I am a pilgrim, and I am especially aware of that reality this week. I have just returned from a delightful pilgrimage to the Holy Land sponsored by the Sholom Center for Interfaith Fellowship and Learning. Members and friends of Temple Sholom and Christ Church journeyed together in the poignant and holy land of Israel, also entering the West Bank and Jordan (Petra being an add-on for half of the travelers). Yes, it was a trip to another part of the world, but it was so much more than that. It was a pilgrimage.
As pilgrims we journeyed to places of significance and holiness in the traditions of Judaism and Christianity. There were so many moving experiences.
Just to name two of them: We celebrated a young woman's Bat Mitzvah on the top of the mount of Masada, a place of ancient and contemporary importance in the Jewish tradition. It was wonderful to pray as God's family and to witness that young woman, Natalie, reading a portion of the Torah. We also prayed together on another hillside, the one overlooking the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus of Nazareth taught about life and prayer. It was so meaningful for us to offer thanks for God's love, for our families, for the world, and for each other in the place where Jesus described life as "blessed" when we are peace-makers, merciful in soul, hungry for God, and compassionate in our living. These were but two of the places of special importance, but each day afforded such meaning, opportunity, and experience.
Destination and place make a pilgrimage a pilgrimage. So do three other dynamics: Movement, companionship, and transformation. To be a pilgrim is to move in body and soul, from one place to another physically and spiritually. The spiritual movement is particularly important. Our pilgrimage is one of heart and soul as much as it is traveling on this earth. Also, pilgrimage involves companionship. A great blessing of this interfaith pilgrimage was the fellow travelers. We built bonds of affection and friendship as companions together. The other dynamic, then, is transformation. A pilgrimage can be marked by a transformation of perspective and spirit for the pilgrim as he or she walks with God and opens our human spirit to God.
The interfaith pilgrimage to the Holy Land involved all of these things for me and, I believe, for my fellow pilgrims. It was great. And I suspect we will do this again in a couple of years. In the meantime, I am aware of two other pilgrimages that will build immediately on the Holy Land experience. I returned on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent for Christians and have been reminded that Lent is, at its very best, a pilgrimage, a sojourn of faith for movement, companionship, and transformation. We walk spiritually through this season to come to a spiritual experience of Jerusalem and the love of God proclaimed in Holy Week and Easter within the Christian tradition. And yes, there is the other great pilgrimage, that of our lives. We journey. We walk. We make progress moving with God and in companionship with each other throughout our lives. Life itself can be a pilgrimage in the mercy and the grace of God. We got a glimpse of that in the Holy Land these past weeks, and we can see it around us now. How grand and glorious it is to travel as pilgrims together. How broad and deep is the love and companionship of God.