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Living a new normal after visiting the Holy Land

I didn’t think it would be so difficult returning to normal. The dining table, only recently packing central for my long-awaited trip to Israel, is now the receptacle of mementos, photo books, and collected bits and pieces from my journey. The physical unpacking took mere minutes, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual unpacking continue weeks after coming back.

Some of the collected memorabilia are in small piles awaiting distribution to family—needlepoint bookmarks from Bethlehem, stuffed toy mascots from National Park visits, dreidels, postcards, recipes and spice blends. There are piles of museum and historic site books, my reading for the months ahead as I relive where I went, what I experienced. I brought back a piece of olive wood sculpture capturing an image of Jesus as Shepherd that I do not think I will grow weary walking by, touching, remembering.

But most of what I returned with is not so easy to sort through; there are no physical touchstones to point out and examine. Some of the memories are deeply tucked inside, and at odd moments, they surface in images and yearnings of the heart, and I travel back in my mind and walk again those ancient paths. The Jezreel Valley quite took my breath away: its flowers and wild grass and panoramas. In the valley, farmlands boast fields of wheat, melons, chickpeas, cotton, sunflowers, and corn. There are orchards of citrus and succulent pears. Archaeological digs bordering the valley showcase the past and visitors can walk where Gideon tread, where Jesus preached, where Elijah defeated the prophets of Baal, and according to Revelation, where the final battle, Armageddon, will occur.

Working in tandem with Pastor Ray, Israeli guide Yair filled in background information that melded the Holy Land’s past with its present. He used the digs to give evidence of the history we all know from our Bible. He pointed to ongoing conflicts today, but he also told of harmony among the many people who call this land home.

Pastor Ray read from his Bible at each step of the pilgrimage, weaving the words of scripture into all I saw before me, undergirding understanding and layering new sights and sounds with what I have read and studied from childhood. Yair explained the Sabbath, Shabbat, as our group saw the foods, celebrations, and witnessed the music and dancing as Jewish families marked their day of rest. He instructed us in the significance of “Shabbat Shalom,” the response of “Aleichem Shalom,” and the importance of the good wishes for peace in our days. In his casual ways of teaching our group, he emphasized all that the Jews hold sacred— their worship of the One God, the sanctity of family and children, the importance of reading from the holy scrolls, and the celebration of God-given life and Sabbath observances.

I traveled by boat on the Sea of Galilee our first Sunday, and even now, my words are insufficient to share that journey. As I felt the breeze above and the waters beneath me, my mind recalled the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s trips with his apostles. He boated and walked here! Overcome, I bowed my head and spoke the names of my family, praying for them. It was all I could do in the moment, in the fullness of my heart. This was my Lord’s Day, and I worshiped deeply.

Everywhere I looked, walked, felt, I realized the past, present, and future: conversion of Cornelius and standing where Paul stood in Ceasarea; I touched the Mediterranean, boated the Sea of Galilee, sang at the Jordan River, floated in the Dead Sea, tasted the mustard seeds and Peter’s fish, felt the juice of fresh squeezed olives, caught the fragrance of almond trees, and savored the fruit of the date palms. There was a sensory overload. Even now, looking back over my words to you, I perceive gaps in my tales, the left-out parts of the story. And that is exactly how my conversations have been upon coming back. I start and stop and jump around in the narrative and say lots of “Oh, and I forgot to tell you...” because of the grandness of the pilgrimage.

On that crowded dining table, among all the evidence of my journey, there is a certificate presented to me by the state of Israel, deeming me a Holy Land pilgrim, complete with dates and signatures. I’m living a new normal as I ponder and pray I may return one day. I hope you can go one day. May the opportunity come for us both, and when it does, may we go in peace. Shalom.

Written by Jim Edminson, Editor of Charity & Children

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