Holy Land (3) The religious dimension
Hi, Grandpa's albums are as I said the record of a pilgrimage, which I don't know whether he intended to make if it hadn't been for the occasion provided by the IEC Conference, but which certainly, once the possibility was offered, was prepared very much as one. Throughout the trip, he is keen to underline the connection between whatever they see and Bible references, and in fact these references make up 90% of what he has to say, once he has finished describing moves in and out of sites, and historic place-names (I was going to say: and saying how much things cost, but this would be mean, wouldn't it? ).
In Jerusalem, during the first half of their stay (they were accompanied by a Canadian couple, and sometimes other people whom their driver wanted to take along, presumably to increase his revenue), they visit all the sites connected to Jesus's last days, but also things with Old Testament interest. They had a guide who drove them around (guy called Basil), whom they didn't seem to love particularly, as he would take them to touristic places where they would be horded by "skin-the-tourist" merchants and led to shops in which he (or the driver) apparently had a commission if they bought something. Their trip was more peaceful when they drove out of the city, but not always. Here's a nice description of one such situation:
In Jerusalem, the three are constantly looking for a mass to attend to, which they went to every day, and which of course meant a fair amount of asking, knocking, walking, missing the right time, and occasionally ending up saying the rosary instead. It also gives Grandpa lots to describe in terms of practices, which part of the mass is said by whom, and how, and sometimes it's rather funny:
Down by the river
By the way, they never leave without their rosary and whenever a possibility arises, they're at it in various places, kneeling, sometimes surprising onlookers. They also piously dip these rosaries in "holy" well-water here and there along the trip, and Grandpa seems especially attentive to things concerning the Virgin Mary and Mariology. Naturally they don't forget Jesus, he's the main object of their devotions, and much of the emotions conveyed while up North in Galilee correspond to the genuine realization, felt by many pilgrims, that everything one has believed in before coming to Israel, is now seen in a contrasted intensity coming from the knowledge of the places where Jesus actually lived, walked, rested, etc.
In opposition to their unabashed preference for things Christian, the Jewish and even worse, the Islamic reality of the Holy Land pales. Grandpa shows little interest for Jewish practices or customs, and if he does it's very much of an anecdotal/touristic nature, as when he notices such and such a house where they were able to have a peep, or women at a well, or donkeys carrying their loads.There is a notable exception, while they are being explained the huge cemetery on the Mount of olives:
It is of course rather moving to hear him speak about how he sees his own "day of reckoning", but also rather nice to hear him conclude about not wanting to be buried in Jerusalem, even if it meant reaching Heaven faster! Note however that the spectacle of the Jewish tradition inspires him an immediate Catholic thought.
And now as far as the "Mohammedan" cult is concerned, well,...
Perhaps partly true (although I'm not sure all Muslims would see their faith as "rigid and static"), but not quite yet prophetic about the cracking and falling to pieces... But you have to make allowances that Grandpa's somewhat dogmatic outlook hadn't really had time to open up and welcome all the fresh air which the Council of Vatican (which had finished only the year before in 1965) would blow into Catholicism!
Above you can see a picture of Grandma near a donkey, and I'm posting it because, in spite of Monsieur Père's insistence that she loved them perhaps a little too much for his (more intellectual?) taste, for me they're a sign of the simplicity of her approach. The donkey, present at the Manger, represents Creation's humble patience and forbearance. It's true that the accounts don't go very far much in giving the other two pilgrims a voice of their own - Grandpa very rarely mentions what Grandma thinks, said, or even her reactions, but it certainly doesn't mean we can't imagine how thrilled she would have been all along, and what the whole stay meant for her faith.
Something which Grandpa does do, on the other hand, and concerning Kathleen, is note her great interest for children, and it isn't only because he sees in this a welcome display of affection and because he too loves children. He makes it quite clear that for him this closeness to children, their presence during the trip and Kathleen's ability to befriend them has a deep spiritual meaning: in the land of Jesus, they all have, in a way, become children too, as he has taught: "Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein."
Some faith-filled gestures I thought were quite moving: for example they brought back some wine bought in Cana (where Jesus' miracle of the changing of water into wine occurred) and celebrated Grandma's birthday with it back in England. Or when they were passing through Sykar, where a tired Jesus had stopped to speak to the Samaritan woman (John chapter 4) and his disciples found him there but, leaving him to talk, went to the village to buy some food. Well, thanks to Auntie's presence of mind (but I call it faith), they did the same, and thus showed their discipleship.
The most beautifully inspired part of the albums concern the stay in Galilee. As Grandpa writes, if this had been the sole destination of their travel, it would have been enough:
This is the moment to refer to the first two pages of the album, which are certainly Grandpa's contribution to the prayer dimension of his accounts.
In the first page, one can look down upon the Sea of Galilee in its pristine emptiness, as if it was just out of the hands of the Creator, the moments of the day reminding one of the first day in the book of Genesis. The second page is for me like a moment in Heaven, where the pair are joined in a peaceful vision of the vastness of divinity. The Church on the Mount of Beatitudes would then represent the restored Temple of the Lord, as seen in the book of Revelation, majestic in all its Glory.
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