The trip to Israel was over a year in the making, but as our departure date approached, I became terrified. Lately I’ve been more scared to travel than usual, annoying since our family is on the move so often. It started with the disappearance of Malaysia Air flight 370, but other factors have led to me feeling jumpy about being away from my family, truthfully wanting us all to stay together in our house and never leave. But that’s not reality and going to the Holy Land was important to me, so I (barely) swallowed the fear and packed my bags.
There was a second reason I felt so much trepidation before leaving for Israel. My faith has been shifting and changing in the last several years, first at a snail’s pace and then rapidly. I have wrestled mightily with the Christianity of my youth, abandoning much of it altogether. It’s been difficult to separate the spirit of the Bible from those things that are cultural, Christ from Christians, so it’s like I’ve started over. I’m a spiritual baby. It felt like a betrayal, then, to sight-see in the land of Jesus.
The point of our trip wasn’t pure pleasure. There were twenty-five of us, mostly writers and bloggers, there to learn more about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So in addition to visiting the traditional sites, every day we met with a number of local thought leaders all along the political and religious spectrum. We talked with orthodox Jews that resided in the Old City, we crossed into Palestine and met with people who resided in the refugee camps. We heard from professors on the history of modern Israel and from Jerusalem experts on the various proposed peace solutions. Most of this information was entirely new to me, and it stretched the brain to the point of exhaustion, hearing from various points of view, each a version of truth.
I came away from these stories even more confused than before I started, but our trip leaders had warned us this would be the case.
In-between our education, we stopped at the church marked as the site of Jesus’ crucifixion and the tomb from which he rose, we entered Bethlehem to see the manger where he was born (much more like a rock cave than the barn you might picture), the Mount of Olives and the Sea of Galilee. Some of these places were touristy to the point of being annoying, on the surface it feels like a violation to turn these holy sites into souvenir shops.
But looking just one inch beneath that surface, to see the thousands of people a day who pilgrimage there to worship, to hear the dozens of languages spoken in one small space in pursuit of a God who became man, it was humbling to me as I struggle with my doubts. I am not smarter or more enlightened than they. There is still something there for me, even if I haven’t exactly found it yet.