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Israel: a messy holiness

By Nic Cable

Herod's Castle

Walking in the land of Israel is a very hard act to describe. Perhaps it is because the land has so much history and religious importance or because I am a westerner who is here as an outsider. Maybe it is because I am passionate about interfaith peacemaking or that I do not identify as an adherent of any of the Abrahamic religious traditions. However, I think a big part of this equation is the fact that my journey to Israel is not done in isolation, but rather in relation to the hundreds of pilgrims I see each day. Together, our journeys and narratives intermingle in a complex, yet beautiful tapestry of religious practice that spans time and place, culture and tradition.

Unfortunately, this can be rather challenging as our competing interests, cultures, and journeys come into connection and conflict with one another. For example, there were several instances today when very different types of encounters happened. One was seeing the different types of tourist groups throughout the day at various sites, such as a Japanese evangelical Christian group who all wore hats that had the words Eternal Tours on them. Another encounter was the radical tourism in the church of the holy sepulcher. This is considered the place presumably where Jesus was crucified, anointed, and laid to rest, a holy place if I have ever known one. But just as men and women kneeled and wept while kissing the stone upon which Jesus was laid for anointing, other people were snapping photographs of the stone and of the other objects within this historically rich space. So there was for me an odd juxtaposition of the sacred and the profane.

The more I journey through this religiously vibrant city of Jerusalem, it is becoming abundantly clear that people take journeys for different reasons, bringing with them the context in which they live. I am in Israel to learn about peace and to learn about conflict. I want to feel what these two things feel like rubbing up on each other. The tourism diversity is one manifestation of the way the “City of Peace” has meant very different things for different people. In the end I would say all of this messiness of context in our particular journeys makes this trip, this land, and this world holy. Because I believe it is our diversity and the engagement through that diversity, which recognizes the beauty of all creation is what makes the journeys we take holy. Israel may be one of the most complex and conflicted parts of the world, but I believe the journey we choose to take forward will be more fulfilling and ultimately more peaceful when we recognize the diversity of our journeys and move into greater relationship, dialogue, and collaboration.

Regardless, the journey continues for me and many other CTS students. I look forward to sharing some of these reflections with other’s on my journey including many who are back in the United States, who may be on their own journey that may end up in Israel some day.


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