Weeping at the Western Wall…

You have kept record
of my days of wandering.
You have stored my tears
in your bottle
and counted each of them.

Psalm 56:8 (CEV)

     Before our trip to Israel began, each participant was given a journal explaining different sites we’d visit as well as space to record relevant thoughts and experiences. Of course, the writer in me appreciated this tool.

     Praying at the Western Wall was one of my most meaningful experiences during the tour. Even though the pages in my journal attached to this site remain empty, the memories are vivid.

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     Prayer has been part of my life since I was a child. When a little girl, at bedtime, I’d recite, “Now I lay me, down to sleep…” or at mealtime, “God is great, and God is good…”

     Throughout my faith journey, I’ve practiced various ways to pray. I’ve tried to imitate the style of those I thought prayed ‘right.’ I’ve used different prayer models. I’ve made a New Year’s resolution to “become a better pray-er.” I’ve read books and attended seminars on prayer. I’ve prayed Scripture. I’ve found great satisfaction in recording prayers in a journal.

     Yet, the older I grow, and the more I pray, the greater is the mystery of prayer, and the less adequate I feel in the matter of prayer. While traveling to Israel, I began reading a book my friend gave me a few days prior to leaving—Sacred Rhythms by Ruth Hayley Barton. About prayer, Barton says, “Simply put, prayer is all the ways in which we communicate and commune with God. The fundamental purpose of prayer is to deepen our intimacy with God.”

     Relational intimacy, whether human or divine, is never achieved quickly. Developing an intimate relationship involves not only time but also seasons

     when we talk and share a lot;

          when we feel like we’re just ‘hanging-in’ there;

               when we try to figure out what works;

                    when we know what we’re doing isn’t working;

                         when we know we’re cherished;

                              when we wonder.

     Praying at the Western Wall was an experience which added yet another layer to the mystery of prayer, but also deepened my belief in the importance of prayer. A quote from our journal provides historical and spiritual context to the significance of the Western Wall:

“The Western Wall is the most holy place accessible to the Jewish people today due to the fact that their Temple has been destroyed. This wall was built by Herod the Great as the retaining wall of the Temple Mount complex. Before [the war of] 1967, the wall was referred to as the Wailing Wall since Jews were only allowed to visit the site on the 9th of Av. Because the Temple is in ruin, this wall is the closest anyone can get to what once was the Holy of Holies. Many come to pray here as well as to insert prayers in the cracks of the wall.”

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     Our tour guide, Jane, told us we’d probably have difficulty finding an open space on the wall if we wanted to insert a prayer. We were arriving on the eve of Shabbat; Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, was in a few days. The Wall would be extra busy, Jane explained.

     After waiting my turn with many other women (The Wall is segregated with men going to one section and women another.), I approached the Wall, surprised to see an open space between stones, right before me. I inserted the little folded piece of paper on which I’d written in the tiniest script possible several requests.

     My first request was a prayer for divine blessing on my children and grandchildren to the fourth generation. Even though I know I’m praying for people I’ll never meet this side of Heaven, I make this request to God often, believing God knows these future heirs of mine even if I don’t. My prayers are part of the legacy I desire to leave.

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     Women on either side of me wept. What was the story behind their tears? I wondered. Their tears intensified my already heightened emotions, and the salty liquid flowing down my cheeks felt altogether appropriate.

     Several minutes I stood at the Wall, weeping, not uttering a word. Mine weren’t tears of sadness. I felt contentment and comfort.

     As I relinquished my position to the woman waiting behind, I sensed the assurance a never-changing, ever-available God heard me and heard other women who had prayed before me, who prayed with me and who would pray after me.

     Weeping at The Western Wall in Jerusalem will, I know, remain one of the most profoundly intimate prayer experiences of my lifetime.

Blessings on your journey of intimacy in prayer…

Sue Reeve

Note: I will be sharing additional posts about our impactful trip to Israel. For more information about your own trip to Israel, we recommend highly Dan and Sharon Stolbarger, our group leaders. If this is a trip you’d love to make, check them out at http://holygroundexplorations.com/


Jerusalem, Jerusalem

     My introduction to Jerusalem is one I won’t forget. Our tour bus emerged from a tunnel. Below us lay the city—the city over which Scripture tells me Jesus wept; shared a final meal with His disciples; was crucified; conquered sin and death; will one day return. As we entered Jerusalem, strains of The Holy City, a 19th Century hymn, filled the air:

Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Lift up your gates and sing
Hosanna in the highest

Hosanna to your King!

The recollection still creates goosebumps!

     I’m not a seasoned traveler. My last trip outside North America occurred ten years ago. I don’t possess a huge repertoire of foreign cities with which to compare Jerusalem, but one thing I know. Jerusalem assaulted every single one of my senses in a way no location has ever done.

     While in Jerusalem, also known as the City of David, each sensory system: smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing heightened.

Smells of Jerusalem I’ll never forget:

  • Inviting scents of freshly baked bread and pungent spices sold from carts or open-air markets
  • the aroma of roasting meats
  • cigarette smoke wafting from the table of a neighboring diner (Israel’s no-smoking laws are minimally enforced!)
  • exhaust fumes filling crowded streets and alleyways.

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The aroma of pungent spices wafted from specialty stands at open air markets.

Touches I’ll always associate with Jerusalem:

  • Rough stone walls
  • dry, hot sand
  • sticky dates and honey
  • the press of our tour group schooling protectively like fish while in areas known to be frequented by pickpockets or other unsavory characters.

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Tastes that will remind me of our time in Jerusalem:

  • Garlic
  • flavor-laden swarmas
  • warm, soft pitas
  • hummus
  • cucumbers, tomatoes and tangy yogurt, seasoned with fresh dill
  • freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice
  • tart, minty lemonade slushes
  • falafel
  • honey-laden desserts
  • good strong coffee
  • olives—every variety served with every meal—and, by the way, olives were my favorite.

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Olives are staples in the Jewish diet—a delicious treat for an olive-lover like me.

Sights from Jerusalem I’ll Remember:

  • Throngs of people gathered in bunches: tourists from many nations; schoolgirls in matching uniforms; families celebrating Shabbat
  • aggressive marketplace patrons—pushing, shoving as they shopped
  • strong muscular shop owners with glistening olive-toned skin, hustling wares to gullible tourists
  • ancient ruins and modern architecture, standing side by side
  • uneven stone pathways and steps—lots of stone steps
  • the glistening gold Dome of the Rock
  • brightly-colored scarves and contrasting stark black and white garb worn by Arab women
  • Orthodox or ultra conservative Jewish men
    • walking alongside their little sons, their side curls bobbing,
    • others wearing black, furry, square-topped hats or prayer shawls
    • some wearing phylacteries on their foreheads—small black cubes containing Holy Scripture, attached with straps to the left arms.

C:\Users\Sue\Desktop\Ron Photos\Israel Pix\DSC_1679-1.jpgJerusalem awakens. The sun rises over the Mount of Olives.

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Side curls, black hats and prayer shawls are some of the traits identifying devout Orthodox Jews living in Jerusalem.

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Crowds of shoppers pressed together in the outdoor market, preparing for of Rosh Hashana, which would begin in a few hours. During Shabbat and holy days, Jewish marketplaces like this close become eerily silent.


The Dome of the Rock, sacred Muslim site, is located on the Temple Mount in old Jerusalem.


Above all else, I’ll never forget the sounds of Jerusalem.

  • Resounding bells pealing from magnificent cathedrals
  • Muslim calls to prayer
  • many different languages: Hebrew; Arabic; native tongues of visitors; and, thankfully, English
  • pedestrians warning, “Car coming!”; horns honking as rapidly-moving vehicles careened through narrow alley-like streets, seemingly unconcerned by the row of pedestrians hugging the wall
  • loud invitations of shopkeepers to any passerby willing to listen
  • voices of our group leaders: Jane’s lovely English/Hebrew accent sharing her rich wealth of information about the land she loved; Dan’s passion-filled insights and challenges; Sharon’s knowledgeable, no-nonsense instructions; Tod’s call to worship in song
  • speaking of music:
    • young schoolgirls holding hands, singing
    • street musicians and dancers
    • a group of Asian Christian young people singing in the square on Ben Yehuda street
    • Christians from Africa, colorfully-garbed, their melodic praises and moaning shofar echoing through an ancient alleyway.
  • Sad and somber whispers at Yad Vashem, the nation’s memorial to Holocaust victims.
  • Soft sounds of weeping, noses blowing shortly before our tour’s conclusion, while we remembered Jesus and together celebrated communion at the Garden Tomb.

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Pealing bells from magnificent Christian cathedrals are some of the sounds I’ll always remember from Jerusalem.

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No words could describe the breathtaking solemnity of the Yad Vashem memorial to children who perished in the Holocaust.

Although my knowledge increased in the few days I spent in the city, and the experience left memorable imprints on every one of my senses, I cannot begin to comprehend the complexity of Jerusalem in terms of world religions, politics and eschatology.

I feel the insufficiency of these thoughts I’ve expressed. I know my effort to capture, in less than1000 words, the essence of perhaps the most important city in the world is woefully inadequate. As I considered my lack of capability, I recalled a Scripture—1 Corinthians 2:19—reminding me that humanity will always limit our perceptions. In this earthly lifetime, we’ll never experience absolute sufficiency. We’ll never be able to fully

     inhale the aroma of G-d’s[1] sweetness,

          feel G-d’s tender touch,

               taste G-d’s goodness,

                    see G-d’s glory, nor

                         hear G-d’s voice with absolute clarity.

     I close with the verse brought to my memory while writing this blog post, quoted from the Orthodox Jewish Bible[2].

But even as it has been written, “Things which no eye has seen and LO SHAMU (“they had not heard”) nor did it come up into the heart of Bnei Adam, the things G-d prepared for the ones who have ahavah for him.” Isa 64:3[4] TARGUM HASHIVIM; Isa 52:15 Kehillah in Corinth I 2:9

Blessings on your journey!


Sue Reeve

  1. The Jewish religion venerates the name of The Almighty highly and will not write fully the name.
  2. See biblegateway.com for many different translations.

    Note: For more information about your own trip to Israel, we recommend highly Dan and Sharon Stolbarger, our group leaders. If this is a trip you’d love to make, check them out at http://holygroundexplorations.com/

Our Israel Adventure Begins

Note from Sue: Last week my husband, Ron, and I returned home after spending two weeks in Israel. I’d dreamed of this trip for many years. Ron was a bit reluctant to go at first, but today, we both agree, the time, money and energy invested was beyond ‘well worth it.’ In the next few Listening on the Journey… blog posts, I’ll recall the impact of some key Israel moments as well as a few of Ron’s photos help capturing the moments. Posts will be my own personal thoughts, rather than biblical, historical or political commentary, and they won’t necessarily be presented in chronological order. I hope you’ll enjoy.

     September 22nd was Ron’s birthday. We began his special day with an early breakfast at a favorite little gourmet hole-in-the-wall Coeur d’Alene restaurant that’s almost impossible to get into during the weekend, but was nearly empty that morning.

     After breakfast, we headed to Spokane International Airport to begin an excursion of a lifetime. This was more than a vacation. We believed we were embarking on a spiritual pilgrimage to Israel, the land in which our Judeo-Christian belief system was birthed.

     We were right! More than two weeks later, Ron’s sifting through over 5000 photos he took. I’m revisiting journal notes, which documented facts and feelings. Both of us realize, for a long time we’ll be sorting through life-changing, brain-challenging moments from our Holy Land visit.

     At this stage of my life journey, I avoid pre-conceived notions and expectations. I’ve found more often than not they don’t materialize in ways I envision. Instead, I like to say, “Surprise me, God!” That simple invitation has become my favorite prayer. I cherish God’s “surprises,” which always exceed anything I might imagine.

     International flights are exhausting! In order to endure the rigmarole, I realize I must be passionate about reaching my destination, and passion wasn’t a problem. The mere thought of traveling to Israel has caused my heart to beat extra fast since I was a teenager. This trip was number one on my “bucket list,” even before I was introduced to the concept of “bucket lists.”

     Nevertheless, by the time we’d flown from Spokane to Minneapolis and Minneapolis to Paris, I was, as my grandma used to say, “plumb-tuckered-out!” The final leg of travel from Paris to Tel Aviv, took place on a cramped, crowded plane. Ron sat in the aisle seat. I was in the middle.

     I’d exchanged a brief pleasantry with the young woman occupying the window seat, but after I’d elbowed her full glass of tomato juice, spilling the sticky red substance onto her shoes, my pants, sweater and new book, the tempo of our conversation increased. I admired her gentle graciousness concerning the accident. Chatting with the woman—probably younger than our daughters—helped the remainder of the journey pass more quickly.

     Ron sought her advice on procuring a taxi from the airport to our hotel. Her obvious tech-savvy counsel seemed a bit confusing, but when she told us her boyfriend was picking her up, and they’d be happy to give us a ride to the hotel, we agreed gladly. We learned their names—Lena and Eli. We enjoyed the ride and commentary from airport to hotel, a lovely edifice located directly across the street from the magnificent Mediterranean Sea. They refused our offer of money, but accepted Ron’s invitation to take them to lunch the next day. We exchanged contact information, wondering if this obviously bright, in-love young couple would actually want to hang out with ‘old folks’ like us.

     Our Israel journey had begun, and the first night in Tel Aviv launched two weeks of overwhelmed senses.

     The evening began with a delicious Shabbat dinner at the hotel, followed by a leisurely walk along the Mediterranean. The beach bustled with activity as dozens of Muslim families, congregated in comradery—mostly in gender-specific groups of men and women—barbequed delicious-smelling kabobs. Children ran, played and laughed with the abandon only children possess.


The lovely hotel where we stayed in Tel Aviv

     Eli called Ron Saturday morning, agreeing to meet us at the hotel, and at 11:30 we began a walking excursion with the young couple. Several hours—and many steps later (over 24,000 that day)—we’d learned to love this gracious young couple as well as Israel’s largest city, Tel Aviv.

     “Tel” is a Hebrew word meaning “old.” “Aviv” in Hebrew depicts the “newness of springtime.”

     This is Israel—the old and the new.

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     Eli pointed out Independence Hall, where the Israeli Declaration of Independence was signed in 1948.

     The nation of Israel is very young.

     The land of Israel, however, is ancient.

     During upcoming days we would experience both the geo political challenges of the young nation as well as the rich history and biblical significance of an ancient land—a land God described to a chosen group of people as one “flowing with milk and honey.”

     We owe a debt of gratitude to our young Israeli friends. Our brief but meaningful relationship began when I clumsily knocked over a glass of tomato juice. During the next few hours, we forged a friendship. We may never see this couple again, but forever we’ll value our “Surprise-me-God!” meeting. They, along with this land of “new” and “old,” will often be the topic of prayers in which we’ll always ask God to bless and protect both Israel and its inhabitants.


Shalom, Eli and Lena!


Shalom, Israel! (Kite surfing as the sun sets over the Mediterranean.)

Blessings of Shalom on your journeys…

Sue Reeve

  1. Most know that the Hebrew word shalom is understood around the world to mean “peace.” … Hebrew words go beyond their spoken pronunciation. Each Hebrew word conveys feeling, intent and emotion. Shalom is more than just simply peace; it is a complete peace. It is a feeling of contentment, wholeness, well-being and harmony. (http://www.therefinersfire.org)

    Note: For more information about your own trip to Israel, we recommend highly Dan and Sharon Stolbarger, our group leaders. If this is a trip you’d love to make, check them out at http://holygroundexplorations.com/