Ten days ago I was in Jerusalem celebrating Shabbat with twenty clergy friends and spouses from Memphis. We were Jews and Christians. We were Christians of six or seven denominations. We were white and African-American. We were youngish and oldish.
I’ve never really hungered to go to Israel. The long plane ride and the Disney-like advertising about trips to the Holy Land discouraged me. And then there was the fear. When I told people I was going to Israel and spending two nights in Tel Aviv, two nights at a kibbutz in the Golan Heights. (2 miles from the border of Lebanon), and three nights in Jerusalem, they asked, “Oooh, aren’t you afraid to go there? Isn’t it dangerous? What about the terrorists and all those Israeli soldiers running around with M16s?” Those questions were echoes of my own fears.
When I look back over the eight day trip, I recall the wonderful things we did. We walked the streets of Tel Aviv, ate in Jaffa (the town where Peter had his vision of the sheet filled with unclean animals–Acts 10), walked Herod’s ruins at Caesaria, and drove in jeeps through the mine fields in the Golan Hts. We went to the Mount of the Beatitudes, The Sea of Galilee, and the Mount of Olives. We traipsed around Masada (Herod’s 1300ft high summer refuge), floated in the Dead Sea, roamed around the markets in Jerusalem, and stuffed our prayers into the Western Wall of the city. At last I have faces and feet for the places and events I’ve read about for decades.
Visiting the sites of ancient history and geopolitics was fascinating. Absorbing the rough and spare beauty of the land was mesmerizing. Walking the paths of Jesus’s ministry and miracles was moving. But the miracle of this journey for me was the total absence of fear. Bumping into men in Orthodox dress, smiling at women in full burkha with their shopping bags and babies, and jostling for space in the crowded streets of the marketplace felt like everyday life anywhere. In this precarious, oxymoronic place where rival religious and political cultures live in both daily harmony and daily unrest, I was unafraid. Instead of fear, I was filled with curiosity and awe. In retrospect, I am filled with gratitude for such a miracle. I am also hungry to return.