beauty of being able to approach the throne of God on our own, no barriers, no rituals, no hurdles. Peace flowed through me as I reflected on this and I slowly but intentionally made my way to the wall with my daughters in tow, spending a few minutes in silence, reflection, and prayer.
Why? While I don’t believe the Wailing Wall has any special powers or is a special gateway to prayer, the temple has huge significance in Jewish history. Additionally, Jesus walked this same path 2000 years ago. For me, it was a special opportunity to take part in a ritual so ardently followed by devout Jews for many centuries. The experience was rich in cultural and religious symbolism, and yet, I rejoice in the knowledge that I can make my heart known to the Lord anywhere around the world, and at any time.
After spending a few minutes praying, we searched for a crack or crevice that would accept our written prayers. It was much harder than we thought, as there are thousands of tiny prayers crammed into every opening. We persisted and finally successful, began to back away slowly, keeping our faces turned toward the wall as a sign of respect. That was also a bit challenging for two reason. First, we were being crushed in on every side, with women vying to get closer, often with tears streaming. Secondly, in the midst of the throngs, it was difficult to walk backwards, as we didn’t want to trample anyone. So we walked slowly, cautiously, glancing back frequently as we retreated.
We finally reached Nick, Ryan, and the boys, who had been patiently waiting for us. They had finished earlier, as the men’s side is much larger and therefore not as crowded as the women’s side. We slowly made our way back up the stairs and into the crowded alleys and streets of Old Town Jerusalem. While I listened to the kids chatter with Nick about their experience and heard Nick continue to explain more about Jewish history and the rituals performed here, I remember secretly glancing back and intentionally making a memory for myself, not wanting to forget these precious moments at the Wailing Wall.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8