I am a believer in spiritual pilgrimages. They focus the heart and mind on the Lord in a different, often experiential, way. All of the senses are engaged, not just our intellect.
As I write this blog, we are in the midst of our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Saturday, January 19th, we traveled from Tiberius in Galilee down the Jordan Valley and then up into Jerusalem. While I have been to the Holy Land twice before, I had never traveled this route to Jerusalem. The lush river valley was a sharp contrast to the arid, barren wilderness on both sides as we approached the turn off to Jerusalem. Water is life, and it is certainly at a premium. The Moab wilderness — a barren wasteland — was where the Exodus journey led before entering the Promised Land. In a visceral sense the phrase “promised land” took on new, vivid meaning.
Passing Jericho we traveled from the north end of the Dead Sea up to Jerusalem. It literally is a city set on the hill. It emerges out of a barren wilderness almost as if by magic! On our bus, they played the great hymn The Holy City (“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, lift up your gates and sing). On one level it was absolutely hokey, but on another level, I felt my eyes filling with tears and my heart swelling with hope. I was deeply moved and yet at the same time puzzled that such was the case.
We humans are territorial creatures. I know I am territorial and I have lived through or witnessed enough conflict over territory (should the church be relocated or not!, etc., etc.) to believe that being Christian brings no such exemption to such feelings. I think Jerusalem represents for me those deep longings of Eden. It is significant that the Bible opens in Eden, an agricultural setting, and closes with a “new Jerusalem,” the Holy City of God.
Set all of this alongside a city riven by almost perpetual conflict and there is much to meditate upon. Divine presence and human waywardness (sinfulness) exist side by side in conflict. This is hardly news but on a pilgrimage in the holy land its reality is present in a forceful way.