Having finished packing my luggage only hours before departure, one of my last things to do is to sit down and write this article. From January 8th to January 17th I will be touring the “Holy Land” along with 25 other members and friends of First Baptist Church of Augusta. This will be my third tour of Israel but for most in our group it will be their first. For all of us it will be an opportunity to experience the land where the Bible comes alive as we tour such notable places as Bethlehem, Nazareth, Capernaum, the Sea of Galilee and of course Jerusalem. Sacred places.
One does not need to travel to the other side of the world, however, to experience sacred places. While it is quite moving to visit the places where Jesus walked and taught and served, places made sacred are not exclusively reserved for the footsteps of Jesus. For Henry David Thoreau, it was a small cabin on the edge of Walden. For the relatively small number of Creek Indians it was a rock formation in the shape of an eagle in middle Georgia. For the new parents it is the sterile enclosure of a delivery room where they saw their newborn for the first time. Sacred space. We do not always name our memorable points as sacred, but that is what they are – sacred, holy. It may be your grandmother’s kitchen thick with the smell of biscuits out of the oven and coffee whisping in the air. It may be a favorite oak tree from the family home place where you once watched the passing of the afternoon sun of summer. Sacred. Holy. Places that are alive to us still and we now know that surely God was present, even if such a presence was simply as a quiet observer, like a mother periodically glancing out the kitchen window to make sure the kids are okay.
The geography of the Bible is scattered with sacred spaces and holy terrain. There was a burning bush and a bare foot Moses. Another time God sanctified Mt. Horeb with a silent whisper and a hushed Elijah. There is an empty tomb somewhere in Jerusalem and a road to Emmaus as a holy reminder that God was there.
While I am walking over the ground of Jerusalem and reflecting on the footsteps of Jesus I will also be thinking of the sacred steps Christ has walked with me throughout my life. I will also be thinking of you dear church, where Christ continues to walk with us reclaiming the mundane and redeeming the profane and creating sacred spaces for all.
In the end, we are all wandering through the Holy Land.
January 8 – Day 1 – Depart USA
The afternoon before “Day 1” our happy group assembled at the church and left for Atlanta to spend the night at a hotel near the airport. Catching a shuttle the next morning at 6:55 we made it to the Hartsfield-Jackson uneventfully. Since hotel coffee is nothing to write home about, my first order of business after we all were patted-down, scanned, and questioned through security was to hunt down a Starbucks. Once in Israel wonderful cappuccinos and espressos are readily available as well as Turkish coffee. You don’t really drink Turkish coffee; you chew it.
This flight only has one connection – Newark, New Jersey. After a couple of hours in Newark, we boarded our plane destined for Israel.
January 9 – Day 2 – Arrive in Tel Aviv/Tiberius
Nobody is really happy flying ten hours no matter where is the destination. I had the bonus of even less leg room AND my seat mate was a nice mother and her two year old daughter. While the toddler was cute, she was cranky and apparently had to go to the bathroom a lot because every time I dosed off, I was asked to get up and let them out. Nevertheless a good flight is a safe flight and we certainly arrived in great shape in Tel Aviv, where our trusted guide, Nader Mascobi was waiting for us. Nader guided our last trip to Israel, so it is especially nice to see a familiar face so far from home.
Israel is going through an unusual bit of “extreme” weather – chilly rain with expected snowfall in Jerusalem. On our bus ride to our hotel in Tiberius it rained and sleeted and occasionally the sun would shine through just to mix things up. Everyone, however, is taking it all in stride and outside of travel weariness, we are doing well.
I am writing from the lobby of our hotel in Tiberius, which is located off the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Both the lobby and our room have a lovely view of the Sea (really it is more like a lake, but more on that later).
Our goal is to fight staying awake through the remainder of the day, eat a good supper, crash for the evening and get a good night’s rest for tomorrow’s full day.