August 13, 2010

The Pilgrimage Continued... still on the first day!

The Copula of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth
- built over the place where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary









Roman Aquaduct north of Caesarea
Up to the last post, I was sharing about our pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  The first day we set off to Caesarea then Haifa where Mt. Carmel is, then Cana and finally Nazareth.  It was a true whirlwind and when we finally got to our hotel in Tiberius, everyone was exhausted.  Everyone agreed that it was almost too much to take in: the history, the beauty, the culture, and the deep spiritual meaning of each place.  We were submerged in the Scriptures - like a living Gospel, the Holy Land was its own witness to the presence of God in human history and in each of our hearts.

Our group enjoying a view of Haifa
Haifa 
Part of the spirituality of a pilgrimage is learning to be patient with different kinds of hardships.  This particular hardship was disguised.  We were catered to all day, went to some wonderful places of prayer (I will get back to those in the next post), learned a lot from our Arab-Israeli guide - Sami, and ate well.   Before we left, I had explained to everyone that going on a pilgrimage requires a lot of patience.  Now everyone teased me because they felt more spoiled than anything else - they had all expected more spectacular hardships.  At the same time, there was a little sensory overload and, whenever anyone goes into an unfamiliar culture, there are a host of small inconveniences that, even if unnoticed, are a little draining.   So the fatigue was to be expected, and having a little quiet time and personal space welcomed.  No one really complained.
The altar at Cana

There were fourteen of us - mostly friends and family, and some who became friends as we journeyed on our way.  That night, we got together on a terrace overlooking the Sea of Galilee and recounted our favorite adventures.  The experiences were as diverse as the number of pilgrims - so that even if a few mentioned the same place (like the Orthodox Church of Mary's Well), they recalled it for different reasons. Different kinds of moments of prayer touched us all in different ways - and somethings that did not mean much to one pilgrim were very meaningful to another.  Sharing these helped us all pick up on details we missed and more deeply appreciate the gift God was giving us.   There were also experiences that could not quite be articulated, but that we shared in common nonetheless.

Nazareth
There is an analogy here with praying over the Scriptures.  A whole group of people can have the same Biblical passage read and explained to them, but still have their own experience of what God is speaking to them through the Bible.  That is because the Word of God is inexhaustible: both communal-ecclesial and personal - that is it is addressed to the whole Church and at the same time to each of us in ever new ways.   One of the great blessings of going on a pilgrimage with a group is that we experience this same ecclesial and personal grace through the sacred geography disclosed in Scripture and Tradition.  Such graces have the character of a little exchange of love between God and us, and with one another.