Thinking back over our fourteen days in Israel and Jordan, I am personally struck by the ongoing desire over the past four thousand years among all peoples for spiritual guidance. We viewed the statues and buildings of pagan worship, Jewish worship, Greek worship, Roman worship, Christian worship, and Muslim worship. Throughout the centuries people have searched for idols or dieties or a single god to give meaning to their lives, to confront personal challenges and to face mortality.
Each religion erected magnificent places of worship, and we were fortunate to visit the excavations of many, many significant sites. As we watched a Bar Mitzvah ceremony on the original stone floor of a synagogue dating back to the time of Jesus, sailed in a boat similar to one Jesus and his disciples would have used, walked the Via Delarosa, the path on which Jesus carried his cross in the Old City of Jerusalem, and stood outside the glowing Muslim Temple of the Rock, built on the Jewish Temple Mount, religious history and our own Bible came alive.
One realizes of course that no one can point to the specific cave where Jesus was born, but I was amazed that we were able to visit a multitude of sites mentioned in the Bible. Dan’s reading of the appropriate verses brought a reality to each stop—the Shepherds’ Field, the Sea of Galilee, our walk down the Mount of Olives and so many more.
The dark side of the religious crossroads of Israel is that relationships between the Jews, the Palestinian Muslims and the Christians are frayed, worse than frayed. The three religious groups do not mix. Instead, they contest each other for land and religious sites.
At the River Jordan, I looked above me to see soldiers, guns ready to fire, in bunkers on the hill. Across the narrow river is the Arab country of Jordan, no friend of Israel. Even at this holy river, militancy reigns over the prayers.
I am fortunate to live in a country and community in which citizens respect the beliefs of others and are willing to engage with fellow citizens of various religious beliefs and of various cultural backgrounds. And I am also fortunate to belong to the Round Hill Community Church whose members feel able to have a variety of personal beliefs, all centering around the inspirations and words of Jesus.