After more than 24 hours of travel time from Jerusalem to Jackson, I'm back home from a two week pilgrimage in Israel. I expect that it will take a lot of time for me to process the experience.
The Holy Land is strikingly beautiful. I was particularly mesmerized by the Sea of Galilee. And traveling through the Judean wilderness was like being on the moon. Jerusalem is frantic, with throngs of people crowding the holy sites, including people doing everything they can to make a buck. Even just feet from the Western Wall, you're likely to get hit up for money. Everywhere we went, I was struck by beauty, paradox, and contradiction.
It was interesting that so few of our fellow pilgrims were English-speaking. We were definitely in the minority, being outnumbered by people from eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia, and Italy. I take this as yet another sign that the "center of gravity" for Christianity is shifting more and more away from North American and Western Europe.
Being an introvert in the midst of the clamoring masses, and also being a bit skeptical of some of the claims made about certain holy sites ("This is exactly where it happened!"), I often found it challenging to simply be present and receptive to the Spirit. Frankly, I was envious of the pilgrims from other countries who could so readily fall to their knees, prostrating themselves and sometimes weeping in the presence of the holy. I received much help when one of my fellow pilgrims shared these lines from T. S. Eliot's "Little Gidding" with the group:
You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
Or carry report. You are here to kneel
Where prayer has been valid.
Another of my colleagues put it this way: "It may not have happened right here, but you could probably see it happening from here."
Over the coming days and weeks, I'll post more pictures.