Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Final Reflections on Holy Land Pilgrimage

A wall trivet to remember the trip
Even with 19 blog posts to cover only 12 days of Holy Land travel, much more could be said about history, politics, culture, and the appropriate restroom facilities for ancient holy sites (hint -- soap and toilet paper are always good).  I want to end, however, with just a few reflections about being on this particular pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Iyad passing out maps upon our arrival (Jane photo)
First, we were blessed with a wonderful guide, Iyad Qumri.  I would recommend his tours to anyone.  He does his work with excellence, so he has associates ("cousins" in local Palestinian parlance) who also do their work with excellence.  With his orchestration we got where we needed to be, had appropriate accommodations and meals, and had whatever opportunities we were willing to take advantage of.  More importantly, he knew both his land and the scriptures.  Whether driving around on the bus or stopping at a particular site, he could weave together where we were with what happened in the Bible and the layers of history that had occurred since.  His hospitality and sense of humor were both gifts.

Outside Hadrian's Gate (Jane Photo)
Even more importantly for a successful pilgrimage was the quality of the group traveling together, and we had a phenomenal group.  Rarely have I been with twenty-two other people and had everything go so well.  Certainly many of us had our idiosyncrasies, but we also were able to look out for one another on ancient, uneven stone steps and to encourage each other when the weather was particularly hot, the wake-up call particularly early, or the surroundings particularly unfamiliar.  Everyone also was incredibly respectful at various religious sites that required more modest dress than normal American summer casual, and that attitude allowed all of us a much deeper experience that an average tourist might find.  Through prayer, meals, and visiting sites together, we were able to bond into a real community.

My gift from Mike
Where our sense of community perhaps became most evident was the last night when Iyad invited us for supper at his home in Jericho.  Before dinner, we exchanged our prayer partner gifts.  Each of us had drawn the name of a someone we would pray for throughout the trip and buy a small gift for before we left.  As we took turns presenting our gifts, the bonds formed through the prayers were clear.  Our token presents had a love and a meaning behind them that would be taken home with us, often out of a forged connection with someone we hadn't met before the trip.  Experiencing this kind of intentional community is one of the most important parts of a pilgrimage, and intentionally living it on the trip hopefully makes it easier to create it when we get home.  Even the use of our various individual gifts and talents, whether reading and singing during prayer, pictures taken by the better photographers, or ice cream and other necessities found by our intrepid scouts, was all part of being the Body of Christ in an unfamiliar place.

Bishop Sean celebrating Eucharist at Emmaus (Jane photo)
I speak for all of us on the trip in thanking Bishop Sean for putting this pilgrimage together.  Going to Israel as a Diocese was part of his dream for our 100th Anniversary, and it was a blessing to be part of it.  His work with numerous logistical matters (including finding Iyad), made the trip both pleasant and profound.  He was particularly concerned that we got a balanced view of the political situation, and we were all blessed by his desire to drink from Jacob's well.  The trip would not have been able to be what it was without his spiritual leadership.

Finally, on a personal note, being in Israel with Jane was a great joy, and being able to share this experience will allow us to carry it together much more fully than we could have alone.  Having another set of eyes, ears, and perspectives was both helpful and enlightening.  Her Southern ability to make small talk with anyone created connections with people we met that wouldn't have happened otherwise.  Her photos are a great record of the experience, as well.  
Sailing together on the Sea of Galilee

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