By Mark A. Taylor
When I returned from my trip to Israel, my wife said, “You are NOT going to begin speeches or sermons with, ‘When I was in Israel . . .’ Right?” And I guess I never have.
I don’t think I’ve ever written about that trip, either. But I couldn’t resist adding my testimony after reading Marshall Hayden’s and Tom Jones’s moving pieces this week. Their experiences help me remember my own special time there.
I think the majestic Sea of Galilee was my favorite stop. Although it is usually still, wind churned it into waves the day we took a boat trip across. A boatload of Spanish priests bouncing along nearby was singing. Their voices were strong across the water, although we couldn’t understand their words.
“They sing about Christ calming the storm,” someone told us. Yes, on this water storms arise. Jesus was once there, just as we were. The breeze whipped across my face as I tried to imagine him walking on the waves.
I was also struck by how compact the land is. (Just a short ride from Jerusalem to Bethlehem.) And how green. (Rose beds bloomed in the median strips of the Jerusalem six-lane streets. We passed fields with banana trees laden with fruit.) Like Marshall, I was moved by the Garden Tomb, and I still remember meditating at the place where Jesus may have been born.
And Israel is not the only Holy Land. When I returned from my trip to Jordan, I realized it deserves a spot on pilgrims’ itineraries too. Here we visited Gadara and imagined the demon-filled herd of pigs stampeding over a nearby hillside. Here we stood on Mount Nebo and tried to fathom what it meant to Moses to look across the Jordan to the promised land he would never inhabit.
And on both sides of that river, and places away from it, I remember beautiful scenery, awe-inspiring deserts, cool water, modern resorts, bountiful buffets, and comfortable (and sometimes luxurious) sleeping rooms.
Our writers this week make much of the spiritual experiences possible to Holy Land visitors. But these places are wonderful destinations in any traveler’s vacation plan. It’s good to know that one need not punish his body to enrich his spirit here.
But one may not come any closer to God—or an understanding of what he has done in history—than he will with a visit to these lands.
I think I’ll see if I can return there with Marshall or Tom sometime soon.