A new day begins again! We began the day with mass outdoors at Mount Beatitudes. What made this mass particularly special was Father Angelo’s sermon where he shared his personal story of conversion. He recounted how he was out at sea and experienced such dangerous waters that he cried out to God to save him but how this ended up prompting him to finally possess the courage and humility to return for confession. He told us that he too is in the same boat as us, and this was a hopeful reassurance that God can always find a way to reach out to us and change our hearts. It was an affirmation of what Landings stands for – the powerful testimonies that lie in our personal faith sharing and the anchoring message that God is simply love, the father who will never abandon us even if we choose to run away. Indeed, blessed are the poor in spirit, for it is then that we will experience what it means to simply be a child who relies completely on God’s grace and mercy.
Our day continued with a long journey across the border to the West Bank, or Samaria as it was once known, to see Jacob’s Well. Like previous days, I experienced the exhaustion that comes with being in the heat, an exhaustion that hits even though we stand in the heat for short bouts before we get to return to the comfort of an air-conditioned coach. What must it have been like for Jesus to travel by foot through these dry dusty lands and in this scorching heat? He truly must have been so tired and thirsty when he came to the well. Drinking the cool spring water from the well, it was easy to see how this relieved Him of His physical thirst. Understanding His invitation to trust in Him as the Living Water is much harder and personally, I am still on the journey to truly believing this message. So we brought back bottles of this spring water as tangible reminders, of how the gift of water once quenched our thirst and how the Water of Life will quench all the spiritual deserts in our lives.
We then travelled to the Jordan River, where Christ was humble enough to be baptized by John the Baptist, a mere human being. The water looked dirty but it’s cleaner than it looks and more importantly, it touched Jesus’ skin! Here, we renewed our baptismal vows and were also witness to others doing the same. The vows are not easy to hold onto but I was reminded that we constantly need to repent and trust in the great depth of grace that has been showered upon us through our baptism, even if we do not always feel that way.
In addition, I found it surreal to find myself literally at the border between Jordan and Israel. I didn’t feel a sense of danger but it was clear that this is a border that cannot be crossed as seen by the military guards on both sides and the floating buoys that are clear markers of boundaries and walls. It is but a short 4-5 metre distance between the two places but it is an impossible barrier to cross. Yet looking at the river, I wonder if it is also a message about God. For just like the Jordan River which Jesus was baptised in is the only thing that connects the two lands, God too is the only one who can help us cross the impassable and do the impossible.
So today seemed much about the symbol of water, of drinking water from the well that once quenched Jesus’ thirst, of touching the water that once touched Jesus’ feet, and most importantly, of the continual reminder of Jesus being the Living Water. But in some sense, parts of today felt like I was more of a tourist than a pilgrim. Although it was moving to experience being physically present at such holy sites, I have to admit that I was not always able to immerse in those moments as much as I would have liked to. I personally find it difficult to even fathom that these moments are times when I am physically touching something that once touched Jesus’ skin and this isn’t helped by the fact that I get caught up at times in taking photographs and getting keepsakes to try to hold onto the experience. Not having our nightly reflection today also made it feel more like a day of enjoyment rather than a pilgrimage (not that I’m complaining about having rest of course!).
But today was also a reminder that the experience of God comes as well in fellowship and the love of a community. I guess I expected that a pilgrimage is one when you encounter God only in the holy places but it’s also becoming clear that people and relationships are such important ways of experiencing God. There was so much joy shared and experienced as we celebrated together the lives of those who had their birthdays during the trip.
And even though the Dead Sea holds no life, the strange thing is that our experience there was also one filled with the joy and spirit of community. For despite knowing that one is unable to sink in the Dead Sea, many of us were still filled with trepidation as we entered the waters. Giving into the sea was harder than we may have expected. Can we really float without doing anything at all? Yet in our fears, we went to each other’s sides to offer our arm of support, and together experienced the surprising joy of weightlessness and being lifted up so completely when we finally decided to let go.
So this perhaps is my own unexpected God moment. It is seeing that in the secular moments of life, Jesus is reassuring us of His gentle presence that wants us to surrender to Him so that we can experience the inconceivable wonder and joy of being lifted up by His heavenly arms. It is being assured that even in the times when we feel so empty and lifeless, much like the Dead Sea where life literally cannot live, God is still there.
But even if we are too afraid to let go, He entrusts us to each other as the physical arm that holds, the voice that encourages, the heart that loves. Together, we are the living body of Christ.
#LandingsHolyLandPilgrimage2018 #GraceAndGratitude #Landings10thAnniversary