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“Who would you be if you weren’t who you are now?”

That question and its variants has been going through my head these past several weeks. For all kinds of good reasons, everything in my BJ (before Jerusalem) work life has ended. There is nothing that I was doing to be creative or to make money that still exists today.

That is a very vulnerable place to be. It is also very exciting. It means that I have been handed a brand-new journal and have opened it to page 1, ready to write with a brand new pen. 

I bring to this new season of my life, to shift the metaphor, years of experience and history. In that sense, it is not a completely blank slate. That is only possible for a newborn. However, as I type this today, all the things that our culture values that identify a person, put them into someone else’s mental silo, are gone for me.

The test is to learn to rejoice more in “being” than in “doing.” When everything one has done is gone, then the true essence of one’s being is more likely to rise to the surface.

Sometimes, that rising is the dross that needs to be burned off. Sometimes, it is a clear diamond that was being forged under years of heavy pressure from surface forces. And sometimes, it is all still TBD (to be determined).

As I get up each day, no longer do many externals define my schedule. The time clock, the deadline, the must-check e-mails are mostly gone. Yet, I am not retired. I am simply in transition, on a threshhold, between what was and what is not yet revealed.

Exciting and terrifying. Stay tuned!

I wrote this poem last fall in the lobby of the lodge we were staying in. I have been tinkering with it and am now ready to share it with you all. I would love comments and constructive feedback, positive or negative! Thanks.


by Valerie E. Hess copyright 2017


Sitting in the lobby

With my fancy coffee and netbook,

Watching elderly tourists–

Soft bodies, canes—

Waiting to be called.

A delay is announced; the train will be late.

They settle in, getting to know fellow pilgrims better.

Comparing, contrasting lives, bragging a bit.

Like sheep,

They wait to be herded through beauty,

Eating the mouthfuls placed before them,

Sleeping where assigned.

Soon, some will do this in a care facility

But for now, their world can expand a bit more,

Like nearly worn-out elastic that still has a bit of hold in it.

New pictures to share! New stories to tell the folks back home

While they wait for the train

To glory.


It has been exactly one month and one day since we returned from our three-month stay in Jerusalem. We have been settling in, reconnecting with life here in this old house, and having visits from family and friends. There are some things I miss about Jerusalem, particularly the Redeemer Lutheran Church community and vibrancy of the Old City. There are things I don’t miss, such as the institutionalized violence, an underlying cantus firmus to life there right now.

One of the things that has continued to stay with me and is pertinent to this season of life we are in as we ask, seek and knock regarding next steps, is the doors in the Old City. The streets are dark and narrow in some parts and can be very crowded at times. When night falls, the shops are closed up behind metal doors, giving a feeling of gloom and desertion as the trash is very evident and only the cats are roaming the dark alleys. One of the things I learned, though, is that behind doors that seem very non-descript and unpromising, there may lie rich treasures. Whole worlds of beauty and vastness can open up behind some of these very small doors that are easy to miss in the hub-bub of lights and pilgrims and shopkeepers hawking their wares.

One example was the Hashimi Hotel, a door I had never even noticed until our friend, Susan, pointed it out to us. Almost hidden between two shops, its sign hung high amidst a confusing array of lights and goods for sale, she opened the narrow door and led us up a flight of stairs. Image result for hashimi hotelThere, a lovely hotel lobby appeared. Up the elevator another three flights and we were on a covered rooftop patio looking out over the Old City at night. It took my breath away! Who would have known that such an unremarkable doorway led to such beauty and delight?! (See

It really is a metaphor for my life right now, for anyone, really. What non-descript door have I been walking by that I may need to open? What treasures are waiting for me behind some out-of-the-way entrance I may miss amidst all the distractions of life back in this old house? What doors unpromising looking doors might lead to unexpected delights? I plan to check a few of them out in the days ahead.

Eighty-four nights. That is what we paid for at the Armenian Guest House at 36 Via Dolorosa, Jerusalem. For that money, we received a good room in a wonderful location from which to spend twelve weeks making memories, having experiences, and meeting new friends. And how does one put a price tag on those things?

Our final week has been spent saying good-bye to people, attending lectures, visiting favorite spots and discovering new ones, sometimes by accident! Last week, on a final trip over to the Israeli museum, we went right when we should have walked left. We ended up cutting through the rose garden at the Knesset. Minutes after John had just said we hadn’t seen any of the protests that happen regularly at the Knesset, we came to five foot wall above a protest. Soldiers and police were standing calmly by. The mostly woman soldiers were surprised to see us appear above them in the bushes. After ascertaining that we were not A problem and that we were indeed now going in the right direction to the museum, two soldiers helped me lower me down from the wall (John was fine on his own) and off we went.

This was in marked contrast to the afternoon sung Vespers at St. James Armenian Orthodox Church. Calm, cool, colorful, ethereal, it was a far cry from politics in Israel.












When we first arrived, it was cold, the last throes of winter. We are leaving in high heat, the beginning of summer. We experienced the first of the strawberries as well as apricots and now cherries in the markets. Tulips were starting to bloom when we arrived; roses and bougenvilla abound now.  

We experienced Ash Wednesday, Purim, Holy Week, Passover, Eastern and Western Easter, and the Night Ride of Mohammad. In between seasons, harvests and holidays, we experienced great beauty, breathtaking wonders, broad history, culture and art, good food, and fun times. We have also seen  firsthand the institutionalized violence in action and an occupational system that is “painting itself into a corner” of failure.












Tomorrow, after we leave the Guest House that has been home for so many weeks, we will sight-see our way to the airport near Tel Aviv. There is still much to see in this Holy Land including a village that may have been Biblical Emmaus, a monastery famous for its wine, Herod’s ancient seaport, and a small town that has often been our “first night off the plane” resting place.

Eighty-four nights plus two spent in planes: a rich, rewarding time. Landing at home, God willing, on the Feast of St. Brendan the Navigator, the Irish saint who got into a “coracle without oars” to discover where God was leading, we will leave this place deeply satisfied and thankful. We, too, will look forward to seeing where our “coracle” ultimately lands.

Shalom and good night!

Songs From the Places In Between
(after Rory Stewart)

by Valerie E. Hess c. 2017

Part V

Waking to church on a Sunday morning,
the Old City seems older.
Dark from shuttered store fronts,
the ancient stones seem to sag even more.
The garbage is more visible
against the green metal doors
silently protecting their treasures and trinkets.
A mourning dove drinks from a fetid puddle.
Sun and blue sky appear briefly
through an opening in the covered passageway.
A nun talks to a suitcase merchant,
open like an early bird waiting
for the sinuous line of pilgrims
who will soon wind their way
through the path of suffering,
adding their prayers to the appointed stations
whose stones have been made holy
by the prayers of many languages
who desperately need them to be authentic.
I climb upward,
slowly, silently,
and round the corner into the open plaza.
Blue sky, sun, white stones swept clean
welcome me
as the bells high above start ringing.
The valley of the shadow
has again been safely navigated. 

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