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Friday, October 9, 2015

"Where Jesus Prayed" (Danielle Shroyer)

TITLE: Where Jesus Prayed: Illuminating the Lord's Prayer in the Holy Land
AUTHOR: Danielle Shroyer
PUBLISHER: Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2015, (168 pages).

Many Christians know the Lord's Prayer. Many also recite it by heart each Sunday during Church services. What is so special about this prayer? Is there a context that can reveal the depths of the prayer? How did the early disciples anticipate the prayer? What about the environment where Jesus first taught the disciples how to pray? Believing that the environment itself presents profound opportunities to re-discover the truths and depths of the Lord's Prayer, author and pastor Danielle Shroyer took a 27 hour flight from Dallas to Jerusalem, spent two weeks in the Holy Land, by walking where Jesus walked, and prayed where Jesus prayed. Apart from a profound renewal of the spirit and the refreshment of the soul, there are plenty of revelations about the Lord's Prayer. So amazing was her experience that while she did not intend to write anything like this before the journey, after the journey, the whole experience was so overwhelming that she simply had to write this book, to showcase the amazing pilgrimage of faith, and her interactions with fellow pilgrims. Above all, it is a book that describes how she personally enjoyed God.

She begins at Tiberias, at the cliffs of Arbel being moved not to words but to silence as she gazes at the horizons of Galilee, which reminds her of how Jesus begins his prayer with awe and wonder: "Our Father, which art in heaven." Thoughts on "Hallowed be Thy Name" feels different than normal. It teaches her to be captivated by God's presence more than being engrossed with God's presents. Some of us repeat the Lord's prayer like a meaningless and repetitive ritual. Somehow, the glimpsing of the terrain at the Holy Land tells the pastor-author of Dallas's Journey Church, that there is more than meets the prayer.The land, the sights, the atmosphere has that strange aura of mystery that brings together the senses of sight, sound, touch, smell, taste, and wonder. Even the air molecules have a certain fullness in them to be experienced in order to be believed. At the house Church of St Peters in Capernaum, Shroyer reflects on the very place Jesus went to when John the Baptist was arrested. Far from the city, this "hometown of Jesus" reminds the author of "Give us this day" and the simple lifestyle of the rural town. Asking for this one day to be received with gratitude, one learns before the petition to be grateful for whatever that already had been given: The day. At the seven springs, also known as Tabgha, the author experiences peace, quietness, and fullness. Even when we come to the place feeling empty and hungry, like the feeding of the 4000 there is a kind of feeding at that place that leads to joy overflowing, just like the basketfuls of leftovers. At the Church of the Beatitudes, she thinks of "Thy kingdom comes" as she marvels at the landscaped grounds, the octagonal designs, and especially the restricted places that mark out areas where visitors are not to step into. It brings to mind the series of beatitudes that expresses both "openness and tension." At the Church of St Peter's Primary which is built near the shorelines where Jesus had breakfast with his disciples after the Resurrection, it symbolizes the place of redemption, where Peter was reinstated. The prayer "On earth as it is in heaven" brings about heavenly blessings on earthy grounds. While the Lord's Prayer is also seen as a prayer of petition, it is more about holy structuring of the way we ask. If Jesus' time on earth is about bringing heaven to earth, we are called to continue in this ministry.

When looking out the window of a sanctuary at Duc in Altrum, Shroyer observes the eight pillars, each symbolizing a named woman in the Gospels. The eighth one was left unmarked to represent all the women who served Jesus in the Church. It was such a tangible moment that leaves the author mesmerized by the way it brings together the community of women. Extrapolating from this, she thinks about the Lord's Prayer being a communal prayer, with an emphasis on "us." At the Western entrance of the Jezreel Valley of Lower Galilee is the city of Mount Megiddo. It boasts as a place having 26 layers of occupation. It has a rich history of of takeovers and occupations by various forces. It is a powerful glimpse into the past, leading Shroyer to think about forgiving others, as others had forgiven us. Caesarea Maritima in Judea was a primary administrative center under Caesar Augustus, which was also where Pontius Pilate chose to make his home. A significant place mentioned in the book of Acts, it was also a place where Origen wrote many of his theological works. Shroyer looks at the role of the early church and ponders about the way Church had adapted over the years. With the Lord's Prayer that ends with "Forever and ever, amen," it becomes a fascinating opportunity to imagine how the Church will become toward the end. Other significant places in the book are Bethesda, Bethlehem, Gethsemane, and of course Jerusalem. At the end of the book is  brief guide to the stations of the cross, also known as the Via Dolorosa.

Through Shroyer's very personal journal and sharing of the spiritual significance of each place in itself is an enticing invitation for readers to visit the Holy Land for themselves. I like the way each place is described at the beginning of each chapter. It helps bring historical contexts and the cultural significance of that day. At the same time, it readies the readers to anticipate the revelation of things to come. The biblical passages selected to parallel the descriptions of place enable readers to see the biblical importance. The places look foreign to readers who have never been to Israel, but with this book, we have a guide to help us navigate the geography and terrain of the places where Jesus walked and ministered in. With a keen eye on the Lord's Prayer, Shroyer weaves in her spiritual discoveries with the overall praying process. As I ponder about the way the Lord's Prayer can be so powerfully infused in the historical places in the Holy Land, I think about the many opportunities available to us in other ways. We can learn to extrapolate the experiences in the Middle East to the rest of the world. With the link between place and prayer, we can learn to appreciate the places we frequent and to pray with the eyes of Jesus, to be creative in pondering over the following questions:
  • Where would Jesus walk if he is in this place today?
  • How would Jesus pray when in my particular situation?
  • In what manner can the Lord's Prayer inform us in praying for our land?
"Where Jesus Prayed" is no ordinary book. It is a book soaked in appreciation for the rich history the Holy Land carries. It is a glimpse of how Jesus had lived, how he ministered, and what prompted him to pray like he did. While tour books and guide magazines can give us highlights of each tourist attraction, it takes a person with a spiritual awareness in order to look beyond the sights and listen beyond the sounds. This book does exactly that, and I would strongly recommend that Christians wanting to do a pilgrimage at the Holy Land, bring along with them two books. The first is Charles Dyer and Gregory Hatteberg's "The Christian Traveler's Guide to the Holy Land." The second is this book by Danielle Stroyer.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Paraclete Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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