I arrived home Monday (2/24) about 5 PM quite thankful to be home after traveling for about 25 hours. I was especially thankful to have my wife, Pam, meet me at DTW; thus avoiding taking the Michigan Flyer (which was quite nice!) to Lansing and from Lansing home to Owosso which would have added another couple hours onto the trip!
In retrospect I think I have been struggling with an intestinal problem, mildly for over a week and for the last 3 days of the trip much more severely. This made the last few days and the travel quite wearisome and difficult - but difficultly strenghthens us and I am grateful for patience and perseverence. I seem to be recovering (from the time difference and the intestinal issue) quite well now along with doing all the laundary and sorting out everything from the trip.
Seven pilgrims are still traveling with five of them returning on Thursday 2/27 (from Egypt) and two others a few days later (from Qatar). Please keep them in your prayers as, though I'm sure they are enjoying themselves, I'm sure also that they are weary and ready to return home!
Two things I want to do in this (possibly) last blog:
- Ask you to send me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Reflect on the trip after being back a few days now
Send me an Email - Pretty simple actually but will be helpful feedback for when I do this again. Please let me know:
- Who are you (many of you I know but there are a few that are a mystery!)?
- How did you find out about the Blog?
- Why were you interested in following the blog AND was that interest satisfied?
- How did the Blog affect you (e.g., your faith, your knowledge about Biblical and other places, your interest in travel, etc.)
- This was my second trip; as such it was not so overwhelming as my first trip (10 years ago). I felt much more able to understand where I was and not be simply carried away by the beauty, the mystery, the seeming impossibility of being where I was. I felt much more like I was on earth than I was in heaven, much more grounded, much more mature. I was more able to step outside of myself and observe and consider and think. Both experiences were good - just different! I think it is a natural progression.
- My first trip was with a primarily Orthodox group with a bishop, several priests, several deacons and many others - 99% Orthodox. Our tour guide was Orthodox, his father and brother were priests and he had served in all the holy places for most of his life. This trip was primarily non-Orthodox Christians making pilgrimage for the first time. Our tour guide - who was excellent - was Roman Catholic and did not have the same relationship with the Orthodox community. These things made a difference from my standpoint (as I am an Orthodox Christian). For instance Mount Tabor would be a major pilgrimage stop for Orthodox but we did not go there. Our first visit to the Shepherd's Field was to the RC site versus the Orthodox. Also, we were not able to enter the Orthodox Church and Convent of St. Mary Magdalene (where even our non-Orthodox pilgrims were aware of it being the burial place of Russian / English connected Royalty) because we were not Orthodox. I sensed that our guide was a bit frustrated with entering into the Orthodox sites because of more limited hours ... perhaps even a sense of a lack of cooperation with the tour company (maybe this was because they were more protective of being overrun by tourists who do not understand?).
- Difference in feel between Orthodox and Roman Catholic sites. The RC sites almost always felt extremely well funded, cold, sterile and professional, like museums. The Orthodox sites felt like you were entering into someone's home, a little dusty but warm and inviting, humble and simple; struggling; real; holy.
- This trip, since I was not so overwhelmed and since I was more familiar with the people of Beit Sahour, allowed me to enter into relationships more freely than before - and for other reasons. So I was able to spend an evening seeing the city with a friend's cousing from Beit Sahour and visit his home, his mother and his sister. I was also blessed to have made friends with a few Russians, an American monk at St. Saba, and others from the Beit Sahour community who are connected with the hotel, some of whom lived in Flint years ago and returned.
- I realized that for some reason I felt very lonely on this trip; reflecting back I was probably feeling lonely on the first trip as well ... perhaps just more aware of it on this trip.
- The monastic experience at Mar Saba was VERY REAL and I learned many things but I'm still working through them. It was also difficult, partly because I was having intestinal issues and did not have a bottled water source - my own fault, but also partly because of the lack of any knowlege or sense of their Typikon - the order of their life. I did not know their service times, they changed on the two nights I was there, everything was in Greek, I did not seem to be assigned a "contact" in the event I needed something or to advise me. There was no "playbook" in a sense. So every moment felt to be an "uncertainty". However, due to this overall situation and my desire to leave a day early I ended up meeting three individuals whom I would not otherwise have met - and to have met them was a great blessing!
- Cultural exchage and appreciation of how life is very different in other parts of the world is a key part of travel. It is important for Christians in this country to become aware of the Palestinian Christian situation and how complicated it is.
- Television. It was interesting (and strange?) that the only station on the TV in the hotel room (I did not turn it on till the last day when I was packing) was Russian!?
- I am still assessing the meaning of this trip and how it is part of guiding my life forward from here. I am truly thankful to have been with the other 11 pilgrims and become friends with them and to have met the other group from Maryland that we joined with in order to fill up the bus. Part of this is in the quotes that follow (both taken from an article on pilgrimage) part of this is still being formulated - in any event, it is GOOD to be home:
- 'If a man changes his place, he is no further from God. Wherever you may be, God will come to you, if your soul's lodging is such that the Lord may dwell in you and walk among you. If you are full of evil thoughts, even though you be on Golgotha or on the Mount of Olives or in the Chapel of the Resurrection, you are as far from receiving Christ within you, as those who have not acknowledged His sovereignty. Accordingly, beloved, advise the brethren "to journey to the Body of the Lord," but not to make the journey from Cappadocia to Palestine.' St. Gregory of Nyssa.
- "Indeed, for some it is not necessary to travel to Jerusalem the earthly at all, they find the Holy City in the village church on Easter night." Stephen Graham