My last blog explored how walking in the footsteps of Jesus can deepen one’s spirituality while at the same time equipping one with the tools to encounter today’s reality. This particular blog continues this reluctant pilgrim’s journey south from Jericho to Bethlehem and then onto Jerusalem.
Having been stilled by the desert like beauty of Jericho, Jerusalem’s urban sprawl and Bethlehem’s enclaved chaos shocks the senses. Holding together the spiritual journey while also negotiating the present reality comes under increasing strain.
To visit Bethlehem and then Jerusalem is to be torn from the birth place of Jesus to the site of his betrayal and violent death. Grappling with the question of why Jesus’ death occurred in the way that it did, while navigating security check points isn’t easy.
Knowing that Jerusalem at the time of the Passover would have been equally as mad only makes me think that Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem was either ill-timed or perfectly and intentionally choreographed to achieve maximum impact.
With all this leaving me a little uncomfortable, I find more secure and familiar territory by visiting a couple of social welfare projects in Bethlehem part financed by the Friends of the Holy Land. The Friends are the guardians of a fund that the Archbishop of Canterbury launched in July of last year to support the living witness of Christians in the Holy Land.
Both St Martha’s House, a social day centre for elderly women, and the School of Joy for Slow Learners, a school for children with learning disabilities, testify to the Church’s ability to act as an architect of resilience even in the most fragile of places. They are examples of the Christian virtues of love, faith and hope lived out in action.
Many of the threads of this reluctant pilgrim’s journey come together when walking the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem’s Old City. Walking the Via Dolorosa is to bridge the past and the present with the promise of the empty tomb.
A Palestinian Christian in Bethlehem remarked that even though he can’t walk the Stations of the Cross in Jerusalem’s Old City, each day he walks a Via Dolorosa of ritual checkpoint humiliation and hostility without growing weary or losing heart. The promise of the empty tomb remains powerfully relevant today.
If this reluctant pilgrim has learnt anything over the last few days it is that holiness is not about being other than and separate from the world, it means being at the centre of things but reassured in the knowledge that whatever the challenges and stumbles one isn’t travelling alone.