Saturday, May 17, 2014

Holy Land Pilgrimage Day 2 Arrival in Tel Aviv

Metaphorically speaking, we just got off the boat.  By which I mean, the plane.  Turkish Airlines, to be exact.  26 of our 42 members flew together from Los Angeles (LAX) to Tel Aviv yesterday and today, May 16 & 17.  From LAX to Istanbul, from Istanbul to Tel Aviv.  Fifteen hours' flying time and ten time zones east of California.  Yes, a lot of things are a blur.

Left Santa Barbara after celebrating Eucharist in the Serra Chapel.  A time to gather, get centered in the Lord, and calm down in the midst of all the activity and excitement.  It really did help, I believe.  Laura Ardry from our parish staff and others gave us a nice send-off  (including a much-appreciated case of cool, bottled water for the journey) as we piled into our waiting charter bus, bag, baggage, and all.

Serge was our driver and was quite wonderful.  Calmly and quietly, he negotiated the tangled freeway traffic (think:  LA, Friday afternoon, hot and muggy day, forest fires in the air and on the horizon) and got us to the airport safe and sound.

Once we entered the terminal, it became apparent to us from the get-go that we would just have to get into the very end of a very long line and be very, very patient as we got checked in and received our boarding passes.  Actually, that went quite well, except that one of our pilgrims received a transfer boarding card with someone else's name on it. Net result:  an unwelcome layover for him on the Istanbul-Tel Aviv link of our trip.  We are hoping he will catch up with us at the hotel momentarily.  Welcome to group travel.

Life on board Turkish Airlines was an admixture: cramped economy seats (initially some couples were split), a full flight, and a gaggle of giggling and sometimes growling toddlers.  The kids were adorable, as they say, but kept many of us awake for at least a part of the flight.  That said, what else is new, besides the fact that the service was good and the food, excellent-- even in economy.

Slowly, slowly, slowly, it seemed, we made our way across the North American continent,  and then, over Scandinavia, the Baltics and the Balkans to our destination.  Plenty of time to read, play Sudoko, chat with seat mates, and nod off.

And pray.  Yes, pray.  Time to step back and reflect:  hey, wait a minute, I'm on this plane with business people, ambitious people, and extended families visiting or returning from visits with, well, extended family in the States. And yet, I am, we are different. Something else has brought us here, both individually and collectively.

How to describe it, it's so individual.  But, perhaps in the aggregate it can be best described as a desire and a longing.  To reach up and in more deeply, as one of our Franciscan leaders used to say.   Reaching up and more deeply into our identity and spirituality.  Up and more deeply into our sense of personal calling as Christian women and men.  Each and all of us asking for, longing for one thing mostly:  to have more of the Lord.  More of the Presence of the Lord in our hearts and lives. More of a sense of who we are as followers of Jesus.  More of a sense of the witness which is expected and required of us as Christian people.

Once we disembarked/ off-loaded at Tel Aviv's impressively monumental Terminal 3 and wended our way through customs and baggage, we regrouped at our bus and made our way to a welcome bed and bath (and late night supper for some of us!) at the Hotel Metropolitan.  Curbside, we were greeted by none other than our own Father Larry Gosselin ofm, as well as three other pilgrims from our group.  Great!

"Welcome to the Holy Land," greeted our guide Amer (in perfect,  accent-free American English.  "And because you are Christians as well:  welcome home!//

Friday, May 16, 2014

Holy Land Pilgrimage: Day 1: Departure

It is said that in medieval times, men, on the eve before their knighthood, would keep vigil.  Kneeling in a dark, cold chapel before God’s candlelit Presence, they would ask for grace and courage, strength and fortitude.  In the face of their struggles and trials and journey.

Today, we are leaving on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, forty of us from our Parish Family at St. Barbara Church at Old Mission Santa Barbara in California.  At noon, we will celebrate Eucharist, asking for grace, courage, strength, and fortitude as well. Then, we'll  load our bags and baggage onto a chartered bus for LAX, Los Angeles County International Airport.  Boarding Flight 010,  Turkish Airlines, bound for Istanbul.  Transferring to Tel Aviv, arriving at our first night’s lodging at the Hotel Metropolitan, at the close of Shabbat. A full day later on earth; fifteen hours in the air.

So, here we are, in a metaphorical sense if not a literal one, at the vigil, on the cusp of our spiritual journey.  I have checked the Gospel for the day.  It is from John, chapter 14 (“Do not let your hearts be troubled”).  It is one of the most popular Gospel readings chosen for--- funerals!  But today, we can look at in a totally different , more celebratory light.  Thomas goes on to complain to Jesus that “where You are going, we do not know the way.”  To which Jesus responds, “I am the Way.  And the Truth.  And the Life….”

Jesus the Way.  Jesus, our Destination.  . . . And our Transportation!
I had to stop and reflect for a moment.  Someone once told me that the oldest and most enduring artifacts of human construction are not buildings but—roads!  It stands to reason, doesn’t it.  Can we consider the top of the Great Wall of China to be in itself a road?  What about the Appian Way in Rome, or the Via Maria from Damascus to Cairo on ancient times?  Or, closer to home, Highway 101 in California, the El Camino Real, or the King’s Highway, built on the pathway connecting each of the 21 Franciscan Missions erected in the 18-19th centuries under the Spanish Empire? The horse-, chariot- and footprint of these great avenues are with us today, having survived every manner of man and mayhem.

At their very  best, roads connect.  Relate.  Expedite communication.  The movement of goods and people; materiel for wars and intellectual property.  And Faith. Paths, roads, freeways  (and now, even  the Internet “highway”) enable us to break free of our isolation and can liberate us from the burdens of inertia and hopelessness.

Christ is our Destination.  And our Transportation.  The Way to the Father in the Spirit.  The Path of our salvation.  He makes of Himself, for us, the means to reach Him, guiding us, holding us, moving us along, from love to Love on our journey homeward.

So, we travel.  As pilgrims toward our hope-filled Destination, which is Christ.  And Christ Himself is the means of our spiritual movement and design.

A prayer attributed to St. Patrick  comes to mind:

Christ with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me.
Christ on my right
Christ on my left.
Christ where I lie
Christ where I sit
Christ where I arise.
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me.
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me.
Christ in the eye that sees me
Christ in the ear that hears me.
Salvation is of the Lord, the Christ.
May your Salvation, Lord, be ever with us.

(As we travel).  Amen.//