Two years ago, this very day, I was in Israel at the desert oasis called En Gedi. It is where David hid from Saul. It is where he found to be replenished. I hiked with my friends to beautiful waterfalls, hearing the gentle sounds of the water. Then with others, I hiked up the steep cliffs, though only 1,500 feet, it was steep and narrow. But once we reached the top, the view was breathtaking. We saw the all of the Dead Sea. A moment of solitude I took. I prayed. I reflected. Like David, En Gedi was where I felt revived in so many ways, more than physically. Below is the psalm I wrote while in the midst of the serene oasis.
Broken and scared,
I yearn for relief.
I try to find peace,
But I am besieged by mine enemies.
I feel alone.
Weary and dry
this desert is slowly,
bitterly draining this life.
to the gentle rush of water.
A spring of life is near.
Springs of En Gedi revive
the desert is beauty in oasis.
A renewed spirit of breath.
A soft breeze.
Glisten of hope.
I hear the shout of He who is greater.
a genesis begins.
On this rock, I sit
Its strange. I am home, in America. Yet I am not the same as when I left. I am new. Returning home from Israel, I have not been able to make a proper analysis of my experience. I try to sit and understand the past five weeks. I try to fathom everything, yet I find myself at a loss. I have come from the most intense emotional, spiritual and physical experience of my life. America. This land that I live in now seems less glorious. Pride. Arrogance. English signs and speaking. TV. Media. Commercials. Radio.
The church- a structure that was established by man- so often takes perspective from Israel and the Jews to replace it with Christians. Replacement theology. The Bible- the scriptures- were not written so different sects of Christianity could interpret it to fit their mold of faith. The scriptures were written as accounts to the glory of God and his promise regarding Israel and the Jews. Yes I am a Christian. Yes I love Christ. But experiencing the church, now, after experiencing Israel, is somewhat draining. Not draining because it is wrong but rather because the attitudes of so many lack an awe of God and a love for Israel. It is so hard to try to explain to people at church what my experience was like. I can’t fully explain it because they will not fully grasp it.
With all of this I have come to this conclusion: I am in culture shock…in America. So much is different. So much is off base. So much is not where I feel it should be. Yet so much is just not Israel. My heart has been changed. I have been made new. Israel is where my restoration happened. Jerusalem is where I met God. It is not America that is the issue nor is it my church. Yes there are things that I feel should be different, however, I am new and not numb. Returning home will take to adjust and settle. But I will not forget. I cannot forget. Israel was the end of my beginning. So as I drive around New Jersey, as I sit in my church, as I lay on my diving board gazing at the stars, I will remember. Those moments that shaped me- I will remember. That country that changed me, I will remember. God that met me- I will remember.
Exactly how I feel about Jerusalem.
You’re the God of this City
You’re the King of these people
You’re the Lord of this nation
You’re the Light in this darkness
You’re the Hope to the hopeless
You’re the Peace to the restless
There is no one like our God
There is no one like our God
For greater things have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
Greater thing have yet to come
And greater things are still to be done in this City
[This is a powerful song by Chris Tomlin/Bluetree]
Suffering. The Via Dolorosa. Pain. Anguish. It begins at the old Fort Antonio. Today it stands as representation to the procession of the cross. Condemned. A death to which was undeserved. Crucify. The very crowds that cheered for his presence. A glorious entry. Praised. Honored.
Betrayed. Turned to the law and broken. Jesus stood in Fort Antonio to hear a verdict of his life. His destiny was death. Nothing less. Today standing there helped me to picture that moment of defeat. Today thousands of pilgrims from around the world stood in the courtyard of Fort Antonio-now an Arabic school- singing songs to Christ. The masses stood in place of those from two thousand years ago. I could only imagine the horror from then. Screaming. Cheering. Condemning. We followed the procession for a little while, however, the crowds almost became too much to manage.
Once we finally made it out of the procession we found our way back to our guesthouse. Soon thereafter a friend and I went back to the Garden Tomb. Today was a day for reflection, meditation, and prayer. I needed it all. Overcome by peace, I was able to rest in the His arms. I cried some tears of joy. No weeping. Just peace. Beautiful peace.
Good Friday- this Friday- two thousand years ago. At the ninth hour- 3pm- Christ died. His last breath. Gone. Darkness came. It rested in the sky. Hovering. Waiting. In the Garden today, that darkness has gone. It turned cloudy at one point, showing me a darkness. But today I focused on joy. I rejoiced in the Glory of Christ risen. The flowers dance to the wind. The birds sing. The stones, present 2000 years ago, remain. If this Garden was the tomb of Christ, those stones are witnesses to that Glory.
After the Garden Tomb last night, our group had a foot washing. Now granted this was not my first time experiencing a foot washing. In all actuality I think I have had too many foot washing services, however most of which lacking focus on Christ and his purpose. Each time, for the most part, was portrayed with focus of the person giving the washing- not Christ. I almost wish last night would have been the first time I have ever experienced a foot washing. It was moving. It was beautiful.
We sang acoustic worship while the water basin was passed from person to person [on the right]. Something key about the idea of a foot washing service, is that if the focus is not on Christ at all times, then it is completely in vain. Christ washed his disciples’ feet. This we know. But something I had never thought of before last night was the fact that Jesus first saw his disciples and their dirty feet. He then saw an empty basin. Opportunity. He saw it. He took it. Acting as a slave- a servant- he took off his outer clothing. He knelt at the feet of each disciple. Knowing that Judas was already filled with the a spirit of Satan, he STILL washed his feet. He still gave him honor though it wasn’t due. The disciples, especially Peter, were not willing to let Christ wash their feet. It was only after Christ said that they could have no part of him without it, that they allowed for him to wash them.
During the foot washing I prayed…prayed for so many things. I feel free from my past. But I also worry for things to come. Uncertainty. So much of what I felt I cannot explain. Simply, I don’t know entirely why but I was weeping. I was overcome by something. As soon as the foot washing ended I ran upstairs, grabbed my ipod and went to the rooftop balcony. Tears burst forth from my eyes. A weeping I have never known. I wanted more of God. I could feel his presence in a completely new way. Then I did something out of my comfort zone. I danced. I got up, smiling, and began to dance on the roof. I know it sounds ridiculous. I don’t care. I felt a need to dance. So I did. Like David, I danced in Jerusalem, undignified before my God. I loved it. Alive! I danced! Resurrected!
I just experienced the greatest moment of peace in my life. We went to the Garden Tomb in Jerusalem. It is a site that many believe is the actual tomb and resurrection place of Christ. It very well could be, however the staff of the Garden Tomb will not tell you that it is for certain the tomb of Christ. Many factors suggest that it could be the tomb: it is right outside the city [old city] by the Damascus gate and near a main road. The tomb found is near a cliff that is said to be Golgotha, the place of Christ’s death. The tomb itself is found in an old vineyard, which would follow with the idea of Joseph of Arimethia burying Jesus.
Whether that tomb is the actual tomb of Christ, it stands as a symbol of Christ’s resurrection regardless. The area enclosed allows for meditation and prayer undisturbed from the rest of Jerusalem. I sat and thought of so much. I first thought of the things I have done; the reasons for Christ dying. Then I smiled. I still am smiling. I remember Christ’s death and I recognize him as being my savior, but without his resurrection, nothing would matter. This empty tomb was beautiful. It reminded me that my Lord, though crucified, rose again, declaring the Glory of God! It shows me so much about myself. As I wrote previously, I have been emptied. Now I am alive again. I would simply be nothing without this beautiful story of love…of resurrection. The tomb now empty because my Lord has risen. I smile. I laugh. I breathe. I can live. Risen.
In Israel, I have found myself. But every step of the way has been a path of brokenness. Beautiful brokenness. I have figured out so much about who I am. I have been a girl, insecure about who I was. I have portrayed confidence yet wearing a mask. I have been terrified with the fact that I am graduating in December and have no idea what comes next. This idea of growth and maturity into the reality of adulthood is rather frightening. I was brokenhearted, insecure, and uncertain. I had to empty my heart to be free. Poured out and broken, I allowed for God to meet me. Here in Israel I have found myself at his feet. Like the woman washing the feet of Christ. Weeping. Tears running down. Vulnerable. Transparent. Me.
I emptied all that I was for all that he could do in my life. I feel so free. I feel liberated from my past of pain. Fulfilled and alive for the first time really ever, I want to dance. Dance in the victory of a battle won. Singing. Shouting. ALIVE! I want to scream on the hilltops of Jerusalem. Restored! Israel, this Holy Land, has been God’s way of showing me his love. The sunrise is stunning. The stars in the desert of breathtaking. The people are his chosen ones. The Temple will be rebuilt. From Galilee to En Gedi, this land reveals the purpose and promise of God. It has emptied me. He has emptied me. Entirely. I am done. I am new. ALIVE! I smile. I breathe. I dance. I sing. I shout. I am…
Beginning of the Holy Week here in Jerusalem, I knew that the rest of our trip would be vastly different. Today began Pesach or the Passover for the Jews. Sunday, Palm Sunday, began the Holy Week for Catholics and Christians around the world. We began today by walking in the feet of Jesus by taking the Via Dolorosa. From the East Gate of the Temple Mount through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The path through the city has now been made part of the markets. Cars nearly hit walkers. It was hardly the walk I would have imagined Christ walking in his final hours. But then I realized something to put into my limited perspective. In the times of Christ, the streets would have been filled with some form of a market, sheep, donkeys, camels, children, beggars…chaos and noise. Jesus walking through the streets carrying a cross would have been an example to the people to not rebel against Rome or the Pharisees. Disrespect. Disgrace. Shame. Humilation. Jesus felt all.
But then our walk of the Via Dolorosa ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Aggravation. Irriation. Annoyance. Frustration. I felt these things. This church decorated with gold, candles, mosaics, paintings, and crowds of people were beyond ridiculous. This church, to many, stands on the exact location of the burial and resurrection site of Christ. One could hardly tell. All I could see were the crowds pushing one another. Angry Christians. Rude Christians. Pushing their way to kiss a rock that they think Jesus was anointed on. It is very hard for me to believe that this church stands on the site of the world’s greatest darkness…and victory. I feel there is more to it than what I saw. Yet though I think there is more, I do not feel the necessity for the complexity I saw in this church.
We continued on our day, trying to think of Christ through the decorated Lord. The rest of the day was more fun and cultural then orthodox. We walked 5 miles to our tour guide’s house. Yes 5 miles. But honestly it was well worth it. Eli, our tour guide, hosted us for a somewhat touristic Passover sader. Eli and his family made some of the traditional foods for our sader, while we lounged in a triclinium design. It was a lot of fun to learn and experience a Jewish sader. Of course at the end of the ceremony we had to walk the 5 miles back to our guesthouse. The walking was well worth it. Tonight, however, we got to experience a Jewish sader that recognizes Christ as the Messiah. I loved it! Today was an incredible day!
I want to be honest. I feel like so much of my faith has been spoon fed to me where I have done nothing but eat. I have taken in what I have been told without truly figuring out all for myself. At church during fast songs you clap your hands and sometimes dance. During slower “worship” songs you raise your hands and close your eyes. A typical service consists of announcements, a 30-minute worship set and an hour sermon. Some time during that set tithes/offerings, special music, and communion are done.
Its a ritual.
It was when I got to college that I began to find God in new ways. It was when I arrived here in Israel that I no longer will view religion, regardless of denomination or name, the same. I can’t. I refuse. I have seen Orthodox Jews worship GOD with such reverence and honor. They have obedience and discipline for the law. They know little else. Muslims here pray five times a day. We hear the mosques resound the “call to prayer” and we know that Muslims everywhere stop and pray toward Mecca.
Friday morning we heard a believer in Yeshua [Jesus] speak about religions and what we can do. Friday night we heard a once Orthodox Jewish man speak about his experience of finding Yeshua as the Messiah. Both speakers brought forth something to my attention that I had never been fully aware of before. Christians throughout the last 2000 years have done wrong. We took the idea of Jesus as the Messiah [mind he was Jewish!] and made it into its own religion. We have created man-made rituals and laws that have dictated our arrogance to the rest of the world. Crusaders destroyed Israel in the name of God because the Muslims were wrong. For some reason, they felt a special right to the land. The Holocaust came and Christianity as a whole did nothing, though individuals did. As a religion we have made this idea of Christ into our own context.
I look at the American church more than anything. I see this church style that I have been raised- in no way am I trying to belittle the church. But I realize something so crucial to my own faith. We lack reverence and awe of God. I see these other religions here and they have complete honor for God. Yet everyone in American churches treat God solely as a best friend, or comforter, though true, but we cannot forget that God is GOD! He is the Creater, the ruler, the One that can bring his wrath in a moment but reveal his love too. He is more than deserving of honor, yet we forget too often to revere him.
I do not want a religion that makes the Bible fit into the perfect mold of Christianity. If anything, Christianity must try to see the Law, the Torah- the scriptures from the focus of Israel and the Jewish people. I want to love and honor God the way he intended me to. I want to be disciplined and fear God. But I refuse to return home to normality and forget what I have learned. Arrogance as a Christian is ridiculous. We have absolutely no reason to be arrogant. Treating God only as a best friend and not a Father or Creator lacks honor and respect. I am figuring out my faith for myself- I want faith in the raw and not some creation of man.
Today was an incredible and mostly relaxing day! We went to a Crusader Castle. I thought it was pretty cool- but at the same time it was somewhat disturbing. The architecture of the castle was amazing. But what got to me, again, is the fact that the crusaders fought in the name of God. Just being on site was breathtaking but aggravated me in regards to the reason for the crusader presence in Israel. However the view of from the castle was absolutely stunning!
After the Crusader Castle our group grabbed lunch at Beit Shean. Beit Shean was one of the most incredible sights I have ever seen. The ruins of Beit Shean are from the once extravegant Roman city. Next to Pompeii, Beit Shean is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of any city ruins. It was amazing! It was cool to try to imagine the city in its glory.
In the afternoon we relaxed at a spring nearby the ruins of Beit Shean. It was definitely needed relaxation. Fresh water spring. 80 degree water. The spring was the perfect temperature. I had fun diving in off the rocks and swimming to the bottom of the spring, which was rather deep. Grabbing ice cream and lemonade, I was satisfied with a great day. We quickly made a stop to Gideon’s Spring which was an interesting experience with our group.