A Pilgrim’s Prayer
“To discover your face, to abide in your home, to know you Lord, where do you live?”
I had the privilege to be part of a pilgrim group that made this prayer their own – to be one among the millions that visit the Holy Land. We were 22 pilgrims, men and women from 9 congregations and 11 home countries. Some of the veterans in the group, having worked in Africa for about 40-45 years. The oldest being 76 with his walking stick and hearing aid and the youngest 38 years of age with his mobile and the latest electronic gadgets, was all a sight to behold.
I was attracted by the prospectus that said, “Missionary Discipleship Today”. It coincided or corresponded with some of the words close to my heart like, mission-missionary, disciple-discipleship, and pilgrim-pilgrimage. In my subconscious, I always had a dream to visit the Holy Land once in this life time. So, I grabbed this God given opportunity for a “mini-sabbatical.” I was looking for a break, mind you, not a break-through! Some breathing space for myself, for a renewal – both personal and spiritual.
The program was structured and community oriented – with lectures, community prayers and community living. Washing the dishes, cleaning the house and taking care of the liturgy etc. reminded me of my seminary days. The companions on the journey were great – inspirational, encouraging, supportive and ready to share from the vast reservoirs of their rich mission experiences.
The psychologists say that every encounter with another human being is like entering a magnetic field. One cannot remain neutral, unaffected. Every encounter affects the persons involved permanently for better or worse. They leave an indelible mark on you whether you like it or not. However short, every encounter is eternal by nature. And whether conscious or not they can enrich us, energize us for the rest of our lives.
All of us looked forward to Thursdays for that was the day, set aside for the visit of the Holy Places. To the north we travelled up to the Golan Heights at the Lebanese border, to the south up to Eilat at the Egyptian Border. The mountains, the wilderness and the plains of Judea, Samaria and Gallilea, with its vineyards, olive groves and orchards with fruit laden trees were all a feast to the eyes. As St Jerome said, “I had before my eyes, a fifth gospel.”
Some of the most striking images were – of a shepherdess on the mountains of Beit Jibrin (Maresha) with her mobile phone around her neck, the contemplative nun of the Emmanuel Monastery (Byzantine Rite) at Bethlehem, with her angelic face, the Bedouins scattered around the wilderness in their make shift homes and the monk of the St George Khoziba monastery who in his characteristic style abused all those who tried to take his picture! For it is said that, character, like pregnancy, you cannot hide it. Of course, the monk did not try to hide it either.
However, on top of the list is the spectacular view of the sunrise at Sinai, the mountain of God. It looked as if the whole world was represented at Mount Sinai that night – people of all colors, races and languages. Despite the biting cold, hundreds or people, young and old were packed together on that mountain top in expectant waiting – cameras ready and eyes glued together, in the same direction, for a glimpse of the resplendent splendor of the rising sun. And then there was a spontaneous cry in unison, “Aaa…Ha…”
Millions of people from all over the world come to the Holy Land on a pilgrimage. The Holy Land – a land God chose to reveal Himself, a land of kings, prophets and patriarchs. A land where Jesus lives, travelled, performed miracles, suffered and died. A land blessed with sacred memories for the followers of all the three monotheistic religions – Jews, Christians and Muslims.
A pilgrimage gives the opportunity to encounter the person of Jesus or rather gives the opportunity to rediscover the person of Jesus whom we know to a certain extent. A pilgrim is a seeker and the pilgrimage- a journey – a journey without borders, like a monastery without walls. As I cross the border, I am in a foreign land, a stranger in a strange land. If I have to survive, I have to let go of my pretensions and trust in the God of the exodus. For it is said that the people of the exodus had nothing but lacked nothing. Yes, the God of the exodus is waiting to reveal himself to a pilgrim’s heart.
“Mungu Yupo” – God is there. Where can I find Him? The search begins, the journey continues. The pilgrim is on the way and the pilgrimage begins – “To discover your face, to abide in your home, to know you Lord, where do you live?”