Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Trip For The Ages

My wife and I recently concluded a group trip to Israel that was remarkable in this sense: I’ve never visited any other place that was so dense in human history, so diverse in language, culture, and religion, and so determinative in the origins of my own Christian faith. Too, I have never been in a land where such a perceptible spiritual presence was always hovering, unobtrusive but always there for the taking, like a refreshing, restorative breath of mountain air. It truly was a trip for the ages, and I’ll be grateful for the rest of my earthly days that I could walk where Jesus walked (even with my still floppy foot from recent back surgery).

For those of you who have yet to visit the Holy Land, nothing I could write here could adequately describe the experience in actually viewing what one has read about, been taught, and seen in pictures since childhood. I suppose it’s a bit like seeing for the first time your own newborn baby—its effects are profoundly affecting and indescribable, and only when experiencing it for yourself do you then begin to comprehend its significance. Such was my visit to Israel.

My pastor son was a co-host, together with another talented young American pastor. Our Israeli host was steeped in the history of Israel and added richness and texture with his explanations of Jewish culture and tradition. My son had a gift of providing just the right words of his own with exactly the right verse of scripture to provide context and illumination to the sites we visited.

There were many highlights, and these are but a few:

• Saying a prayer at the Western Wall (that’s me in red in the photo, hardly an Orthodox look). The 2,000-year-old Wall was itself not part of the ancient Temple, but instead a massive retaining wall. I also placed a prayer on a slip of paper into a crack between the massive stones. Jewish custom holds that as soon as the paper touches the Wall, the prayer is sent. The cracks are cleared of the written prayers several times a year, and buried with reverence in a Jewish cemetery.
• Looking out at the Sea of Galilee, hearing the water lapping at the rocks on shore, breathing the air, hearing the birds, and seeing the same surrounding hills that Jesus saw so often, along with Peter and the other disciples.
• Looking over at Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, across the Kidron Valley, at the Temple Mount, the Lions’ Gate, and the surrounding Old City. It is firmly fixed in my mind as the single most grand and moving geographical sight I have ever before witnessed. I could have stood there for a week, contemplating its significance, its idiosyncratic (and sometimes competing) vibes of both reverence and tension, even its uniquely complex and sprawling beauty. As well, the nearby Garden of Gethsemane is equally mesmerizing in its own quiet way.
• Visiting an old synagogue in Nazareth where the stones on the floor and walls dated to the time of Jesus. He was here, I kept thinking. He played on these stones as a child. He listened to and was taught by the rabbis here. When my son read from Luke 4: 16-31, where Jesus had returned to this same small building as a minister in his own right, I’m quite certain the hair on my arms stood up. He is here, I now thought. It may have been the singular most powerful moment of the trip for me.
• Taking communion at the Garden Tomb. An empty ancient tomb, Golgotha “the place of the skull,” and the remembrance not only of a crucifixion, but also the celebration of a resurrection that forever changed the world. And me along with it.

What an experience. What a trip. Writing this makes me want to go again.

Shalom, y’all.

1 comment:

  1. It would be a thrill to see the Holy Land indeed! I am sure that there will be many experiences you will carry with you for years to come. Maybe some threads of thought for a new book?