In life there are certain moments that stand out in our memories. They are surreal experiences where time seems to slow down and our senses become keener. The sights and sounds and smells and tastes of those moments become later triggers for reliving the events vividly in our minds.
My recent trip to Israel left me with many treasured memories. And of course, I have been asked on multiple occasions to recall my favorite or outstanding places. And there is one place. There is a moment when the earth’s rotation seemed to halt, and I felt the presence of something beyond this reality. It is hard to put into words, but I think we all have experienced this sort of spiritual connection and enlightenment. For me, it happened in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus agonizingly prayed before his betrayal and arrest. The essence of that connection continues to be stirred and forever will occur in my mind. It happens when I smell fresh rosemary, when I hear Scripture read out loud and when I feel the warm sun intertwined with a cool breeze. These experiences will take me back to that garden because just as I carry them with me, I also have never left it.
Of course, these are just a few of the sensory experiences that lead me back to where Jesus wrestled with his fate on the cross. And it wasn’t just being in the garden nor was it the geographical location. Rather, there was a presence, a still and calming spirit. It was a spirit that comforted me and told me that this was only part of the whole story. It was the realization of the whole story of humanity, that encompassed everything leading up to that moment and everything that has followed. And how, I had to ask, how in this land of turmoil, wars, political and religious controversy could there be such a calming, comforting spirit?
Only one word comes to mind and that is HOPE. In Christian Evangelical circles, we speak of everyone having their own Gardens of Gethsemane. A place where there is a struggle with wanting our burdens to be lifted and remaining faithful to God’s will and path for our lives. Yet, I was challenged by this journey to zoom out and see the struggle of humanity from the macro level. We see the larger picture of turmoil and tragedy in human history. Israel is relevant in the way that religious culture and identity collide, especially in Jerusalem. However, I can know and be reassured that there is hope. This hope comes with the actualization of Christ’s commitment to follow God’s will and his sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of humanity. And as I continue to remember this garden experience, I also remember that there is a second garden with an empty tomb. And it is in these gardens that I see God’s promises to us fulfilled, now and in the days to come.
If you had the chance to go to Israel, would you take it? For some that answer comes easily to the mind. It could be an emphatic yes or a firm no. For others, it might be a matter of weighing the pros and cons: one’s financial situation and time off work, the fear of safety and security, or maybe travel isn’t appealing to you. For myself, it was a little bit of everything. (With the exception of travel. Travel is always appealing.)
Let me back up to almost a year ago. My husband and I were having typical conversations about future travel plans. I say “typical” because dreaming and scheming about travel adventures is a pretty common topic between me and . . . well, everyone. We listed possible destinations for a big trip that could take place a few years from now. Many places were on our list: from the cliff bluffs of Oregon to Germany’s Nürburgring, 221b Baker Street (yes, I’m looking at you Sherlock fans) to the Emerald Isle. We even considered going to Japan and trying to reserve a sushi night at Jiro’s restaurant. The idea of traveling to the Holy Land came up. It did make it onto the bucket list of adventures, but neither of us felt like it would be our first big trip out of the country together.
Fast forward to the 4th of May this year. I am sitting at my computer catching up on the emails that seem to endlessly pile up. I opened one of many forwarded emails from Ashland University. “Dear ATS student,” it began. “Ashland University is offering a 10-trip to Israel . . . This remarkable opportunity is available through a partnership with the Museum of the Bible and Philos Foundation.” Unbelievable. It was certainly a “remarkable opportunity” as the cost of the trip was greatly reduced by these organizations. As I read through the email, my pulse was suddenly racing. I felt like I couldn’t pass up this possibility. It seemed too good to be true . . . but it was true.
As the days and weeks have passed from that email until now, I see that God has opened and shut many doors for me. And in two days, I will be on my way to Israel with a group of curious and bright students from Ashland University. I have a heart for adventure and a willing spirit to travel. But I am also nervous. There are a lot of unknowns about travel abroad, especially with all the threats that we hear in the media. However, I do not think that living in fear is the answer. Rather, it is better to place my trust in the calling on my life. I am thankful for the support of my family and friends in this endeavor. I invite you to pray for the journey, both for travelling mercies and spiritual insights. I hope to gain a greater connection to my faith life and to understand the modern Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. Follow this blog and Instagram while I am traveling. And maybe you will be able to answer that question, too: If you had the chance to go to Israel, would you take it?