Traveling to a Holy Land

On Saturday, I will depart for a two-week journey through the Holy Land of Israel/Palestine. As the days countdown, I am mindful of the very complex journey this will be for me and the other students and professors from my seminary. I decided to write this post not just to get out some of my thoughts regarding this trip, but also to be open to any suggestions any of you have for me to take to heart before I depart.

The first thing I am thinking about is the fact that most of us will be outsiders as we enter this land of great political and religious history. As a result, I am cautious to hold any strong convictions about morality or about pathways towards resolutions (regarding the conflict there) because not only am I an outsider, but also because this issue is very complex. While I would classify myself as an interfaith leader, it is important for me to not colonize or coopt interfaith or other types of conflicts, but rather aim to learn and assist as is appropriate.

The second reflection that has been ruminating for me is about the potential of this trip devolving into a touristy experience. I do not want this to happen even though I understand that some of the sites, in certain ways, thrive due to tourists from the West. Instead, I want to allow this experience to be more of a journey of spiritual reflection.

My religious tradition, Unitarian Universalism, has historical roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions, and therefore many of these sites are important artifacts in the living tradition of my religious identity. So, when I visit these many sites of historical and religious importance, I do not want to snap photos on my camera or phone as much as I want to snap photos onto my heart to allow these spaces in time and place to be additional resources for my ongoing spiritual formation as a Unitarian Universalist.

Finally, I am looking forward to engaging with NGO and grassroots organizations that are working to cultivate sustainable peace among diverse groups of people and communities. I am very interested in learning about peace building on a national level that deals with religion, politics, culture, and history. So, when I listen to these talks, I will seek to remain very attentive to the methods used in creating success in these endeavors.

Whether I am prepared or not, I expect that this trip will change my life as an interfaith leader, activist, and religious person. But, I am also interested in what experiences you have or suggestions you wish you had had before going to this part of the world. Feel free to share your insights or thoughts about this trip and I look forward to engaging with you as this journey unfolds.

Image via Wikipedia.

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4 thoughts on “Traveling to a Holy Land

  1. Nic, I’m sure the last thing you want is to shlep a book with you across the holy land, but I highly recommend Wrestling with Zion, co-edited by Tony Kushner and Alisa Solomon. It’s a collection of progressive essays, poetry, memoir, etc. about Jewish Americans’ relationships with Israel/Palestine. Very powerful and informative.

    Wishing you safe travels and deep learning!

  2. Nicolas, mabruk on the trip! It’s sure to be an enlightening experience. I must say that I have faced many of these questions as well, since I am currently living in Amman, Jordan. I also appreciate the title of this article “… a Holy Land,” especially for Jordan’s case for all the reasons implied in your article, in addition to all the historical and religious richness on this side of the Jordan River Valley with respect to its Jewish, Muslim, and Christian heritage. For instance, over this past weekend I not only visited the shrine at Joshua’s tomb (an official Jordanian historical site), but also several tombs of Companions of the Prophet Muhammad as well as Mount Nebo, where there is a Catholic church–now being renovated–under the auspices of the Fransiscans, and then St. George’s Orthodox Church in Madaba. Indeed, the geography of nation-states proves insufficient when referring to the “Holy Land” of these traditions, especially as you consider the greater importance of bilad al-Shaam for Islamic history and its biblical legacy. Still, as the Baptism Site on the Jordan River attests, where armed military officers of both nations accompany visitors to the river on the respective sides, plenty of reminders of that political reality persist.

    I’m interested to hear about your trip because I, too, hope to travel on that side of the Jordan soon. Safe travels, and all the best taking on your voyage with an open mind and an open heart.

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