The Dome of the Rock, the Western Wall, and the Churches in Jerusalem: What Do They Have in Common?

In Jerusalem the number one business is tourism. Hotels and buses are filled with pilgrims anxious to see and touch Holy sites like the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or the Wailing Wall. There are more buses running around Jerusalem than you will see anywhere this side of Branson, Missouri.

dome rock

It is truly impressive to see the devotion that pilgrims have to their sacred sites. Millions of people come each year to insert written prayers into the Western Wall, and to pray earnestly as close to the site of the Second Temple of Jerusalem as they can. It is thought that being closer to the Temple is being closer to the presence of God, thereby putting prayers almost directly to the ear of God, where they will surely be heard. Orthodox Jews and devoted Christians come to the wall in hopes that the Lord will surely answer prayers delivered so close to His house.

dome wall

There is an interior passage on the other side of the wall where a special group of women pray daily, bringing their petitions before God with continual supplication. Their reverent whispers echo softly in the secret passage, flying up through stone walls on butterfly wings to the heavens. The women pray fervently at the wall, perhaps with a prayer-book or Scripture to guide them, or perhaps with eyes closed as their lips move in silent supplication. Unlike the outer wall, this sacred space is reserved for women who are committed prayer warriors locked in spiritual battle with grief or longing or darkness…

dome women

Out and above the wall on Dome of the Rock, access is also limited. The Dome Mosque was built in the 700’s on TOP of the old Temple site, and is restricted these days to almost all “outsiders”. Only Muslims are allowed there, and there are guards at every entrance to keep tourists and non-Muslims from looking into the Dome. It is considered holy by the Muslim faith because it houses the rock where creation originally occurred; it is also where Mohammed allegedly rose to heaven with Gabriel, and where he went to pray (in a story very similar to the Transfiguration) with Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Westerners and Christians have been kept out of the Mosque for almost two decades, and Jews do not enter the Dome because it is a violation of Jewish law. There was an opening where a door was being repaired when we walked by the Dome, and the guard hurried out to move us away from the entrance lest we see inside.

dome guard

A group of women sat in the doorway and gave us dirty looks as we tried to catch a glimpse of what was inside, but alas! The religion of peace apparently doesn’t want outsiders. Their zealous devotion has created a shield around the Mosque…

At Churches and Christian holy sites, the devotion is also amazing. Pilgrims kiss the stones where Jesus may have been killed or prepared for burial, and the stations of the cross along the Via Dolorosa are venerated by the followers of Christ. People come from all over the world to lay prostrate, to reach and touch, and to experience the thrill of walking perhaps where Abraham or Jesus walked. The religious fervor and devotion of these pilgrims is touching and inspiring. (Interestingly, it was matched on our trip only by the curiosity and desire of celebrity-seekers who were trying to see Prince William up close!) But as I watched all of this devotion directed at holy sites and sacred places, I wondered if it was not perhaps the teeniest bit misdirected…

Matthew 28:5 “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

For me the truth in the Holy Land was not about the many amazing places we visited, or in the archaeological tells, or in the Church of the Nativity or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher; I appreciate the tradition behind those sites and the fervor with which people respond to them. But for me, in thinking of the Living God who said, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly” I couldn’t find spiritual excitement in rocks, or walls, or Domes nearly as much as I found it in an empty space…

dome tomb

Reflection After the Wailing Wall Upon an Empty Space

Prayers are offered at the wall by Saints and Rabbis lifted high
In supplications large and small, regardless of the passers-by…
There a Rabbi bobs his head and there a tourist walks around,
While holy prayers are being said with passion on this holy ground.
Will Yahweh in His heaven hear as saints and Pilgrims seek this place?
And will they know that God came near, and offers peace? And love. And grace.
The Dome above the Temple rock is covered up with sheets of gold,
While guards at every entrance block all touring pilgrims, young and old…
And pilgrims come here every day to see these holy, sacred sites,
To look and see, to kneel and pray, to replicate religious rites!
When in Bethlehem we trod, in Churches, or in Galilee,
I wondered: does the living God reside in things that we can see?
We saw another wall of stone that opened to a burial room
And stood within it, all alone, Rejoicing in the empty tomb!

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