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By Susan Beach. Photos by Philip Delano, Tommy Pusser, Nancy Pettigrew and Susan Beach.

“Closed to pilgrims from 12:30 to 2:00.” It took me a moment to realize the sign on the church door was for me.

I hadn’t thought of pilgrims as 21st century folks – running shoes instead of sandals, windbreakers in place of rope-cinched robes. I certainly hadn’t thought of pilgrimage as part of my trip to Israel.

marketplaceBut if a pilgrim is a seeker, then I qualified. I went seeking connections to Jesus’ earthly life. I also found connections to other Christians, to other faiths, and to my own faith in a fresh way.

In Walking the Bible Bruce Feiler says that what you see is less important than what you experience. I needed that advice. I needed to close my eyes to the build-up of centuries of daily life, politics and war, so I could experience a small part of what Jesus experienced. When I remembered that Jerusalem was probably just as tourist-choked during His visits there at Passover as it was for me in 2014, my view of the Old City completely changed. Men hawking their wares to tourists pushing to get to their next destination – all were distractions. But knowing that Jesus wouldn’t have looked at them with annoyance demanded more of me; I needed to connect to them with His kind of love.

At all the significant places of Jesus’ life, our group read the appropriate scripture and sang hymns. Those mini-worship services became surprising high spots in each day for me – surprising because the familiar verses became fresh, surprising because I felt a new sense of belonging to our group. And surprising because of the joy we all experienced as our worship blended with and connected to that of other Christian groups, also finding high spots in their day.
group worship

hamsaJerusalem means “city of peace,” although that’s certainly not been my image of it. Christians, Jews and Muslims disagree on so much, yet I met some who are seeking peace. And I believe there are many more. The souvenir I most treasure from my trip is a hamsa, a hand-shaped object, once a pagan symbol of protection but now used by all three peoples of The Book as a sign of peace and welcome. It’s a visible reminder to me of my promise to pray for and to connect with people of these faiths that call Jerusalem home.

baptismIn preparation for this trip I prayed I would find a new way of following my faith. I could never have guessed how that would happen. On the first day our guide mentioned the upcoming opportunity to reaffirm our baptism vows. Previously I had only heard about rebaptism, a concept that didn’t connect with me. But reaffirm did connect. My husband looked at me and said, “That’s like reaffirming marriage vows. We can do that!” Doing this together was a deeply moving experience. Although our baptisms had been more than 50 years ago, they remain significant experiences in our lives. But this opportunity added dimensions we’d never thought of – choosing verses that have particular meaning for this part of our lives, renewing our commitment to follow God’s plan, reading each others’ verses as part of the service, eyes on each other as we were dipped in the Jordan. In many ways it reaffirmed both baptism and wedding vows.

Part of the definition of pilgrim should be that itineraries may change and expectations may not be met, yet God answers the deepest prayers of our hearts when we are available for a journey. I will continue to claim the title of pilgrim.

Author’s note:
This is one story; there are 34 others. To hear them, ask any of the following who were on this 2014 trip to Israel: Sarah Bailey, David Beach, Susan Blanchard, Sandra Bollinger, Bev and Jay Carroll, Lyn Cizek, Alice and Joe Cizek, Martha Cloe, Ann Cook, Carol Cremeans, Roberta Damon, Mary Ann and Chip Delano, Philip Delano, Cari Duvall, Effie and John Farmer, Dale Hamilton, Jackie Morsink, Becky Payne, Nancy Pettigrew, Pat Pierson, Jack Pusser, Skylar Pusser, Shearer Pettigrew and Tommy Pusser, Karen Smith, Ruth Szucs, Debbie Tipton, Joy Townsend, Lynn Turner, and Patty Whitfield.

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