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Where Jesus Prayed: Illuminating the Lord’s Prayer In the Holy Land

By Danielle Shroyer

Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015

Review by Landrum P. Leavell III, ThD.

          This book was recommended to me by my friend and fellow bibliophile, David Wahlstedt. He figured I’d like it since I’ve had the opportunity to go to the Holy Land (which many in Israel are now calling “The Promising Land”) over a dozen times. Sixteen of the twenty sites she visited, I have visited numerous times and have given devotions at all of them to tour groups. I easily had an interest in the book, and came to find out that her story heaped a lot more meaning and depth to my own reflections on each waystation of her journey.

          Shroyer sojourned with other ministers for two weeks on the roads of the earliest Christians and millions since. Most of us know the feeling of living our lives with “every last corner of my life crammed with words.” She hoped the pilgrimage would afford “time to do less talking and more sensing, less thinking about ideas of God and more searching for the presence of God.” She wanted to keep her mind open, her head clear, and wanted to enjoy God.

          On her first full day, she hiked Mount Arbel (great story of this place-look it up). Perched on a rock, it seemed fitting to pray The Lord’s Prayer. Later that day, while visiting the church at Capernaum, gazing into the house thought to have been inhabited by Peter, it seemed fitting again to pray The Prayer. Yet it felt different in this place. Immersed in a sense of place, she noticed the prayer coming to life in ways distinct from what she felt at home or church. Shroyer decided rather unconsciously that she would pray this way in every church she would visit. She wrote, “So I began a rhythm of entering a sanctuary, anointing myself with holy water, finding a seat and some silence, and praying the words of Jesus, over and over and over again.” (ix)

              And with that Shroyer takes you with her on her journey, beginning with Mount Arbel in Galilee, to The Church at St. Peter’s House in Capernaum, The Church of Multiplication, The Church of the Beatitudes, and The Church of St. Peter’s Primacy at Tabgha, Caesarea Philippi/Banias, the Sea of Galilee, Magdala, The Basilica of the Annunciation and The Church of St Joseph in Nazareth, Megiddo, Caesarea Maritima, The Mount of Olives, The Church of All Nations, The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, the Via Dolorosa, and The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, The Church of St. Anne in Bethesda, The Church of the Nativity and the Shepherd’s Field in Bethlehem.

          To walk with her on this journey was refreshing, illuminating, and moving, whether you ever see the places in person or not. I’ll give some glimpses into her reflections:

The Mount of the Beatitudes—Jesus speaking to ordinary people. “Thy Kingdom come. For theirs is the kingdom. For Thine is the kingdom… It is their kingdom, because in them and revealed through them we see Your kingdom.” This echoes our prayers in Advent season, “Come, Lord Jesus,” and we know we mean more than at Christmas. “Come! And bring Your kingdom with You!” (25-6)

          Peter’s Primacy: Jesus left the disciples after breakfast. If He’d stayed around, they wouldn’t have had to start doing what He asked. “But those days are over, on purpose, because Jesus thinks it’s time for us to start walking. He’s still there, of course, every step of the way. But it’s time for us to get moving.” We pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. It is our turn.

          Caesarea Philippi: the place renowned for pagan worship and sacrifice for centuries, Jesus turned into a graveyard, a museum for an old way doing things. Nobody worships there any more. Jesus came to replace that old way, desiring mercy not sacrifice. “This is the Holy One of God, and He is putting an end to sacrifice, and in its place He is opening up the fullness of redemption and resurrection and re-creation.” (41)

          Magdala: This is a site currently being excavated, found several years ago, one that I have yet to see in person. A first-century synagogue, one of only seven in the country, has been unburied. The Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer, having the “language of family, of togetherness. This prayer is our family crest, our dining table. It is our family name.” This is the home of Mary Magdalene, reminding us of the many women in the story of God. The family of God feels so big, “because this story feels biggest when it’s at its most hospitable, most open, most invitational. The gospel is an ironic upside-down funnel, where making room for the least of these opens the story absolutely everyone else.” (55-6)

          Church of the Holy Sepulchre: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is maintained by four branches of Christianity: Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Armenian, and Ethiopian/Coptic. Over the years, these branches have not always shared easily or well. Not being able to agree as to the privileges each group holds and to ensure cooperation, many years ago a Muslim family in Jerusalem was given the key to the church as well as the responsibilities of opening and closing it each day. Nice testimony!

          “Forgive us our trespasses.” These words in this space hold worlds within them. “Forgive us, God. We are an absolute mess. Even, especially in this space, we have no idea how to honor You, make sense of our lives, share freely with one another, or walk humbly with You, our God. We cannot even manage the keys to this place of worship, warring children that we are. Suddenly, Jesus’ prayer for unity becomes poignant; whatever we are, we are not one. We are strained relatives. But we are not one.” (117)

          These snapshots of various Holy Land sites and the glimpses of Shroyer’s reflections hopefully elicit a hunger to read, listen in, and take your own journey, whether in person or prose, to the land of our Lord. I heartily recommend this book.