Holy Land: a new beginning

1 pm – East Cost Time – 3/31/2015

Everything has been a bit surreal since I entered the Tel Aviv airport yesterday night. Right now I sit in a cafe on Broadway in New York City drinking a chai tea. Alt rock music provides a background track to my view of the hundreds of New Yorkers and tourists that stride and amble (respectively) down the street next to me.
I will be home in another 12 hours, but I am appreciating this extended transition time back to “real life”. Being in the Holy Land was both more real and more like a dream than my everyday life. How do I explain it? Jerusalem especially is a cacophony of human activity; it makes me feel alive and very much present in the moment. When you are driving down a street and see an arrow sign pointing to Bethlehem or you can walk down a street He walked down, the life of Jesus feels vividly real and therefore it makes my own Christian life feel so much more real. And, at the same time, being there was like a dream. We were visitors so we got to see all the best things and eat all the best foods and everyone was on their best behavior. Do you see how it could be both more real and more like a dream?
It didn’t hit me fully that it was over until I walked out of customs at JFK. Moments before I was surrounded by many of my 40 fellow pilgrims. Then I walked through the door to the train and they walked through the door to their connecting planes. I was so profoundly alone in a massive crowd in the predawn darkness of New York. I felt as bare boned and bereft as if I had been naked. Those 45 people have become like family to me and I know we all will never be all together again.
So you can see it will take me some time to readjust and re-remember what the “real world” feels like and how to live in it.
I haven’t blogged since Sunday, so I will catch you up on the last day of pilgrimage as well as my transition back to North Carolina.
On Monday, we had a late morning, not needing to meet until 10:15. So Stephanie, Mary, and I decided to make the 10 minute walk on our own back to the Holy Sepulcher. I still had to take care of my suitcase so I only had a few minutes there. It was completely worth it, though. I took my shawl back to the stone where Jesus’ body lay and laid there with Him for a last few precious minutes. In that moment, I loved Him and He loved me. So very dearly.
After a hasty walk (and a few wrong turns), I was back at the hotel and we were off on the bus to Ecce Homo, this is the church built at the place where Pontus Pilate washed his hands and condemned Jesus. It was a precious final Mass for our pilgrimage. Father asked us to consider how we have also “washed our hands” and condemned others. Who have we disregarded or left to fend for themselves when we should have helped them?
Here is the church:P1080100 P1080101
Underneath the church, there are excavations at the level of the Roman roads of Jesus’ time. They found a place just like where Jesus would have been scourged. The best research says he was whipped about 40 times with a whip made of leather strips with jagged pieces of glass tied to them. When they pulled the whip out of His back, it tore open his skin to the bone.
These are my feet standing next to a hole in the old Roman road. This hole was where they would have attached Jesus’ handcuffs to while they whipped Him:P1080121
We walked through the old city one last time, put our luggage on the bus, and headed in the direction of Tel Aviv, but we made a few stops on the way. First we had a quick lunch and looked at a model of the city at the Jerusalem Museum. It showed their best guess of what the city looked like at the time of Jesus.
This is the view of the temple where Jesus would have prayed, it’s from a similar perspective to where we were a few days ago at Dominus Flevit:P1080166 This is the poorer section of Jerusalem. The homes were crowded and made of mud:P1080148
Next on the docket was the church of the birthplace of St. John the Baptist. It was a humble church, just like John the Baptist was. Fun fact, you always hear about how he ate locust and honey in the desert all the time, well did you know that we have it wrong about what locust and honey actually are? In the desert near the Jordan river grows a sweet flower called the locust; it wasn’t actually a bug! And the honey wasn’t from bees, it was from dates!
Here is the church above the site of John the Baptist’s birth:
You may remember that John the Baptist’s mom was named Elizabeth and that she was related to Mary, mother of Jesus. Remember the story of when they met? John and Jesus were both babies inside there mothers, but John felt Jesus’ presence when Mary walked up to Elizabeth. He was so excited that Elizabeth could feel him jumping around in her womb.
Here is the church built at the site where they met:IMG_4148
This was the sweetest little statue of them comparing baby bellies:IMG_4152
The courtyard outside the church was lined with the words that Mary said to Elizabeth in many different languages. You may have heard of them as the prayer called the Magnificat:IMG_4156
Here is a panorama of the inside of the upper chapel at the church. These were my favorite paintings of the whole trip:IMG_4170
I especially loved this one where Mary is protecting Jesus in her arms (based on Revelation):IMG_4163
We had to walk up many stairs to get to the church so naturally there were beautiful views from the Church of the Visitation:IMG_4184 IMG_4185
And now it’s Wednesday morning. I got back to my house at 1 am last night and just now I finished a walk through my neighborhood in Winston-Salem. The weather here is as sunny and warm as it was two days ago in Jerusalem. It’s like God is welcoming me back home.
This trip has changed me or rather, I want to change because of this trip. I want to do more and consume less. I want to listen to God more and give him the time he needs to talk to me. I want to dance more. I want everything I do to be a prayer; it doesn’t matter whether it is grocery shopping, singing, laughing, or crying. Everything I do can be a prayer. I want to waste more time on people. People matter. God matters. Stuff is just stuff. I want to “waste” more time on people and not waste time on stuff.
Jesus Christ is so very real to me right now. I feel like He is sitting right next to me. I feel like I could reach out my hands and hug Him close. Forty eight hours ago my feet were walking on the same patch of earth that His feet were on. He and I have literally walked the same roads. But now I am here, in North Carolina, a place where Jesus has not ever walked as a human. But I have walked here. And I am a human. I am His human. And I can be His hands and feet. I can walk here for Him. I can be Him to every person I meet. I am not Jesus, but I have Jesus within me and I was made for Him to be His true image.
I want to be the image of Christ to every one I meet.
Lord, help me remember you always. Work through me. I give my life over to You. May I always be like You. Always. Everywhere. I will be your hands and your feet.

2 thoughts on “Holy Land: a new beginning

  1. Katelyn Ripp says:

    Veronica, I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts and seeing all of the breathtaking pictures. Reading some of your descriptions of how you felt being in those places gave me chills, in a good way! I am so, so happy for you that you were able to make that journey and have the experience you did. Love you!!

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