We are headed to the Middle East, to the lands that provide the setting for most of the stories contained in our Scripture. These are holy lands for three great world religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The land of Israel itself is the site of one of the world’s longest standing and bitterest ethnic and political conflict. These are lands that are both strange to us (in custom, language, and culture) and also strangely familiar, so much a part of our spiritual identity. These are “thin places” indeed, some of the wonders of the world, places to encounter the depths of humanity, our own roots, and God, the Holy One of Israel.
Most pilgrims in history have had a much more challenging mode of transport, and much less appealing accommodations. For pilgrims, we will be traveling in considerable luxury! Most of our nights will be in hotels, most of our travel in an air-conditioned bus. Still, there will be some physical challenges – deserts can be both hot and cold, and there will be a good deal of walking on this trip (some of it steep!). Some of our accommodation will be somewhat rustic, including a stay at the world’s oldest continually active monastery. And there are always surprises on a pilgrimage – physical, emotional, relational.
We will be a company of pilgrims together – and that is an experience that brings both challenge and great benefit! We have an opportunity to make new friends, develop longstanding relationships, and to share these experiences. There will be stories, laughter, and good conversation on the way. We trust that sharing this experience with each other will make it deeper and richer for us all. Of course, we all have a variety of idiosyncrasies and in relatively close quarters, some of these may prove annoying… Did you have a roomie in college? Let us resolve to be open and hospitable to one another, caring and patient. We are all God’s beloved, and there is ample time on this trip to discover the gold in each one of us!
So as we prepare for pilgrimage, I pray for open minds, hearts, and spirits – that we may receive the blessing and the insight that God has in store for us on this trip, and that we may be attentive enough to catch the wonder of each day.
Blessings on each of you, fellow pilgrims-to-be!
May the LORD guide your steps and be your inseparable companion on this journey.