A Song of Ascents

I spent six weeks this semester in Israel on an incredible study abroad opportunity. Within that sentence dwell so many experiences and ideas and people that I am just beginning to process. I’m sure more about it will trickle out, especially this summer when I actually have time to sit down and think.

I wrote this poem on one of my last days there. There’s a collection of songs the Jews used to sing every year as they journeyed to Jerusalem for Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles. They’re called the Psalms of Ascent—Psalms 120-134—and they’re often subtitled “a song of ascent.” The last few days of my trip, I too journeyed to Jerusalem as part of a three-day hike from Emmaus (we slept in the little paradise town of Ein Karem each night, don’t be too impressed). We got up at 2:30 am on Palm Sunday and arrived in Jerusalem at dawn. It really is an ascent, a city on a hill you have to sweat and struggle to reach. When morning breaks over the Mount of Olives, though, it’s worth it.

The hike was a special pilgrimage comprised of Jews and Christians—Israelis, Palestinians, and foreigners like me—who were all preparing for our respective holy weeks. We talked about how both Pesach (Passover) and Easter start with oppression and end with an almost impossible deliverance. We shared a Shabbat dinner together, sang hymns together, and picnicked in the woods together. We talked about how what we were doing is a foretaste of the Messiah’s return (or first coming, if you’re a Jew). That’s what I felt united us most, this joyful but oh-so-distant expectation, this hope as we both faced the horizon that one day, one day, God will make all things new.

It’s a lot to take in, a lot to sift through. But like always, it helps me to summarize it in poem form, so here you go.

we pilgrimage and we practice,
sweat beading our foreheads like an anointing
we laugh beneath the shade of the fig tree
we break the bread, we pass the wine
we ask questions:
of each other, of ourselves 

we walk and we wonder,
rolling on our tongues the strange sweetness
of this unity, sweeter than date honey,
rarer than a summer stream
we ask questions:
of the hills, of the city 

we research and we rest,
cradled by the confines of Shabbat
like the birds in the palm trees,
we teach our souls to sing a new song
we ask questions:
of the ruins, of the future 

outside the temple gates
we wait and while
we wait, we feast
on salt and stories
together, we turn
our faces to the east
and sing:
David the king is alive
דוד מלך ישראל חי חי וקיים

my photo of the wall of Jerusalem’s Old City

3 responses to “A Song of Ascents”

  1. […] third was on our pilgrimage, yet another Shabbat evening. We Christians—composed of my American group, various priests and […]


  2. John Livingstone Avatar
    John Livingstone

    Loved the line “cradled by the confines of Shabbat”. Beautiful words. I look forward to hearing you process more this summer. Ma Livingstone

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Judith Pierce Livingstone Avatar
    Judith Pierce Livingstone

    Dearest Abby,

    This is so beautiful that I am in tears. I am SO THANKFUL that you had that experience. How I would love to do the same!

    All my love,


    Liked by 1 person

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