Ambling: Reflections of a First-Time Pilgrim
Apprehension was one of the primary feelings that filled me as I traveled from Boston to Newark, where I would join nearly 50 other OCN pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. It surprised me and, frankly, unsettled me. Why should I feel apprehensive? Three reasons, perhaps: 1) at home, all we hear about is the conflict in the middle east; 2) I may be disappointed by dilapidation and commercialism at holy sites; 3) the beloved, identity-shaping stories of the Gospel have lived only in my imagination heretofore; here I will bump hard into the stone pavement and dust of this place as it judges my imaginings; or perhaps like a child that has never had direct contact with a parent – excitement, mixed with fear of disappointment and anger, fear of the unknown but deeply imagined, fear of losing the connection, but hoping it will live eternally.
Some of the architecture of Tel Aviv Ben Gurion airport did not disappoint. The massive crisscrossing indoor ramparts that travelers use to walk down to passport control and down to the gates evoked a sense of the ancient walls of Jerusalem and Jericho. Large, rough-hewn stone blocks. I noticed a young man hanging around the doorway that we exited to get to the bus. Though he was dressed casually, he had an authoritative intensity about him. I had been told by some Israeli friends that we would be watched discreetly but carefully as we moved through the airport. This young bearded face and dark intense eyes were my first inkling of the security apparatus Israel deploys to protect itself from the enemies that completely surround it and number nearly 20x its population.
Leaving the airport, the sun was a smooth, yellow, dusty disk suspended over arid hills. Soon the yellow turned to fluorescent green beacons punctuating the dusky light; a light in which you could not tell black thread from white. Truly shocked by so many minarets within Israel: John, our excellent guide, explained that there are 1.3M Muslims who are Israeli citizens.
Saddened by the thirty foot wall and barbed wire that separates Israel from the West Bank on the road to Tiberias. We drive through this ancient land, on modern roads only an hour or two into a ten-day pilgrimage, unable to avoid the profound paradoxes of a modern security apparatus presiding over the Holy Land – for us, the land where the love of Jesus first healed.
Our group of pilgrims is wonderfully warm and enthusiastic. Father Steve Zorzos is a consummate conversationalist with far-reaching erudition covering topics ranging from neuroscience technology to the importance of Mircea Eliade within the comparative study of religion. And of course, there is much to say about our fearless leader, Father Chris. For now, suffice it to say that his wit makes us all laugh; and it is good to laugh. Thanks to my fellow pilgrims, my apprehensions? … Vanished.