From Monday, June 9th through Sunday, June 23rd my husband and I joined a group of pilgrims from the Episcopal Church in Connecticut to visit our Holy Land for the first time. I use the word “our” because it is a land that belongs to all of God’s people. While I have been home (a bit jet-lagged) for four days now, I am still coming to grips in my mind what I experienced and what I am going to do about it.
My expectations were simple: I wanted to walk in the places where Jesus and other people from scripture had been. I wanted this to be something other than a vacation to another part of the world, especially since we’ve travelled so much abroad in recent years. My expectations were rewarded, but they were also challenged, enlightened, troubled, comforted, and so much more. I went as an American Christian from the Episcopal tradition who happens to be from Connecticut and is a Christian educator. I returned the same, but different; more cognizant of the rights I have as an American citizen and a person who can freely worship (as well as travel) anywhere I choose. Not so for most of the people who call Israel/Palestine home. Jerusalem could be called the “center of the universe” for many faith traditions. Whose land is it? It’s complicated.
Over the next few days (and weeks and maybe months) I’ll be sharing some of my reflections here. I’ve been trying to categorize the many experiences one from the other, but they are all dependent on each other in some way. Three faiths: Christian, Jew, Moslem. Two nations: Israel, Palestine (with a lot of outside influence politically, including the United States). Many dimensions of a complex sociology: religious, political, historical, educational, and spiritual. Ethic and moral issues. Human rights. Identity. Power. Refugees. Walls and barbed wire. Resilience. The call to prayer was heard constantly, five times a day from a nearby minaret, wherever we were. God was always present.
Hopefully I’ll find the words to go along with the many photos we took to bring our experience to a wider audience. These are stories that need to be told and often an image says more than anything else. My part in this story is to be one of the voices for those who don’t have a voice – or at least whose voices are behind concrete walls. A taste of what I hope will come:
- Educationally (really formationally): how the scriptures came alive; how much of needs to be unlearned and relearned (Christmas pageants will never be the same)
- Politically: the illusion of security with walls, barbed wire, airspace, and check-points
- Institutionally: The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its institutions, including the Princess Basma Center for Disabled Children
- Theologically: the Old City divided and united; a city of three faith traditions at prayer side-by-side with daily life
- Spiritually: the Via Dolorosa and walking in the steps of Jesus; the Judean Desert;
- Historically: Roman, Byzantine, Crusades, and today
- Sociologically: resilience, identity, hopelessness, and hope – including Jerusalem Peace Builders and the residents of Taybeh (biblically, Ephraim)
- Ecologically: land, air, water, garbage