Israel: Come and See
Tourists, students and pilgrims
By ChristianWeek Staff
The sheer number of sites most Christian visitors are able to pack into a weeklong trip to Israel is impressive. Each day brings a new agenda of important places to go and see. The tourist tendency is to pack a lot of sights and sounds into a short period.
But, especially in lands so laden with biblical history, that’s rarely enough. Return visits are common. Why? There is always more to see, more to learn, more to reflect on.
Indeed, most Christian visitors Israel do not consider themselves tourists. Of course they have the same needs for food, accommodation, transportation and guides. That’s a given. But most come to some extent as students of the Bible, its times and its context. And many arrive with pilgrim purpose. They come devotionally, anticipating a spiritual lift and deepened discipleship.
Whatever the reason, they’ve come to the right place. Israel and other Bible lands can be good vacation spots. But that’s not all. They are both classroom and cathedral. The very stones are rife with instructional opportunity. These are lands where worship is in the air.
Biblical lands have long attracted priests and professors whose research and devotion positions them to be great teachers and guides. Learning opportunities abound. Historic sites provide a natural classroom for all sorts of academics. Visitors are routinely exposed to considerable amounts of information that won’t be absorbed in the rush of the touring.
Journeys to holy lands are much more than data collection forays. For many, these are journeys of the heart as well—religious ventures; expeditions of personal discovery. Each is an opportunity to be in places where pilgrims go, to worship in ways that may be ancient but outside ordinary experience. Pilgrims seek greater context for familiar texts. Many also aspire to fresh encounters with the living God.
Is it possible to embrace this pilgrim spirit in the brief minutes between bus rides and information dumps? Can a few precious moments in the nave of a church or the quiet of a garden satisfy the searching soul? Can the rich resonance of pilgrim prayers pierce beneath the tourist’s veneer and touch the heart with the things of God? Will sacred texts come startlingly alive in the very places they describe?
The answer is “sometimes.” Sometimes in the midst of a busy day in a noisy place the calming Spirit of God touches deep within. Sometimes the words of the Bible explode with new meaning. Sometimes the beauty of the art and the devotion of the caretakers of holy sites impress a sense of deep significance for those with eyes to see and ears to hear.
Tourists, it’s often said, pass quickly through places. But places and peoples pass slowly through pilgrims.
Come and see. There is much to learn about the geography, history, politics and culture of these places. But that will not be enough for everyone. Some want a greater appreciation of the places and the people, and nurture an ardent desire to experience more fully the glory and the power of the living God. Come and see.