Where Jesus Prayed
Illuminating the Lord’s Prayer In The Holy Land
by Danielle Shroyer
“Being there matters.” By that I mean, there is a vast difference between reading or hearing about a person, place or thing and actually being on location to experience them. Most people have lived out this truth to some degree. Perhaps it is finally hearing a favorite musical group in a live performance, or seeing the mountains “up close and personal” that brings home the startling difference between virtual and experiential reality. For some, traveling to the country of their national origin “matters” enough to allow them to make their family story real and bring the history and richness of their cultural traditions to life. For others, being able to set foot in the land of their spiritual heritage “matters”. For Danielle Shroyer, the author of Where Jesus Prayed, published in 2015 by Paraclete Press, making a trip to the Holy Land mattered. To be in the places where Jesus lived, taught and healed became a life enriching spiritual pilgrimage for her.
Shroyer, Theologian-In-Residence at Journey Church in Dallas, Texas, and author of The Boundary Breaking God: An Unfolding Story of Hope and Promise(2009), went to the Holy Land with a cohort of pastors. She says she “did not travel to the Holy Land with any intention of writing a book about it…I hoped the pilgrimage would afford me time to do less talking and more sensing, less thinking about ideas of God and more searching for the presence of God.”
As the cohort began their pilgrimage, Shroyer found that the Lord’s Prayer came to her mind as they moved from place to place. “I decided, rather unconsciously, that I would pray [the Lord’s Prayer] in every church in which I found myself over the next two weeks…I could not have known at the beginning what a powerful practice this would be…”
To her surprise, less than a day after returning from her trip Shroyer began writing her thoughts about the pilgrimage. What resulted is her distinctive collection of meditations on twenty locations in and around Galilee and Jerusalem, nineteen of which were influenced by some portion of the Lord’s Prayer.
Shroyer does not take a regimented, phrase-by-phrase approach in applying the Lord’s Prayer to each site visited, but as she spent time in each locale she prayed, and allowed the architecture, the air and sea, the roads, the crowds to carry thoughts of the life of Jesus into her prayer time. At some point a word or phrase from the Lord’s Prayer would become prominent and she would meditate upon it. For instance, at Tabgha and the Church of the Multiplication, where the feeding of the five thousand may have occurred, Shroyer writes about the phrase “our daily bread.” Here is a short portion of that spiritual reading:
“At Tabgha, twelve disciples and hundreds of disciples-in-the-making realized that Jesus was their manna. They realized that Jesus was the place Where emptiness became fullness. And every pilgrim who has come to Tabgha since has sought the same thing, hoped for the same miracle. Tabgha, the place where we realize our emptiness is just fullness waiting to happen. That’s what comes of placing it before this person Jesus… We’re with Jesus. And with Jesus, emptiness is just fullness waiting to happen…He makes emptiness into fullness. Only the Bread of Life can do that.”
Shroyer also sets the stage for her readings by providing helpful historical notes about the locations. My favorite among these are the notes on Magdala, the city from which Mary Magdalene came. According to Shroyer’s introductory notes, archeologists had been digging for Magdala with little success until 2009, when a routine sweep by the Israel Antiquities Authority of an area slated for development found a large stone replica of the temple under a water pipe, just twenty inches under the surface.
“The current site, which is intended to be a hotel for pilgrims and a place of worship specifically meant to remember the place of women in Jesus’ ministry, is, at the time of this writing, still in the process of being built. The church was dedicated in May 2014 and was blessed by Pope Francis, while the hotel, women’s center, multimedia center, and the crypt/ecumenical chapel are still underway.”
The word from the Lord’s Prayer that came to be the focal point of Magdala was “us.” Here is part of that meditation:
“The Lord’s Prayer is a communal prayer… This prayer is our family crest, our dining table…I cannot explain to you why, in a place set aside to remember the forgotten ‘us’ that is women in the story of God, the family of God felt so big. I can only venture to say it’s because the 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 up to absolutely everyone else… These women, mostly unnamed, who walked with Jesus and financially supported the work of Jesus and fed Jesus and watched their sons leave their homes to follow Jesus and stood underneath the cross when even his most ardent disciples had deserted him, these women have forged a mighty ‘us’…They have lived for the beauty of the gospel story.”
As Shroyer’s cohort walked through the unfinished church at Magdala, the guide showed them a domed atrium made up of eight pillars. Seven of the pillars were named for women in the gospels. The guide showed them the eighth pillar and said,
“This pillar is unmarked to represent all the women throughout time who have followed Jesus, and all the women who lived to minister to his church.” Shroyer wrote this after she heard the guide’s explanation of the eighth pillar: “In that moment I was given a tangible place in this pilgrimage, a direct, physical way that my own story connects and intersects with the work of Christ, and the ministry of all the women who have come before me, and who will follow.”
There is a lot to take from Danielle Shroyer’s Where Jesus Prayed. As I read through the book there were meditations that would be beautiful to share for Advent and Lent, and one especially fitting for Christmas. All of these wonderful devotions were drawn from the Lord’s Prayer, which was made particularly full and rich because of the locations in the Holy Land where Shroyer prayed that ancient and beloved prayer. I think Ms. Shroyer would agree, that being in the Holy Land mattered to her, and now through her, for those of us who read Where Jesus Prayed, it also matters to us.