Stories from the Holy Land Pilgrimage, part 2

A group of more than thirty Episcopalians from Connecticut (as well as a few family members from other states) were on pilgrimage in Israel-Palestine during the middle of June. With their pilgrimage over, here are a few more stories and impressions from the trip.

A Lamb Himself

Sitting on a stone in the desert watching the sunrise was amazing! The vastness of open land was spectacular. Sitting in silence, the sounds and sights of nature prevailed. Birds above, the donkey grazing on the hillside crossing right in front of me and the sheep voices in the distance. 

Late that same day we saw two young boys, one with a lamb around his neck. As I asked to take a picture, one of them put the lamb around my shoulders. Many times the vision of Jesus as a lamb himself (the Lamb of God) and as the Good Shepherd. Jesus asks his disciples to be the keepers of his sheep. It reminds me that we too as followers of Christ are invited to be shepherds to others. (Joanne Halstead)

Places of the Spirit

We left Jerusalem before dawn to get to the Wadi Qelt in the Judean desert, before sunrise. We began with prayer at a small outdoor gathering place, and said together Psalm 23. Bishop Laura invited us to go off by ourselves and then re-gather for Eucharist in 40 minutes; one of the possibilities she mentioned as a point of meditation was the psalm. 

So I walked to the top of the hill (just at sun-up) about half a mile away, and prayed the psalm. Iyad our guide had pointed out Mt. Temptation on the horizon a few miles away where the tradition has that Jesus was tempted by the devil. As I thought about the psalm in that light, I thought that the still waters and the green pastures that God leads us to aren’t literal; they’re places of the spirit. Obviously this isn’t an original thought. But in the context of Jesus’ suffering and temptation, it was in my mind that peace we find in God infinitely surpasses anything this world can throw at us. Again, not an original thought, but I don’t care. This experience will stay with me. (Jack Gilpin)

Walls and Doors

As we drive through the West Bank, viewing the litter and junked cars, I hear a constant buzz of conversation about things that could be done: a recycling program for all the single use plastic, sheet metal recovery, etc. Based on wha I have seen, if I were a Palestinian I wouldn’t give any material effort to make things appear better. They are essentially prisoners in their own land. Israelis are taking over all the prime property in the occupied territories under the premise that God said that this was their place in the world. 

As I think about this I am reminded of lyrics from a Jackson Browne song, “Walls and Doors”:

Ever since the world existed
There is one thing that is certain
There are those that build walls
And those who open doors.
That’s how it’s always been
And I know you know it
There can be freedom only
When nobody owns it. 

I feel that the risk of other countries being perceived as anti-Semitic is being used very cleverly by the State of Israel. If we speak out against the injustices being done to Palestinians by Israel’s government, we would be against the Jewish faith and people. Can it be that the Holocaust suffering is being indirectly used as a political tool? I hope not… (John Pearson)

A Fourth Journey

On each of my trips to our Holy Land, I have experienced something new and special beyond understanding. This is my fourth time! Our walk from the Mount of Beatitudes may have been a way Jesus walked – dusty, dirty, and steep. An early morning day brought us to the desert as the sun rose. We celebrated the Holy Eucharist as the sun brought light into the desert, joined by a Bedouin family. In Nazareth every Saturday evening there is a candle procession as the Angelus is being said in multiple languages. We joined locals and people from all around the world singing and praying. Such moments as these have blessed me as well as the joy of sharing of sharing this time with an awesome group of pilgrims. (Linda Spiers)

The Anointing Stone

Our pilgrimage to the Holy Land began with a walk around the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and what really struck me was the ‘Anointing Stone’ of marble! I watched other pilgrims lay their hands on the slab and kiss it even. Then it was my turn and as I lay downward, I felt tears spring forth, and was deeply moved. I needed to pray for all the souls whose lives had touched the anointing slab. How blessed to be amongst our group and how thankful for this journey of discovery. May peace yet come to this so troubled part of God’s creation. (Kay D. Claiborne)

Seven Words

prayer –
          to sustain

(Cheryl Tapley)

Sadness and Hope

So many thoughts and emotions as we have pilgrimed together these past days. Joy, sadness, elation, depression – all of the aforementioned and more. I am grateful for my fellow pilgrims with whom I now have an unbreakable bond, having walked theses sites and paths together. I have been awed by so many sites and sounds, and wept. And depressed and angered at the treatment of the Palestinians. Walls which separated, excluded, marginalized people in their own land. Settlements in Palestine’s land. Unequal use/distribution of water. And much more. 

At the same time we met people of hope. Princess Basma Hospital. Brewers in Taybeh. Jerusalem Peace Builders. Archbishop Duwani. May their hope be rewarded. Pray for the peace of Jerusalem. (Louise Kalemkarian)

Here I Am, Lord

So many “thin places” – experiences where the veil between heaven and earth is so thin, that the power and feel of Divine Presence breaks my heart open. In the Church of the Agony, the Garden of Gethsemane, reflecting on Jesus’ plaintiff prayer, “Not mine that will be done” a group of pilgrims from the Philippines began a worship service around the altar. Their offering song (in English!): “I the Lord of Sea and Sky.” Tears sprang up in my eyes. That song, “I have heard your people cry,” that “yes” to God’s invitation, “Here I am Lord, is it I Lord, I have heard you calling in the night” …that beckoning into an unknown life … “I will go Lord if you lead me, I will hold your people in my heart” … coming from Jesus’ own agony and Jesus’ own trust, into my own heart once again … and so much more deeply than ever before. (Lisa Hahneman)

Photo credit: Erin Flinn, Wadi Qelt at Sunrise
Stories compiled by Sharon Pearson and edited by Adam Thomas

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