The pilgrim way

Having returned to the UK late on Friday night from our 11-day MWiB pilgrimage to Israel/Palestine my body is clearly still functioning on Jerusalem time (2 hours ahead) and I really don’t know where my mind or soul are at all… still racing with so many wonderful experiences, sights and encounters.  I could easily get carried away in this little column…

The group was wonderful – 34 women, some knew a few others, some knew none, but we soon became a pilgrim band, sensitively led in our devotions by Elizabeth Rundle, and brilliantly looked after on the ground by our guide, Salim and driver Jawad.  Thankfully we experienced no major disasters, but all felt so sorry for our one brave pilgrim who struggled with a stomach bug for almost the entire pilgrimage.

96. Judean WildernessThe sights were impressive – who could fail to be moved by the view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, the ancient trees of the Garden of Gethsemane, the vast expanse of the Judean desert (pictured), the calm of Galilee with three superb sunrises, the view from the Mount of Transfiguration… and so much more.  Taking a small group of women to the Holy Sepulchre “very early on the first day of the week” was unforgettable  for me.

The encounters were transformative – whether with each other, with local folk or with God, we all (I think) met feelings and emotions larger than ourselves at different points and can never be the same again.  Different moments spoke to different people, of course (whilst I loved the bling of Bethlehem, others, understandably, found that deeply disappointing).   A visit from Rev. Kristen Brown, UMC mission partner at the Methodist Jerusalem Liaison Office, opened our eyes to more of the challenges and injustices of the local situation – we heard Kristen speak with such passion and were moved again.  I commend her to your prayers. A powerful service at St. Andrew’s Church of Scotland (!) had us groping for tissues again (you can read the excellent and thought-provoking sermon here)

The tears flowed for many of us, again at different times. For me, in two particular places there was such a strong sense of connection with “those we have loved but see no more” that I sobbed.  Perhaps our emotional baggage is as important on pilgrimage as our physical baggage – we are given opportunities to review what we are carrying through life, to handle gently some of the feelings we hide much of the time and sometimes to put certain things down.

The security on departure was extremely high, and a less saintly group might have become disgruntled at queuing for well over an hour with no progress, followed by rigorous questioning for a few of us and such thorough procedures that, in the end, some of our names were  being called on the intercom as we ran to the boarding gate and were the last people to board the plane… but the news of the tragic events in Paris which greeted us on our arrival in  Heathrow underlined the need for such security measures in this current climate.  We know too, that for many living in the lands we had visited, what we had gone through was nothing compared to their daily frustrations, humiliations and, often, violence.

“Would you go again?”  I asked a few people on the last day – before the security procedures most said yes, afterwards some were not so sure, but for me, I know that I have been deeply bitten by the beauty, history, tragedy and hope of the land.  Next year in Jerusalem?  Jill


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