For The Someday Book

Pilgrimage: Day One

Posted on: January 27, 2012

Most of our Macedonian Ministries group at the Louisville airport.

We have arrived! We travelled from Louisville to Newark, then from Newark to Tel Aviv. At the airport in Tel Aviv, our tour bus picked us up for a two-hour bus ride to the Sea of Galilee. From home to hotel, my travel time was exactly 25 hours, and we crossed seven time zones. We are staying at the Pilgerhaus, which is on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee, just yards from the shore and north of the city of Tiberias. We arrived after dark, so I have not yet seen the view.

Apartment buildings on hillside. These kind of apartment buildings are everywhere, especially in cities and Jewish territories. They were built to house all the immigrants arriving to Israel from around the world.

Traveling, for me, is both terrible and terrific. Airplane seats are tiny and cramped, the food was awful, and I slept less than an hour on the 11-hour overnight flight. My body is stiff, sore and exhausted. And yet, I watched three movies in a row, read books galore, and had lots of time to simply sit back and think and pray myself into pilgrimage. Hours in transit offer a liminality that helps disconnect me from ordinary life at home and enter into a different mode of being. In airports and airplanes, you are in a time out of time, no longer certain of the date or even whether it is day or night—yet somehow, when you arrive, after a good night’s sleep you are refreshed and ready to begin anew.

Preparing my heart for pilgrimage made me appreciate the sight of a beautiful rainbow as a true gift from God.

Speaking of books, any of you who know me (or have ever surfed this blog) will know that books are very important to me. This is especially true when I travel. Here are the books I am traveling with:

Two books about pilgrimage, to set me right for this special journey:

The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau

Sacred Travels: Recovering the Ancient Practices of Pilgrimage by Christian George

Two books about the life of Jesus, to put me in touch with the places we’ll visit:

Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary by Marcus Borg

Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, by John Dominic Crossan

Two books for fun on the plane:

Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans

Rudy, by Ann Hood

I also have my Bible, a notebook, and a travel guide prepared by the Macedonian Ministries Program, unique to this trip and the sites we will explore.

On the plane, I read the first several chapters of both books about pilgrimage. Both spoke to me deeply about the sacred longing that pulls us into a pilgrimage. They also reminded me of the hardships and struggles of earlier generations of pilgrims of all faiths, who traveled on foot for years, faced disease and starvation, and death along the way. Twenty-five hours on a plane is a small price to pay, and physical discomfort is part of the process.

View of the Jezreel Valley, looking south toward Jenin

On the ride from the airport to our hotel, I began to get a sense of the land for the first time. It is the rainy season, so everything is green and lush for a short while. However, the hillsides are thick with stones, craggy boulders that made the land ill-suited for house or farm. One of my colleagues commented, “It sure doesn’t look like the land of milk and honey.”

View of the Jezreel Valley toward the north. This actually does look a bit more like the land of milk and honey, but the surrounding hillsides do not.

It was raining for part of our journey, and I watched the muddy water running off the hills without soaking the soil, channeled instead into gulleys and pathways. I imagined it rushing away to a safe location, where it would wait and return to the land again through the irrigation system that will make food for the people all year. Water makes life in the desert. Living water.

Can you find the guy on horseback in the parking lot?

One of the things that surprised me was the abundance of animals I saw on our short journey. Before we had even made it far from the airport, I looked out the window to see a flock of sheep and goats wandering through a green valley. I didn’t see a shepherd in sight, but it was as if every scripture of sheep in the Galilee, from Psalm 23 to Jesus’ parables, had all come to pass before my eyes. I confess: it was such a stereotype that, rather than a sense of awe, it just made me giggle. Besides the sheep, we saw a man riding a horse through a parking lot, and a field full of camels dancing and prancing around, including a baby one that was all white.

Not a great picture, because it was through the bus window, moving fast. But look, frolicking camels! Even a baby all-white one!

Already, the overlapping of the distant, mythical past and the modern, urban life of Israel are ever-present in my experience. I saw sheep and camels, biblical places like Nazareth, Mt. Carmel and Mt. Tabor, but I also saw the Security Wall closing off the Palestinian territories. I saw Jewish settlements, and kids playing soccer, and families walking to Shabbat services at sunset. We got stuck in traffic due to a six-car pile-up, and watched the ambulances try to get through. We drove along the edge of the West Bank and saw the battling Palestinian and Jewish architecture in local villages. This clash between past and present, the simultaneous presence of mythical places and all-too-real ones will, I expect, continue to shape my understandings and experiences here.

A Palestinian village in the West Bank, with Jewish settlements. Our tour guide Claudia explained that the flat-roofed houses are Palestinian or Arab, because they always plan to expand and add another level for each new generation. The red roofed houses are Jewish, because they build in a more Western style single-family home. You could then see, as we drove along parallel to the West Bank territory, the Palestinian villages with their minarets, and the Jewish homes built right next to them.

The journey has only just begun. The day has been long and arduous, but this is as it should be. Now, to rest.

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About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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