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Friday, January 9, 2015

Returning to the Holy Land and Returning to Me

"We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."  - T. S. Eliot


I'm going back.  I get to return to a place that literally stole my heart and soul two years ago.  I get to return with good friends, old friends, new friends and the love of my life.  But I am not going back to relive what I experienced two years ago in places like Galilee, Jerusalem, Nablus and Bethlehem.  I'm going to explore and start from the beginning.  I am not going on a trip, I'm taking a journey.  I am not going to go as a tourist, but as a pilgrim.  I'm going to walk, feel, pray, touch, receive,  and give.  I'm going to listen to others and for the heartbeat of God.

Tomorrow morning, I will join some 25 other pilgrims via the miracles of technology for our orientation to the Israel Pilgrimage that will embark on the physical part of this exploration on March 2.  I'm not sure how much of a miracle it is that I will be projected on a very large screen in the college lounge at First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, but let's call it a miracle for now.  Naturally, the orientation is to review itineraries, agendas, expectations, anxieties, details and logistics etc.  But another part of the time together will be to share with one another why we are drawn to this particular exploration.  We each get about two minutes.  Two minutes !?  So, this is where I thought I would begin my blog of preparation, exploration, returning, arriving, and more.  Why am I drawn to this?  Why will I go someplace that I have been before?  What does this mean to me?  

Oh, there are so, so many reasons.  First, it simply is not a land, albeit so small in area, where you can see everything in one visit.  My time there in Fall 2012 was 15 days.  There is so much.  It is as if one is taking huge gulps of water and you just can't get it down before another fresh spring or fountain is before you.  You want to drink it all, experience it all, see it all, hear it all, but after some days, it just is too much.  One has to stop.  For example, I chose NOT to go to Masada and the Dead Sea with our group last time because I needed a day alone.  I needed to retrace my steps in the Old City of Jerusalem.  I needed to be able to talk to the Israeli museum receptionist, the Mall security guard, the restauranteur across from our hotel.  I needed to get lost, literally lost, in the Old City.  

Also, I want to experience it for myself, and not through the eyes of the media and politicians and even theological partners.  I need to "go and see" once more.  It is a matter of faith and a source of joy and heartache to be in places where three faiths intersect, battle, struggle, get along, help one another, kill one another.  I need this kind of risk in my life.  It does not feel like physical or personal risk that is of a bodily nature, any more than any other part of the world.  But it does feel like risk.  

Another reason for returning is people.  I go for the encounters and the connections to a people full of life.  People of all faiths.  I want to go to Safed, because contrary to our Galilee boat guide, even though I am a Christian pastor, I am deeply interest in the hundreds of  ancient synagogues, the origins of Kaballah and the views from the heights of that village.  Besides, who would not want to see this:









And oh my goodness, I go for the food!  The food is incredible.  I still remember the minted frozen lemonade, the search for the best falafel in all of Israel and the West Bank.  I can literally taste, smell and see the Shashouka, that dish that is reminiscent of ratatouille with tomato, egg and other deliciousness, that we had in Rosh Pina at a little restaurant called Ja'uni.  I also remember our adorable waiter and that he was from France.  This connection is not lost on me today.  

Perhaps more than any other reason for returning, I go to be changed.  I go to arrive at that gate and entry and place that felt like a beginning and see it again as if for the first time.  I'm not entirely sure how this is possible, but it is a goal and a prayer.  Our guiding passage for pilgrimage is from the prophet Jeremiah, and the Message says it like this, God’s Message yet again:
“Go stand at the crossroads and look around.
    Ask for directions to the old road,
The tried-and-true road. Then take it.
    Discover the right route for your souls." - Jeremiah 6:16

Maybe the most meaningful and daring and risky journey or exploration or pilgrimage is the one that one takes within oneself.   The journey of the soul.  I had never actually read on in the Four Quartets to what comes after the quote that began this blog.  I believe it connects beautifully to Jeremiah's text:

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started 
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for 
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.” 

Just for starters, how can something be both unknown and remembered?
I go, I return, I come, I leave, I see, I saw, I meet, I forget, I wander, I stand still, I stand, I look, I ask, I repeat, I discover.  I start and I know.    




1 comment:

  1. I am apologize for the weird highlights. I tried and tried and tried to get rid of them and I simply gave up.

    ReplyDelete