Pilgrim Land

Memory sometimes eludes us, smirks, plays tricks. Now, as I write and peer back into the golden haze of early childhood memories, I seem to remember in church flipping through vibrant maps at the back of Bibles, tracing journeys of Biblical characters, through deserts, across water, encountering detour and hardship and salvation and loss. In the background, fragments from sermon narratives waft through the air of the hushed, listening church. Somehow, at the edges and first formulations of memory, my first impression seemed to be that these maps, these places rather, no longer existed in the real world. They were foreign and, more than that, forever unreachable, mystical, though infused with a gritty realism.

I say this with some sense of embarrassment, conscious of ignorance. But perhaps it’s necessary to acknowledge ignorance (inevitable at any beginning after all), to truly move beyond it. It may be that to fear such an acknowledgment is ultimately to fear the quest for new knowledge. At some point, though I don’t know when, the realization must have dawned on me that the places drawn in those maps haven’t disappeared. They still exist. Only the lines on the maps have been rearranged. Political lines shifted, antiquating old maps, depicting new nations with new cities and new words, reflecting current affairs and reality. Traveling recently to these pilgrim lands—Israel and Palestine in particular—was like a waking dream almost, beyond childhood imagining. A bit like time travel, reaching back in time into the past, or at least to a place of unforgetting continuity between past and present. We floated in the still summer heat on the Sea of Galilee, dipped in the Jordan, walked among dusty Jewish and Roman ruins still standing from millennia past. The photos below document some of that journey. Along the way, there’s opportunity to learn. About history and religion. About Jews and Christians and Muslims who live in close proximity. The place is freighted with a long and complex history, to be sure. Territory taken and overtaken, again and again. War. Affronts. Peace, both desired and feared. Yet each religion teaches about God-given dignity that ethically demands respect. If these demands were met, albeit by imperfect people, the region would inevitably at last find peace. In Jewish and Christian scripture, in the beginning, God created all mankind in his image, bearers of dignity entitled to brotherly and sisterly love. In the Genesis narrative, at the pinnacle of creation, God says, “’Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness. . .’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27).  From this derives the eloquent statement in the American Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. . . .”  Further, the greatest commandment, aside from loving God the Creator, is to love one’s neighbor, irrespective of religion or culture. In ancient Israel, scripture reminded the Jewish people to treat even sojourners with justice, since they themselves were sojourners in Egypt before. So, too, in Islam, God gives to all people human dignity, karamah (or karama) in Arabic. “We have bestowed dignity [or honor] on the children of Adam . . . and conferred upon them special favors above the greater part of Our creation.” (Quran 17:70). (Though, despite such unreserved language, some Muslim commentators have viewed this dignity/honor as limited to certain groups or people.) Consistent with this passage, in the recent Marrakesh Declaration of 2016, Muhammad’s Charter of Medina is understood as a protector of rights, specifically “guarantee[ing] the religious liberty of all, regardless of faith.” This significant sphere of agreement merits contemplation. May we all reverence others with full respect for their inalienable individual human dignity. Listening, exploring, and learning more about others may be one step in that direction. Like Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, “you never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” The photos below offer a virtual glimpse or spark to that end.
Guarding Lions’ Gate into the Old City
Old City, Jerusalem
Church of the Holy Sepulchre, also known as Church of the Resurrection, the traditional site of the entombment and resurrection of Jesus
Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemane, the site of Jesus’s prayer and arrest
Jesus betrayed by Judas, in a mural in the Church of All Nations, or Basilica of the Agony, in Gethsemane
Hill in the City of David, just south of the Old City walls
The Dome of the Rock, a Muslim shrine associated with Muhammad’s Night Journey, recounted in the Quran. It is located on the Temple Mount, site of the Jewish Temple, i.e. the Temple of Solomon followed by the Second Temple, prior to its destruction by the Romans.
Walls and security, a view from Bethlehem