A walk on the streets of downtown Jerusalem quickly reveals the diversity of religious and cultural expressions. So where better a place to come on a spiritual quest. Lisa from LA, a girl with Jewish roots, came to explore the Holy Land and find some way of tangibly connecting her faith teachings with her everyday life. Why she picked my husband and me, I don’t know, but she asked to interview us on camera for a documentary on spirituality. The conversation was an opportunity to talk about our faith roots in Christianity and how we experience God in daily life. She shared her experience at the eastern wall of the Old City overlooking the Mount of Olives, where she discovered a cemetery blocking the outside of the sealed gate into the Old City. Historical tradition taught that the Jewish Messiah would enter the city through the Golden Gate, and to prevent this Suleiman the Magnificent sealed the gate and then built the cemetery to fully block the entrance (teachings said Messiah could not come through a cemetery).
There is much evidence of the religious tensions that have existed for thousands of years and still exist today, not just between Muslims, Jews, and Christians, but even within each of these groups. I have never been to a place where religious identity is so in-your-face public (I come from a society that works at just the opposite). Spirituality here is not a Sunday affair. It is lived in an extreme and bold “this is who I am and what I believe” sort of way. For many, including Lisa and us, the journey has landed us in a place where we share a common goal, to experience the visible and tangible history of Scripture coming alive and speaking to us of a God who was and is. My year in Israel has been an opportunity to engage in the lives of people from all walks of life. It has strengthened my own faith on many levels; however, I have also found myself asking many questions and have become more reluctant to impose my own conclusions and judgments on many issues related to this land. Israel brings together people from radically different religions, cultures, and political views, and forces personal reflection and questioning of tightly-held paradigms. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to spend a year in a land that has both challenged and enriched my journey.