Since the earliest times, people have ascribed sacred significance to certain places. Such places—whether human made or naturally occurring—typically inspire awe, and often invoke devotion and respect. Not surprisingly many of these places are revered and well known. There are some places, however, that are less known, even hidden. They await discovery. Here I pay homage to a place that has sacred meaning for me.
In Jerusalem, at the heart of the Old City is a large open-air plaza. Tens of thousands of people—pilgrims, worshipers, and tourists—come here every day. Today, Wednesday, April 21, 2010, I join their number.
Standing on the plaza, I look to the Western Wall at the far end. I think about the Wall’s sacredness. How Herod the Great had it built in 19 BC to enclose and support the Second Temple. About the destruction of the temple a few decades later and how Jews now gather here, and have done so for centuries, to lament the loss of the temple, and pray for its return. As I hear the worshippers’ lamentations emanating from near the wall, I understand the Wailing Wall.
Crossing the plaza, I approach the Wall. Looking up at it strains my neck. Just think, I say to myself, what I see is an eighth of the Wall’s original length of 1600 feet. What would my neck feel like looking at a wall that size?
Limestone blocks, each atop and beside another, comprise the wall. Most weigh between 2 to 7 tons. A few weigh more. One weighs over 500 tons. All have carefully-chiseled borders. At the margin, the border of each block measures between 2 to 8 inches wide and one half-inch deep, a subtle tribute to the wall builders’ skills.
Closer, a large open area abutting the Western Wall functions as an open-air synagogue. It is a site of constant prayers by worshippers, and has been for centuries. Per tradition, a long wooden fence separates men from women. Undeterred, people stand on chairs to watch the happenings on the other side.
A hundred, probably more, mostly bearded, mostly black-frocked men, each wearing a hat, wait in line for a turn to pray at the wall. Donning a hat, I, beardless and in blue jeans, get in line with them. As I do, my right hand touches the slip of paper in my right pants pocket.
The paper has been with me for eight days. Since the taxi ride to the airport in Atlanta, on the plane trip to Tel Aviv, while conducting business in Tel Aviv, on the plane trip to Istanbul for more business, then to Jerusalem, again for business, and now here at the Wall, as I stand in line to pray. Before leaving Atlanta, while prepping for the trip, I read that worshipers stuff pieces of paper with prayers on them into the Wall’s crack. That weekly, prayers are gathered and buried in a 2,000-year-old cemetery on the Mount of Olives. I understand that, at the Wall, every prayer is an eternal prayer.
Squeezing the paper, I give thanks for the tradition of prayers in the cracks of the Wall. Then, when my turn comes, I step up to the Wall. Its ancient massiveness humbles me. I take the piece of paper from my pocket. Fold it in half. Then fold it in half again. Facing the Wall, leaning in, my face touching limestone, I reach up high. Getting up on my tiptoes, I reach higher still. There, in a crack, beside a clump of grass growing from the wall, very carefully I place the paper in the crack.
Pushing it, as far as I possibly can push it into the crack, I feel the universe accept my prayer. It connects with me. I am at peace, whole, and complete. My tiptoes relax, arms come down, and I lean away from the Wall.
Walking along the Wall, pieces of paper are in its every crack, I think about the thousands and thousands of prayers offered here and the people who offered them. I hope with all my heart that when they walked away they knew, like I know, that our prayers are in God’s hands. Departing the wall, I leave my prayer, there, resting in those hands.
Now, looking back, I understand that none of us are supposed to walk a solitary and lonely path. God walks with us. He reveals many paths, some less travelled, to the same destination. And he gives us the power to attract people to walk with us as we do the work that he desires us to do. I have come to learn that as I do my work, answers to my prayers often are more about what I need rather than expect or want. Knowing that I am not alone, I have capacity to courageously accept what comes my way.
That day my reason for stepping up to the Wall was a very dear person, our love, and my destiny. The long coming and quite unanticipated answer to the prayer that I put on a piece of paper to stick in the Wall, requires that I face my demons, eliminate barriers, and overcome adversities. That now is the time I must step up to my destiny, and do so, trusting that the intended way forward will find me. And know that when fear and doubts arise, the Wall is there for me.
Each of our lives offers us many reasons to step up to the Wall. What are yours? Is today the day?
Note: This is the third post in the Sacred Places series. Please click the subscribe button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.