The first time I went to St. Anne's Church was 3 years ago when I was in Jerusalem for a travel seminar. Our group visited and sang there together. After the group sang, we had some time to look around. As I was walking around the church, from within me the Ave Maria started pouring out, first as a gentle trickle, but by the end there was a stream of song gushing out of me. It wasn't really a conscious decision to sing; it just happened. After that I knew I'd be back to St. Anne's.
The next time I went was a few days later. Our group had some free time, so I went by myself. This time my goal was to sing the Ave Maria especially for my grandma. When I got there, there were groups coming in and out. I waited until I was completely alone, so there would be no distractions from singing my heart out. When the church was finally completely still and quiet, I closed my eyes and sang. And I did sing my heart out. When I finished I was surprised to be overcome with emotion and started crying. A group had come in while I was singing, Italians, I think, because one came over to me, took my hands in his, looked into my eyes and said, "Grazie." Then I really lost it. I wasn't really sure why I was crying. It was cathartic, I guess. The journey through Israel and Palestine had been incredibly intense and so as I released everything I'd experienced through my singing, I guess my eyes also let loose. I sat in the church until I thought I had pulled myself together, sang again, since I happened to be alone again, and then went outside. There I ran into a priest. He asked if I was the one who had been singing. As I said yes, I found myself crying all over again. Through the tears I said I'd been singing for my grandmother.
"Is she sick?" he asked me.
"No," I sobbed, "she's fine." He looked a little confused, but continued to engage me in conversation until I was no longer crying. After talking awhile we each went on our way.
When I arrived in Jerusalem a few weeks ago, one of the first places I went was St. Anne's. I sat in the church for a long time, listening to groups sing. Eventually I also sang. I lit a few candles for some friends. I felt at peace.
Though I've only been here for a few weeks, mostly in Nablus, I've already been to St. Anne's a number of times. I feel pulled there. I've stayed there for an hour or so and I've gone in for just a few minutes. Usually I sing, but not always. Regardless of how long I stay, regardless of whether I sing, each time I leave feeling a little lighter. I think I'll be visiting St. Anne's many more times before I go...