Jerusalem is like no other city, people often say. But what makes it so? Could it be your feeling, as you walk these ancient streets, that you are walking a tightrope between heaven and earth?
Jerusalem had two natures, it has long been said: the “heavenly” and the “earthly.” Sometimes it may seem to visitors that its “earthly” elements are just like those of any other city – perhaps even more so; as you navigate the Old City streets, and even at its holy places, seeking the spiritual moments you imagined you’d always have, you might occasionally find yourself jostled by the crowds, who seem to have not the slightest bit of respect for your space!
Yet Jerusalem may be where “respect for space” was invented. After all, God said of it: “My Name shall be there” (I Kings 8:29). And you want to come here because you want be on that spot – where tradition says Abraham stood a moment before the angel stopped him from sacrificing his son Isaac. You want to come to Jerusalem because at the Mount of Olives you can behold the city spread out before you, floating like a vision of all time. You want to be here to walk down the Mount of Olives and hear the echoes of crowds shouting “Hosannah!” You want to be able to sense the strengthening of your faith as you pray under the ancient olive trees at the Garden of Gethsemane. You want to stand at Golgotha, and behold an empty tomb. You want to walk up the steps leading to the Temple that Jesus also must have climbed, and where Peter healed a beggar. You want to restore your vision, like the beggar of old at the Pool of Siloam, where every day, under the skilled hands of the archaeologists, the earth yields up the stones that Jesus knew. You want to celebrate here with the Jewish people on the biblical holidays of ascent to the Holy City – Tabernacles, Passover and Pentecost.
You will come because you want to learn what true “sacred space” is. It is here that you can relive like nowhere else the moments when Jesus walked through streets like these, carrying the cross. It dawns on you here how 2,000 years later the crowds still jostle for space, still ignore the needs of others – or offer to help out a stranger with overflowing compassion; the vendors still vie for your attention, and the air is filled with the aromas of cinnamon and myrrh, coriander, cumin and sage. And that is when you realize what “sacred space” is all about.
Because this is what you seek, this is what leads you to Jerusalem, you’ll find when you are here that you can move easily between the realms of the earthly and the heavenly, and make the Holy City your own.