We’ve now listened to days and days of lectures on historical, political and spiritual transitions in this land. Every day we’ve walked between this church and that archaeological dig. Or driven there.
We watched the green and the blooming of the Galilee turn into desert and then back into Jerusalem spring. Ears popping, we drove to the lowest place on earth and then up to Jerusalem elevation. Mountain passes and valleys have been traversed. We visited the ford of Jordan where Jesus may have been baptized. (In Israel, nearly every archaeological site is qualified with the subjunctive.) There is no way to get in or out of Jerusalem without choosing one of the seven open gates.
We drove along the border with Lebanon and Jordan. Syria was just “over there.” We watched fences with barbed wire culminate in check-points where we crossed in and out of administered territories. Our guide chose “administrative territories” as the most politically neutral term she could find, but no-man’s land seemed anything but neutral as we passed first the Palestinian border guard and then the Israeli guard. Several times. This afternoon, an Israeli soldier boarded our bus just moments after we’d all snapped our final photos of the concrete wall that Israel is erecting around the West Bank. Against the State Department’s strong suggestion, we’d been to visit Bethlehem.
In many cultures, transitions are considered liminal spaces. The Celts called them “thin places,” those places and experiences where the veil between the physical and spiritual lifts and for a moment you see across into the spiritual world. The SIL magazine of many of my Wycliffe Bible Translator relatives once told the story of a man and his wife who were living among the people whose language they were translating. One day they had the elders into their home. As they sat in the living room conversing, the wife rose to go into the kitchen to prepare the tea. She stood in the doorway while it was brewing to better hear the conversation. Everyone froze in horror. “What?” the translators asked. “What just happened?
“You stood in the door!” the elders explained. Apparently in their understanding, evil spirits lived in the doorways, hallways, any passage (even the birth canal). To stand in the door without fear suggested either great power or a pending tragedy
Middle places, transitions, are powerful. They have power for good and power for evil. Two things are possible as we journey through our pilgrimage: (1) We can become anxious, perhaps impatient, bothered by all manner of little things, aggravated with other people. (2) Our awareness of everything heightens, including our own spiritual, emotional, physical, and mental state. Both are opportunities for growth.
As we pass through our Lenten pilgrimages, I am encouraged that Jesus led the way in navigating the sometimes stormy waters of transition. Paul tells us how Jesus did it and suggests how we might also make it through in Philippians 2:1-11.