In March 1984, I traveled for my very first time to the Holy Land, with my college friend, Rich. We had no guides and very little money, but our time there left a mark on me.
This blog started a dozen years ago, in January 2010, when I went back again. On this second pilgrimage my companions were my stepfather, Marty Cox, and another college friend, Chris Owen, both pastors. We attended a course called "The Palestine of Jesus" at St. George's College. It changed my life in so many ways and I was so blessed to share that time with Marty and Chris. (And so many of you, who followed along on this blog.)
I had an opportunity to return in April 2016, this time with members of the Fellowship of St. John the Evangelist, including some good clergy friends from my diocese and some friends I came to know and keep from that shared time. We stayed on the same "campus" as St. George's College but this time in the cathedral guesthouse, and then with the Sisters of Nazareth when we journeyed north. Our leader was Iyad Qumri, a Palestinian Christian. The photo shown to the right was taken when I was asked by Brother Curtis to celebrate our early morning Eucharist in the desert. At the time I posted these words from Curtis' reflection for the day - the original post can be found here:
...Jesus was tempted in areas where he already had strength, and also for us. We are most vulnerable to temptation where we are strong. If you've been given the gift of love, you also have the power to seduce. If you are articulate, you can use language powerfully, for better or worse. If you've been given the gift of decisiveness, you have the real power to judge and condemn. If you are compassionate, you can get overwhelmed by the suffering that surrounds you. If you are young, you can be tempted with the delusion of immortality. If you are beautiful, you can be as luring as the ancient Sirens, and also as lost. If you are old, you can be tempted with resentment or despair in a world slipping through your fingers. If you are well, you can be tempted to take it all for granted: your mind, your body, your work. If you are good, you can be tempted to believe that you are never good enough We are most susceptible to be tempted in areas where we have some strength. C. S. Lewis said, "It's not our weaknesses that will keep us out of heaven."
In 2018 I went for the fourth time, this time on a Worcester Interfaith Pilgrimage with my friend, Rabbi Aviva Fellman and a group of Christians and Jews including some clergy friends. I already knew that the Holy Land is "complicated" but I remain grateful for this time because I saw places that are not on the usual "Jesus footsteps" pilgrimages. Our conversations were rich and we shared a kind of "holy envy" for each other's traditions.
At the time I thought that might be it, and it would have been enough: dayenu. But an opportunity presented itself not very long after that to travel there once more, this time on a diocesan pilgrimage that included my bishop, Doug Fisher, and the retired dean of our cathedral, Jim Munroe. We had a wonderful group led again by Iyad Qumri, just about exactly three years ago. This time though, Jim and I began plotting a return visit as soon as possible as Doug planned an interfaith journey. Neither happened as planned. But now Jim and I are off with a group of pilgrims that will include my spouse, Hathy, and our youngest son, James. And again, our guide will be the very gifted Iyad Qumri.
Other than vacations to the Cape or Outer Banks, this sixth pilgrimage represents a place I've been to more than anyplace other than the places where I've lived. It's both the same and different each time. It really is a pilgrimage and those who travel together are changed for good. I ask for your prayers this time around, especially for the first-timers.
Although I have blogged diligently in the past, I expect to have far fewer posts this time around. But I will, I'm sure, have some thoughts to share...