WHAT DO YOU SEEK? Day 2: Friday, February 1, 2019 – Arrive Tel Aviv (All Saints' Episcopal Church Holy Land and Biblical Jordan Pilgrimage)
Is this what you were expecting? Sometimes we have to touch a new land in order to see it more fully with our eyes and with our hearts. What do your senses tell you? What are the smells, the sounds, the tastes of this place?
Looking out on the newness of it all, are you reminded of what you came here to seek, or are you still figuring that out? There aren’t any right answers, no ideas better or worse, there is only what you have to offer, what you might be seeking, for yourself.
Take your time. It’s been a long journey. Allow your soul to catch up with your body. Soak it all in. For the One who seeks you is already here.
The first morning, and Israel is as promised: beautiful and warm and bustling with surfers and cyclists, joggers and strollers, beach volleyball aficionados and all manner of people soaking up one another’s company on a warm February day. I decided to walk off the jet-lag with a stroll along the beach to the ancient city of Jaffa, one of the world’s oldest ports.
On the way to Jaffa, along the beach, it is hard not to notice the number of ‘swimming prohibited’ signs and the imposing nature of the sea defenses. I was also taken aback for a moment as a young woman, who could not have been much over twenty years old, walked past me in an army uniform and an automatic machine gun slung over her shoulders. It was a striking contrast between the wonderful sense of ease people appear to have in passing their day, and the backdrop of a nation whose sense of self is intrinsically yoked to a fear of existential threat. In many ways, Israel is as so many lands are, a place of contradiction: a land of sanctuary and a land of displacement; a country bustling with life and a corner of the world far too accustomed to injury and death.
One of the books that some of our group have read in preparation for our pilgrimage, My Promised Land, by Ari Shavit, returns to this theme over and over of the intrinsic struggle that is Israel as the modern history of the land and the state is narrated. It makes me think of Jacob, whose feet are in the sculpture pictured above, later re-named Israel, the one who wrestles, who contends with God.
It is impossible even to get a glimpse of an understanding of such a constellation of socio-political, economic and religious points of complexity that make this part of the world what it is. For our two-week sojourn here, perhaps the pilgrim’s best option is to try attend to the details, however they come before us: the smell, the sight, the sound, the touch on the soul of this land. And perhaps, as we attend to the small things of this centuries-old tapestry of life we might uncover some of our own layers of mystery and longing too.