Reflection by Julie Ellis.
In preparation for our journey to Israel, Father Sandy
asked each of us to answer three questions, and he suggested we record our
answers in the beautiful journals which he had presented to each of us: How do
you expect to come back from the journey richer? What do you need to leave
behind in order to go on this journey? What is your prayer for us right now?
My recorded expectations prior to the trip were broad: I hoped to become more knowledgeable about the region; more knowledgeable about the Gospel journey, and to be wiser and more tolerant.
The actual journey’s “riches” were abundant and are forever gifts. Shared with us was some of the finest scholarship about Israel, the Jewish faith, the faith of Islam, the history of Jerusalem from 3500 B.C.E. through 16 historic periods to 1967, when Jerusalem was reunited after the Six-Day War, and about the Bible Lands themselves. The Lectionary the College provided us, and which we read at each location we visited, provided insight into the readings that was profound. Sandy’s comment – “being there” is the fifth Gospel – is a perfect description.
At one of our early lectures, we were challenged to prepare a birth and death certificate for Jesus. None of us had ever thought of such an exercise, but we were about to travel from his birthplace to his place of crucifixion. We learned every step of the way.
We heard, discussed and experienced the lives of the Palestinian people residing in what are called Areas A, B or C – the United Nations’ creations. It was hard to understand, as many Israeli citizens live by labels of faith, ethnicity, history and culture, and some behind a wall with barbed wire. As Sandy said in his blog – it is complicated, and we do not have the answers.
More importantly, we encountered a joyous place at St. George’s College and the Cathedral of the Middle East, which are located in East Jerusalem only a short walk from the ancient walled city. The Dean of the College, the Very Reverend Gregory Jenks, is a scholar who hails from Brisbane, Australia, and who was our amazing biblical and archeological guide to the centuries before and after Jesus.
Bishara Khoury, who we believe knows and loves every single person in Israel, kept us on time, organized and safe. If the world were full of more people like Bishara, it would be full of joy and peace. We met some of the kindest people on our journey, including three sprightly and wise nuns (Sisters of Nazareth Convent, Church of the Beatitudes and Abu Gosh), our bus driver, residents in all sectors of the old city of Jerusalem and Nazareth and all the staff at St. George’s College.
The spiritual impacts of every experience were undoubtedly different for each of us: Looking down from atop Bethsaida at the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus delivered many of his teachings; standing on Mount Tabor at the Church of the Transfiguration; being at the Jordan River at the site of the Baptism of Jesus; sitting atop the mountains in the dessert of the Judean wilderness looking down at the Wadi Qelt.
Each of us Holy C pilgrims left behind our homes, families, church and everyday norms to make this trip to Israel. We also left behind any concerns for our safety and group dynamics. Our group of 23 knitted together in so many ways, from finding each other’s purses and passports, grouping into “families” who were accountable to the larger group, sharing soulful and thoughtful encounters and partaking of delightful Israeli wine as we gathered nightly to enjoy each other’s company. We were not unmindful of where we were, but we all felt secure, supported and privileged to be making the trip.
As we move though the next months and years ahead, I know we will all be more mindful of what we learned and we will remain hopeful that the peoples of this beautiful country find peace and remain hopeful. This pilgrim left a prayer for all of us, our families, the City of Memphis and our nation in the very sacred Western Wall, asking:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13