Thursday, March 11, 2010


Today is Monday--we left the noises, conveniences and comforts of comfortable “civilized” places to go into the Sinai wilderness—with no hair dryers, cell phones or restaurants. Two days in the desert (which I am still reflecting upon and writing about). Today we left the desert at St. Catherine's Monastery. I marvel over the whole experience in this wilderness but right now I marvel most at the miracle that is St. Catherine's. Since the fourth century it has rested in the valley below Mt. Sinai. Standing in silent testimony that there is something far greater than we. It served as a safety and refuge from persecution. It cradled the beginnings of monasticism, Christian thought and teachings. It withstood centuries of invading armies taking and destroying most everything else in their paths—the Bedouin, the Arabs, the English, French, the Germans—they all came here yet did not touch or tear down this place. Muhammed placed his hand on the agreement assuring its safety in 638, Napoleon rebuilt its aged and crumbling north walls and maintained support of its protection while in Egypt and years beyond.

This morning the cooing of the doves awakened me. I went out and sat on a nearby terrace to be with them as they called to each other throughout the monastery grounds. The sun was just rising and it began touching the rugged, jagged peaks of the mountains surrounding this place.

I went to them—the doves and their calling—and sat—for a very long time it seemed. I sat watching the sun rise and listening to the doves calling—I listened for the way continuing my journey—on learning more how to maintain and grow an openness of spirit.

In this place called St. Catherine's I felt such an assurance there there is openness of spirit—here the places of worship for Christians and Muslim stand side by side. The cross and minaret both reaching together upward. The calls to prayer and the bells join together—somewhere—somehow we have lost how to do that in this world

For now, I am thankful for openness of spirit and knowing that we too are part of this miracle of the mystery that is St. Catherine's

Posted by Jan Therien


There is a rich silence to the desert that seems to me like the music of God. These ragged peaks rise out of nothingness to break the horizon, row after row. Closer, these rocks, with levels of subtle color-red, yellow, orange, beige, black, wine, and beige in turn, layers and shapes in a cacophony of loneliness, with the craggy personality of windblown holes and formations, each unique, delicate and lacy. Every moment, with sunlight's difference, it all transforms again, changing color and texture. These rocks do indeed cry out.

Looking carefully, there are other muted songs here: tiniest white flowers growing out of sand; volcano black basalt scattered like manna; camel bones bleached and fading; the Bedouin camel driver kneels in prayer as we lay claim to pallets on the sloping sand.

And then there are the stars,, whose silent praise is a ravishing gift that steals sleep, the shining of heavenly lights, brilliant, even at the moon bowl's rise, that lifts our eyes and calls out “Glory!”

When our voices still from our own small stories, then we will hear the songs of the desert. These are songs of greatness, survival, beauty, and a love that creates and recreates out of nothing, out of chaos, out of what keeps us separated from its power. This is the music of God, uncluttered, revealed, the deep and wide silence that rolls over our hearts, minds and bodies when we willingly come out to listen.

I know now that somewhere inside I have longed for the rich, full, and beautiful stillness which sings of the One who longs also for me.

Posted by Jan Fuller

Saturday, March 6, 2010

GETTING ONLINE harder than I have experienced before in Egypt. Right now I am sitting with one of the security guards in the Luxor airport as people pass through on their way to the departure lounge -- the best place in the building for a wifi signal.

The guard's name is Wail. We have been having a discussion of Adam and Eve and the meaning of the story in his tradition (Muslim) and mine. He will give me something he has written about his interpretation of the story so I can read it later. Thank you, Wail!

Posted by Deborah Hunley


We began our preparations last night after one of the busiest days--six sites. The desire to be away is very real now but how did Moses and Hebrews leave so much for the unknown?

Will we mourn for leeks and melons or be content to listen and learn something completely new?

This time to slow down and pause is wonderful for our travel-weary physical bodies but could we wander for forty years? As out pilgrimage leaves the teeming life of the Nile, may we also find new spiritual life in the desert just as our Hebrew forbears found a new religion, life and identity.

Posted by Kerry McCarty


The one overwhelming fact that is apparent throughout this country—apparent from the moment we stepped off the plane in Cairo—is the contrast found in every scene. One is surrounded by contradictions.

Another overwhelming fact is the scale of everything—man is but a speck compared to the monuments.

Nowhere was this contrast more pronounced than when we disembarked at 7 a.m. in the city of Luxor. A city of approximately 450,000, Luxor lies in the fertile delta of the life-giving Nile River. Lush greenery greeted us as we wound our way by motor coach to the West Bank of the city. An excellent 4-lane road took us past bougainvillea hedges, date palm trees, handsome buildings, and rows of lopsided houses seemingly propped up by clothes pins. Our coach shared the road with donkeys, sheep, and an occasional camel as we passed verdant fields of sugar cane, wheat, onions, and clover. Despite the early hour, men, women and children were busy in the fields or scurrying around the dirt yards.

A 15-minute ride soon brought us to the huge, tan, undulating mountains and desert terrain of Luxor . Our destination: the Valley of the Kings. Here we visited two or three excavated tombs of ancient royalty. To stand before one of the entrances carved out of sheer rock was an unforgettable experience. Talk about feeling small! To enter and go deep in the earth, surrounded by drawings and hieroglyphics on the granite walls was beyond unforgettable. The kings wanted to be buried in style, with real records of their lives' work. Stylized drawings, primitive yet sophisticated, gave accurate accounts of flora, fauna, favoritism with the gods (or disfavor), the weather, and everything else worth remembering.

The king's crypt is always in the final chamber of these tombs. Most of the tombs follow a similar plan with slight, if any, variations. Alas, King Tut's tomb , famously opened by Howard Carter in 1922, was not open to the public today. Each of us remarked on the stillness of this vast, dry, colorless, mountainous area.

Next stop, the mortuary temple of Hatshepsut, more commonly referred to as “Hot Chicken Soup.” This colossus of a temple stretched for miles, and was built more like an American version of a memorial, with central axis and rows of statuary in front. The “first female pharaoh,” as she was called, had a struggle in life, but left many lasting remembrances in death.

Next came a stop at the Valley of the Queens, and more royal tombs. Memorable in all of the tombs, in addition to the larger-than-life scale, were the vivid colors of the engravings on the granite walls, ochre birds flirted with green fish, while scantily clad kings marched in striped tunics. Lizards floated in blue water under starry skies—simple, sophisticated drawings—centuries old!

Afternoon adventures took a hot group first to Karnak, then to the temple of Luxor. Both temples are on the East Bank, dedicated to the living (as opposed to the West, which is for funeral crypts). Karnak encompasses over 100 acres, and the scale is beyond any imagination. The temple of Luxor is smaller, but no less impressive. Ramses II is the Big Guy here, but the Avenue of tre Sphinxes, still being excavated, was the star attraction. When complete, over 1,350 sphinxes will connect Luxor Temple to Karnak. Now that is scale!

We are an enthusiastic, weary group.

Posted by Barbara Dickinson


As Christian pilgrims, we take the reverence with us. We have a tendency to locate problems outside of ourselves and blame others for our experience and our reactions to them rather than accept responsibility for our own inner work.

We are traveling by small cruise ships north on the Nile, stopping to see holy sites of ancient Egyptians. Today we dock and ride in horse-drawn carriages to Temple Kom Ombo. To enter we must pass through a gauntlet of shops and the aggressive vendors trying to make a living for themselves and their families by selling wares to visitors from other countries. This feels like harassment and tugs at the heartstrings.

Once we have entered the temple, there are masses of guides and tourists competing for space to view the intricate carvings on the walls. It is noisy and could be construed as irreverent, yet I find myself centered in the ancient yearning for the holy and the transcendent that I sense in this sacred space. As I touch the intricate carving of a bird, I imagine the vast numbers of others who have touched and been touched by the beauty here. For me, I find myself in touch with what the Episcopal Church calls the Communion of Saints. I suppose a strict interpretation of the notion would exclude ancient Egyptians and their devotion to ancient gods and goddesses as fellow members of the Communion of Saints; but for me, it includes all humanity aware of the sacred aspect of human life and the life of all creation.

Obviously, my intellectual construct concerning God is as different as my culture, language and world view is different. However, on pilgrimage I believe the gift I bring to ancient holy sites, viewed by most as strictly tourist destinations or historical curiosities, is an inner reverence for the people who once found meaning and spiritual sustenance in these places.

It is not the job of the guide or the leader of the pilgrimage to create a sense of reverence in us. It is our own inner work that opens us to the presence of God that permeates everywhere we go and everyone we meet. Our inner work, our life of prayer, study, service, worship, self-giving, and spiritual reflection are what bring reverence to the places we go. We are the prayer that moves through Kom Ombo as we are here. We are the embodied love of God here. We are the sacrament of Christ consecrating this ancient ruin to the glory of God.

Posted by Julia Ashby


Herodotus said after visiting Egypt during the Roman era, “Egypt is the Nile's gift.”

We drove through Cairo at dawn to catch the early flight to Aswan. The almost full moon was still up and the huge city just starting its frantic day. From the bus window I saw a woman in a burqa with a large box balanced on her head hail a bus and then climb on with the box still perfectly balanced. Several donkey carts merge in the not yet scary traffic carrying produce to market.

Aswan is a very different place. Although a city of 600,000, after Cairo it seems like a small town with a more relaxed pace. We go to see the high dam that changed life in Egypt from “before” to “after”. Our guide, Ashraf, always has two or more (often opposing) explanations for everything. The benefits of the high dam are that the Nile no longer floods every year, the water is regulated and electricity is generated for development and progress to modernize Egypt. The opposing reality is that the Nile no longer replenishes the scarce arable land that feeds Egypt so now chemical fertilizers are used, which wash into and pollute the Nile.

Then we go see the lovely temple of Isis on the island of Philae, which had to be moved after the dam was built to save it from being half submerged for half the year. A remarkable relocation of a 4th century BC temple for a lost goddess.

Oh yes. Also, hundreds of thousands of Nubians had to be relocated as their villages sank below Lake Nasser south of the high dam.

Hard choices for the people of Egypt with scarce natural resources and the desire we share for “a good life”: safety, security, the joy of seeing children and grandchildren thrive.

It makes me dizzy to see the monuments and artifacts of a highly developed culture spanning 5,000 years smack up tight against the forever-under-construction apartment buildings for the ever-increasing urban population.

It humbles me to hear the call to prayer and see men remove their shoes and prostrate themselves in prayer.

I am so thankful for the collective wisdom, kindness, and great good humor of my fellow pilgrims. They steady me.

We're having a wonderful times, truly. Wish you were here...

Posted by Pam Wiegandt