Last November, I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The few days I spent in Israel and Palestine brought me face-to-face with myself and taught me a dramatic lesson in self-restraint.
I alighted at LAX with some anticipation. That anticipation quickly turned into apprehension when I encountered security guards with drawn guns at the Israeli Airlines terminal, El AL, and then underwent exhaustive interrogation even before receiving our boarding pass. As we taxied the runway for take-off, I felt a tremor of fear when I noticed our plane was flanked by a caravan of armored police escorts. You ninny-hammer, a small voice said, Why’d you sign up for this? But I knew why. Imagine walking where Jesus walked! “You’re never the same again,” Our pastor had said.
Fourteen hours later, I landed at Tel Aviv airport, cleared customs and then met my local guide who led me to a waiting tour bus. On route to the hotel in the West Bank, we drove through the Judean Hill Country, stopping at several security checkpoints before disappearing behind high concrete walls in Bethlehem. At 4 am, I awoke to the sound of the Muezzin’s call to prayer at a nearby mosque. After breakfast, I set out to pay homage at the Grotto of the Nativity.
Up early the next day, I joined the long queue inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem with scores of pilgrimage groups waiting to see Jesus’ Tomb. Two hours later, as I approached the entrance to the Tomb, my camera at the ready, a new guard arrived and decided, “no pee-tures.” That’s unfair! I was so disappointed that as I touched Jesus’ tomb, I called the guard an idiot under my breath and stormed out of there.
Within minutes, I rejoined the queue so as to ask Jesus for forgiveness. Suddenly, I heard, you won’t find me there. I turned around, looked left, and then right. No one was there. Look for me among the living, I heard again. So I split and went souvenir-shopping.
Back at the hotel, I got ready to depart for the airport. As I’m wont to do, I tossed two hotel towels into my suitcase. As I was about to close my luggage, I heard, Thou shall not steal. I stopped in mid-action, held my breath and slowly turned my head to the right and then to the left. No one was there. I returned the towels to the bathroom….and left most of my clothes behind as well for the chambermaid and left for the airport.
And for the first time ever, I returned home from a journey with less baggage than when I left home.