A View from the Balcony

Lessons from Rocks, Water, and People: The Holy Land

 It was a trip of a lifetime.   I’m glad I did it.  I’m not sure I’ll go back.  After a week and a half of recovering from the red eye flights to Israel and back, plus nine full days of visiting sites,  I’ll try to assess my gleanings:
1.       I learned that you can take 454 photos of all the sites in the Holy Land, and when you return home to look over them they all look like pictures of rocks in 454 varied arrangements.  Some of the rocks have people posing in front of them.
2.      I learned to go easy on the Israeli breakfast.  Diving into assorted salads and smoked fish, especially the whole sardines, at 6:30 a.m. on your first day may not be the best idea, especially when traveling on a bus over the hills and valleys of Galilee.
3.      I learned that drinking from Jacob’s well, dipping my hands into the Jordan River, and drinking tap water in Bethlehem might have contributed to something which feels like little giardia now poking around in my gut.
4.      I learned something about trust.   Our bus was an Arab owned bus, driven by Mohammed,  an Arab Muslim, and guided by Samuel, an Arab Christian whose parents are of Egyptian Coptic and Greek Orthodox backgrounds. Not only did Mohammed drive us through some pretty secondary winding roads up and down the Golan Heights, he and our guide took us into Palestinian West Bank territories. Here was an Arab Muslim who cared for the safety of his passengers.  If we ever thought that all Arab Muslims were terrorists or suicide bombers (and I hope none in our group did), Mohammed helped dispel that fear.  He could have done us in with one wrong turn of the steering wheel.
5.       I learned the plight of so many Palestinians who are without a homeland and who feel trapped and hopeless.  We entered West Bank areas where only a Palestinian Arab bus and driver could go, and where the Israeli government prohibits its own citizens from entering due to danger and the fact that it is against their own law.   We saw Palestinian refugee areas and felt the hopelessness of so many in Bethlehem who are weary of the captivity and isolation of living within the walls and barbed wire fences which surround their city.
6.      While I loved the pilgrimage aspect of our trip, including the singing of hymns and reading of Scripture at the many holy sites, I realized that what makes a place, person, or thing “holy” is not the location, or the proximity to where Jesus or the disciples walked, but how God chooses to utilize people and places for God’s unique purposes wherever they are.  So while I enjoyed, appreciated, and felt inspired by these Holy sites, I kept finding the “holy” in the faces of the children, both Israeli and Arab, Muslim,  Christian, and Jew, who await a better and more hopeful future for this problematic area of the world.
7.      I learned that visiting the Holy Land does not in itself make me more holy.   I become more “holy”  (i.e. utilized by God) when I realize that the land on which I stand, wherever that is, can be holy ground where I open myself to God’s good purposes.
I suppose I learned that I am more an anthropologist that archaeologist.   I looked for hope in the faces and personalities of the people I met, trying to see the “holy” possibilities  in each of them, then looking deeper into my own soul for the “holy” in me.