We returned two weeks ago, and I’m still digesting everything I experienced in the Middle East. I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to completely comprehend everything we saw and did while over there; but definitely some things will always be on my mind. Parts of this trip moved me much more than I could have ever expected; in fact, I’m not even sure I expected to be ‘moved’ at all.
How could I have ever known what it would be like to become instant friends with students who seem to be just the same as we are, but who just don’t have the same freedom we do. It’s not even that the Palestinians live in some kind of communist regime, or under some specific dictator –but how it would feel like a dictatorship when your ‘country’ is completely controlled inside and out by some other regime.
Going into this area, we knew we were entering an occupied territory, we knew we were going into a place where hardship is a part of everyday life for everyone, without any feeling of control over their life as a human being. Before going to the Middle East, I was very ignorant to the Arab-Israeli conflict’s details, and quite honestly, I think as many Americans and westerners do- I didn’t want to learn about it because I didn’t see how it could ever get resolved, and also it didn’t apply to me. At the risk of sounding completely selfish and as the stereotypical ignorant American, I feel like I have to admit to that very blind mind-set.
Without going too far into the topic of peace in the Middle East (or lack thereof), I just want to say how thankful I am to have experienced a part of Palestine that I don’t think many outsiders ever get to see. I love our friends in the West Bank, and I am very glad to now understand at least part of the story, which makes me care more about the future of that area. I will never forget our time in the West Bank. My heart goes out to our friends at Al-Quds University.
Being a budding geologist, I have had somewhat of an inner struggle as to what I feel about God, Christ and my feelings about religion over the past few years. Late in high school until about a year ago, I hadn’t really been going to church; I was raised in a protestant family with roots in Catholicism only a generation away — we always went to church when I was growing up.
About a year ago, I started going to church in Corvallis (another reason I hadn’t been going to church was because I’ve been going to the same church since I was born.) No matter what happened, through any hard times or doubts I had about God or Jesus, I still went to church, and still felt something inside me that made me want to continue, and knew that I could never quit and never give up on God.
I though that perhaps by going to “the Holy Land” I might have a re-ignition of the fire within that might help bring me closer to God again and give me the tiny push I felt I needed to continue to believe in Jesus Christ — to take my beliefs more seriously.
From the start, I have looked forward to walking where Jesus walked, and to see actual places actual people from the Bible went or did things. Most of the time, when I was in the area of a place where we knew some story from the Bible had taken place, I did get that feeling where I knew something inside, but couldn’t quite point out what it was in me I was feeling. So, on that respect it was a good Christian/Biblical experience for me.
What was not cohesive to my unsure ideals about what I would feel by seeing the sight of the last supper, the site of the crucifixion, Jesus’ tomb, the site of the Nativity, etc., was this overwhelming anti-climactic feeling. There is no doubt in my mind that such events did take place, and probably in the general area they are sited for tourists and pilgrims alike to visit. The thing that was most off-putting to me was knowing all the conflicts that take place and have taken place for so many years (like… 2000 years) over who (church) owns and is responsible for what room, site, staircase, etc… even down to the last limestone block making up the flooring and walls of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It is pretty much disgusting to me that ‘holy’ people, church officials, have all-out fought over such things — putting aside the entire idea behind religion and following God and Christ. Such sites which were mostly pin-pointed by Constantine’s Mother Helen (300 A.D.) make it hard to believe someone when they say ‘this’ is the spot where Jesus was crucified, here is where Jesus was born — honestly pointed out by Helen.
I’m sure these sights, to believers, are in the general area where such events took place, which was a good feeling — I actually enjoyed walking part of Via Dolorosa the most — that was where I felt the most. Seeing all these Christian Pilgrims wiping their hands and faces on the stone of anointment, made me upset as a Christian. To me, they were nearly worshiping the stone itself – well that’s just like the story in the Bible where God gets upset because people were praising a golden calf- it’s not about the exact place, or the thing Jesus touched, it’s about the feeling and the belief behind it. To nearly worship a stone makes me feel like these pilgrims have somehow lost the idea behind believing in God and accepting the story of Christ — have they been mislead somehow? Upon my return to the U.S., I felt unhappy, and I am not sure- but have a feeling that had to do with my experiences in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.
I am happy to have been able to be one of few American Christians to experience what I got to experience, feel, see and touch in these ancient cities. Although my experience while visiting such “Holy” sites which were full of pushy tourists and ‘pilgrims’ was very anticlimactic- the memories of the feelings I felt have sustained my hunger for more. I can say that because I know I don’t need to touch or see something, I don’t need proof, to believe — and all in all, that is far greater than any sight could have brought to my soul.
PS- I am guilty of kissing the ‘site’ of the Nativity. Oh well. 🙂