In November of 2018, my life was forever altered through an unexpected opportunity to lead a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
Pilgrimage was not on my landscape. My days were filled with family and career responsibilities; there was no time to even consider traveling. I had never really felt particularly called to visit the Holy Land before. I will be honest, I was afraid. The Middle East is a known place of conflict. I made a promise to follow Jesus wherever he called me, and I have tried to obey that call. Yet as a wife and mom of young children, I just wasn’t sure if the Holy Land would be a safe place for me to go.
In retrospect, I think of how often we all say through various circumstances, “Yes Jesus, I will go. I will follow you… just not there.”
Our excuses are often very valid. In this case, I struggled with guilt. When I considered my absence from the home even for ten days, I was riddled with anxiety. I am a caregiver! Not only did I worry about the kids, but the financial “selfishness” of spending money on something I deemed so lavish. As the creator of The Sacred Sink blog, I am a big believer in encountering Our Lord in the domestic church, the cathedral of the home.
Then I started to investigate the history of pilgrimage. From the early days of Saint Mary of Egypt to Egeria up through the crusaders and kings. Pilgrimage has always encompassed every class of people. Around the world, they came. Often as an act of penance. Always with great piety. They went to confession, sold their possessions, and set out for a journey that would transform them forever. With them, they carried the prayers of their families and communities.
Slowly, the Lord’s voice grew louder, and fear was replaced by a longing. I began to see the privilege of pilgrimage. The childcare, finances, and schedule seemed to all fall into place. Like the hobbit Bilbo, I found myself being called on an adventure away from the shire. Unlike Mr. Baggins, the destination was sweet, sacred, and safe.
I share this with you simply as a humble invitation. Perhaps you too, are being called to the Holy Land? Maybe for you too there is a lingering apprehension and a need for a clear sign. Whether or not you set foot on the soil of Israel certainly has no bearing on the power of God’s love and daily presence in your life. Our Alpha and Omega! The One who Is, who Was, and Who Is to Come, resides in your heartbeat and every breath you take.
Yet, consider this. The Holy Land has been called The Fifth Gospel:
“Five gospels record the life of Jesus. Four you will find in books and one you will find in the land they call holy. Read the fifth gospel and the world of the four will open to you.” –Father Bargil Pixner
As you stand among the ruins at Capernaum, absorb the breathtaking panorama of the Mount of Beatitudes and enter the Jordan River, it is impossible not to become enlivened with the living Spirit of God. Our imaginations are illumined in a way that captures the scenes of the world Jesus lived in. I can remember standing in “The Sacred Pit” where Jesus was held the night of his arrest. My heart was seized with such profound sorrow that I literally began to tremble.
Perhaps the most powerfully unexpected moment was at Lazarus’ Tomb. Suffocatingly small, we braved our claustrophobic apprehensions and crawled into the cramped crypt as a group. We prayed for a happy death, all those so in need of a resurrection of heart and spirit.
One of the most astonishing revelations to me on the trip was learning that the most common phrase in both the Old Testament and the New Testament is “Be not afraid” or “Fear not!” I knew of the many times this phrase was uttered (especially in the New Testament) but my heart was moved when I was reminded of the very reason I hesitated to come on the pilgrimage. Fear! Our loving Abba-Daddy knows us so well and speaks through all circumstances to draw us to Himself. Our Good God.
For the rest of my life, I will cherish the days that I spent in the Holy Land getting to know my Champion, my Father, and Redeemer. The best part was being able to carry the prayers of my family and so many others. What an honor it was to lay the intentions and tears of so many souls on the stone at Calvary. What an immeasurable gift to come home with stories and memories of the Holy Land that bring the person of Jesus to life for my children. Far from selfish, it is the greatest gift I could ever deposit in their hearts.