Surreal Israel

Well, we made it back from The Holy Land. And it was surreal. How? Let me count the ways: 1) The trip itself. In less than 24 hours from the time our group of twelve left the church parking lot on March 5th, we were standing in our hotel rooms staring out at a stormy Sea of Galilee. During the flight we were shamelessly pampered, watching the latest movies on our individual monitors while being served meals and snacks continuously. Outside the plane at 30,000 feet the temperature dipped to minus 81 degrees Fahrenheit while we cruised along at 600 miles per hour.  Oddly, no one seemed the least bit concerned that only inches of aluminum separated us from annihilation. I tried not to point out how much danger we were in—didn’t want to start a panic six miles above the earth. 2) The tourists and pilgrims and residents. Talk about surreal diversity; The Holy Land is a jarring cacophony of races and cultures and religions. It’s both inspiring and disturbing. I spoke with agnostics from the former state of East Germany, Methodists from Malaysia, Lutherans from Michigan, Palestinians from, well, Palestine, and Anglicans from England. Everyone who lives in and visits Israel seems to be searching for something or someone. We just can’t seem to always agree on what to wear and believe and how to act while we search. 3) The land. Most of Israel is rocks. Big ones. Little ones. Ones that have been crushed and crunched and carved by civilizations combing over the land as long as humans have built cities and empires. Some have been reduced to sand. Others to fertile soil. Others are piled around the roots of grapevines to encourage nighttime condensation. The Bible talks a lot about these rocks—Abraham offers his son Isaac on an altar of rock; David defeats Goliath with smooth stones from a streambed; Peter’s faith is a rock; Jesus is a stone who makes men stumble; wise men build their houses on rocks. You can’t go to the Holy Land and ignore the rocks—you might stumble and end up flat on your face. 4) The holy shrines. The Holy Land is a place of old houses of worship built upon even older houses of worship. So much has happened there over the past five millennia that many archeological digs have two to twenty layers as cities built upon cities are uncovered. It seems that every biblical event has an awe-inspiring chapel or cathedral commemorating its importance to our faith story. And we think Virginia is history-crazy! 5) My faith in God. As I encountered the sights and sounds and smells of the Holy Land for the second time, I couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of spiritual disorientation. Here saints stumbled and sinners found faith and sanctification; Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, Stephen was stoned, Jesus was crucified and the Church was born.  The Holy Land is both a challenge and a comfort to your faith. It stubbornly refuses to give up its secrets without a fight. But for those who dedicate themselves to hearing the stories its rocks have to tell, the fight is well worth the sacrifice. Grace and peace, Bob