Seeking Answers in the Holy Land

It’s often been said that you’re a writer even when you’re not writing. Writers take in the scents, and the sounds of a bustling marketplace, an old man’s weathered and lined face as he smokes and sells his wares in a Middle Eastern souk.

Bougainvillea blooming along the banks of the Sea of Galilee

So it was with me after completing a two-week pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I am still absorbing the unfathomable, the infinite, the indefinite. As we traveled from Jerusalem to Ramallah, to Galilee, and east to the Golan Heights with its sweeping vistas of Syria, it wasn’t surprising that Israel evoked more questions than answers. This land suffers from strife and conflict like no other. From the minarets where Islamic prayer chants suffuse the air with an eerie sound like grief, to the Hasidic Jews pushing their shopping carts along the streets of the West Bank, to the hordes of Christian tourists from as far as Uganda and South America seeking to touch the untouchable, the world’s melting pot is within your grasp.

Being where Jesus walked and brought his ministry to the world seemed at times surreal. He was a figure I had seen since childhood immortalized in stained glass windows holding a lamb or symbolized by a crucifix above the church altar. Unlike some of my fellow Christians, I’m not certain I ever truly felt his presence except for when I looked into the faces of the suffering or wept at my husband’s funeral and felt the comfort of his touch. But who was he? Here, I felt the life of the real person come alive.

I walked down to the Jordan River and renewed my baptismal covenant in the waters where he was baptized, trod the pathway brimming with bougainvillea to the Galilee where he turned a few fishes and loaves of bread into feeding thousands, visited the cave where he may have been born, took a cable car to the top of the mountain in Jericho where a rocky ledge enshrines where he sat for forty days in loneliness and what must have been fear. I felt the presence of his mother in the church dedicated to her in Nazareth. I saw the place where he was crucified entombed inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Why had it all been so hard? Even the entire country seemed made out of limestone, a hard unyielding surface of smooth and jagged rock. Why had he been tested so many times, and suffered so much?

At the same time as I was seeking spiritual answers, a world crisis was brewing as Israelis took to the streets in protest of their government’s plan to overturn its judiciary. Inside the West Bank, I walked along the wall separating the Palestinians from the Israelis, a concrete monolith of apartheid, for there is no other word. So little had changed since Jesus lived here. Strife remained paramount. The world isn’t always black and white, and the preconceived notions I had about this place became meaningless. As I visited the Western Wall, once known as the Wailing Wall, praying next to Jewish women, I realized I knew nothing.

Yet, perhaps it was the church service I attended in Ramallah a Palestinian city in the central West Bank that left me with one answer, at least. The service was conducted both in Arabic and English. As we celebrated the Eucharist in both languages, the Muslim prayers from the minarets outside our little stone church echoed as a point/counterpoint to the divergent beliefs of mankind … almost as if we were one community of believers. This was a moment to cherish.

Later, outside in a cool rain in the church courtyard, we sipped Turkish coffee. It didn’t matter that we were thousands of miles from home. This service, this fellowship was happening everywhere on this Sunday around the world. And it will continue so for another two thousand years, just as the Muslim prayer chants call its worshippers and the Western Wall my Jewish sisters. It’s not up to us to understand the mystery that is God, only to embrace it.

Published by Susan G. Weidener

Join me as I share reflections, always with an eye toward the challenges and struggles we women encounter and embrace in both creative and personal ways. My memoir, Again in a Heartbeat, was selected as a 2011 editor’s pick by Story Circle Network. Its sequel Morning at Wellington Square has also achieved critical acclaim. A Portrait of Love and Honor, a novel based on a true story, is centered around a story of two people, Ava Stuart and Jay Scioli, who are destined to meet and Jay's commitment to honor following his years at West Point. My new novel And the Memory Returns continues the story of Ava Stuart who begins asking herself those questions so many women face as they age. What had it all meant? Where does she go from here? In 1991, I joined the staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer and worked as a reporter covering news and writing feature stories until 2007. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs, I attended the University of Pennsylvania. In 2010, I started the Women's Writing Circle, a critique and support group for writers in suburban Philadelphia, which meets the second Saturday of the month at the Chester Springs Library. I live in Chester Springs, Pennsylvania with my Yellow Lab, Lily.

6 thoughts on “Seeking Answers in the Holy Land

  1. Susan, thank you for this thoughtful, evocative glimpse into the Israel of today. Your words, and your photos, made it come alive for me. It seems like it was a wonderful experience for you.


  2. This is a beautiful reflection, proving again that photos (spectacular!) are the best souvenirs of our travels. Words are too, and yours are so well-chosen and affecting. “Unfathomable” is a great word to capture the beauty, the ugly–and the surreal. It’s also one way to describe our Savior’s love for us. Thank you, Susan!


  3. Marian. How true that his love for us was so deep…part of the mystery that is God. Thank you for stopping by and offering such kind words. And, yes, photos are the great ‘narrators’ of our travels.


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