The Holy Land

My friends Anne and Ihor got back from their pilgrimage to Israel last week. They’re devout Christians and shared this devotion with 24 other souls from their Ukrainian Catholic church. Yes, “pilgrimage” is the right word.

Pilgrims from all over the world come to Jerusalem, Nazareth, Mount Tabor, Bethlehem and Jericho. They walk the Via Dolorosa, the street where Jesus carried his cross. They gaze up at Golgatha, where he died.

I sat in the living room this morning as my B&B hosts told me what most deeply impacted them on the trip.

Ihor was struck with the groups of pilgrims who each dressed in their traditional clothing as they honoured Jesus by their presence. Flowing gowns in bright colours were common. Some devotees formed a circle and sang holy songs. Reverence filled the space. The North Americans, in their individual clothing choices, contrasted with the “families” of worshippers, but their inner faith was no doubt the same.

Anne experienced the presence of God atop Mount Tabor. As she looked around at her companions, many of them were similarly moved. The mountain is apparently the site of Jesus’ “transfiguration”. In Matthew we read:

After six days Jesus took with him
Peter, James and John the brother of James
and led them up a high mountain by themselves
There he was transfigured before them
His face shone like the sun
and his clothes became as white as the light

Who knows what energies are alive in the world? Sitting quietly though, in a state of reception, we may welcome in God, the Buddha, Spirit or whatever we choose to call it, and we too may radiate lovingkindness. Some immensity touched Anne and her friends on Mount Tabor.

Alas, all is not roses and lemonade. Ihor and Anne were in a cafeteria packed with locals and tourists, about to chow down on the lunch they had prepared in their hotel. Chicken and cheese sandwiches looked pretty tasty.

Suddenly a middle-aged Jewish woman ran over to them, yelling:

“You are breaking kosher laws. Get out! Get out!”

Although many Jews abide by kosher rules, in which meat and dairy products are not to be eaten together, this was a public place, with people from all over the world. Sadly, in their shock, my friends chose to leave. Even though the woman’s behaviour did not show a general Jewish attitude, it was a sad commentary on the abuse that can be done in the name of religion. Anne and Ihor are still trying to process this incident.

Ihor loved being at the site of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount – the side of a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. As a priest led a ceremony, the view was through graceful trees down to the water. No doubt many pilgrims could imagine Jesus standing exactly where they were, sharing his soul with the faithful:

Blessed are the poor in spirit
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

Blessed are those who mourn
for they shall be comforted

Blessed are the meek
for they shall inherit the earth

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
for they shall be satisfied

Blessed are the merciful
for they shall obtain mercy

Blessed are the pure of heart
for they shall see God

Blessed are the peacemakers
for they shall be called children of God

Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

And blessed are Ihor and Anne