At Midnight on the 2nd of January of this year, Austin, my Mother and I boarded a flight to Israel where we would eventually meet our larger group.
I'd received a call from my Mother 12 Months earlier when she had excitedly shared about an opportunity to go on a pilgrimage to "walk the path of Jesus" and I could tell from her voice that the trip would mean a lot to her. I think she was totally surprised when I agreed to go and then it was my turn to be surprised when Austin agreed come with us.
My faith has long been a concern for my Mother and I think she always holds hope that I will one day see the light. It's hard for her to accept that I'm already here, standing in the light right along with her. I do in fact resonate with faith and spiritual practice, my issue being I don't feel like I belong in any one place and after years of trying ( believe me, it's not been without tremendous effort and soul searching) that I've arrived at accepting myself for where I am.
This said, I absolutely loved the entire experience of exploring Israel as a welcomed guest with a group of 43 other beautiful souls who practice their faith as Catholics. I loved the beauty of the daily services, the sermons given by Father Simeon Gallagher (an incredibly fun, tender-hearted and charismatic Capuchin Monk whom I'm endeared to for life) the prayers we said at the beginning of each day and at the end of each day, the churches we visited and the historical places that brought us to the very intersection of history, culture & the origins of the Christian faith; Jesus Christ.
To get a sense of Fr. Gallagher's sense of humor and his powerful style of speaking, watch the clip below. I love this man so much.
The city of Jerusalem was by far the place I loved most on our journey. Jerusalem holds great significance in a number of religious traditions, including the Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, which consider it a holy city. Some of the most sacred places for each of these religions are found in Jerusalem and the one shared between all three is the Temple Mount.
Until I visited this territory, it was always confusing to grasp and make sense of how this land is considered to be holy to all three of these major religions. The historical significance of this land and really all of Israel and much of the middle east is mind boggling. To know this territory is to know that It has been conquered, destroyed and rebuilt time and again, and every layer of its earth reveals a different piece of the past.
Over the centuries all three of the Abrahamic religions have considered Jerusalem holy. The Jews because it was their capital before the diaspora and the home of the First and Second Temples; the Christians because it was the place where Jesus was crucified; the Muslims because it is where Mohammed ascended to Heaven. They have all built religious monuments there and the area is teeming with people who travel on Pilgrimage each year to pay homage to the origins of their faith.
To say that I was in people watching heaven would be an understatement and our tour guide, a massive 6' 4" Palestinian Christian named Ibrahim (whom I can not say enough about) was an incredible asset to us. This man's intellect and knowledge simply blew me away. He was a wealth of information on scripture, ancient history, Jewish, Muslim & Christian religions and of course the current political climate. In addition he was a fun and formidable figure, able to speak five languages and interact with the various crowds, security detail & navigate the streets of each of the cities & towns we traveled to including Bethlehem, Nazareth, Tiberias, Jerusalem etc. without a hitch.
This past year I've met two beautiful Women who hail from Israel, one of them is from Jordan, and one of them who grew up outside Jerusalem. They too have encouraged me to continue to explore the Middle East as my affection for the history of what I was experiencing truly touched me at a soul level and the part of me that knows spirit when I feel it was completely alive and deeply connected. It's an incredibly special place and will live in my heart forever along with the people I met as one of my #1 most memorable life experiences.
I've taken the time to write this post not only to encourage those of you that find the idea of traveling to this area appealing, but also to share with you some of the photographs I was able to capture along the way. I do love taking photos and I hope you enjoy them! Also- I cant say enough about the travel company we booked with; Illume, who offers educational academic and religious tours all over the globe. We stayed in 4 star hotels, ate great food and traveled on the most impeccably clean tour bus I've ever seen. They are a top notch company and I highly recommend using them. In addition, I just learned that if you have a group of 20 people or more, they will assist at planning any type of tour-trip you can think of for your group and you'll get to travel for free. In fact, I'm working with them now on designing a trip to Europe for The Revelation Project to celebrate women who changed the world through history ( artists, rulers, writers, poets, saints, sages, and revolutionaries) so stay tuned!