When telling people about my upcoming travels to Israel/Palestine I most often received responses mentioning how a trip to the Holy Land can be life changing and add a new way of encountering faith. When I heard these words I was skeptical. Skeptical of a “holy” experience in a land of tourism, skeptical of how my experience would be the same or different from theirs since I wasn’t traveling just to see the sites. It seemed as though they expected me to encounter “the Holy” in the ancient ruins or sense God’s presence in the icons and churches.
After nearly a week of being in this sacred, beautiful, and challenging place I have definitely encountered the Holy but it has not solely, or even mainly, been in the places themselves. It has instead been in the people. We have been blessed to meet with, encounter, and get to know beautiful, holy people. People who have embraced us, whom we have embraced; who have told us of their lives, who have asked us about ours; have laughed with us; shared their hearts with us; and most of all allowed us the honor of seeing God in and through them. What a blessing it is to be in such a Holy place, a place where people see each other as God’s very own.
Our first experience of this was with our guide, Sadeek. Sadeek is a Palestinian Christian tour guide with an infectious smile and laugh, living in the heart of Galilee. He guided us with patience and passion as he told us the history of this land and people. But, more importantly than being the best tour guide, he became our friend. This gentle man cared for us in a way we could not have imagined would have developed in three short days. He called us his “daughters” symbolizing the connections our hearts had made with his. He brought us olive oil he had made from olives grown in his garden, and zatar that he had grown and made into seasoning. He shared who he is, as a human, a Christian, a father, a Palestinian.
For this Holy relationship I am thankful. I have indeed encountered the Holy in this Holy Land. And, I imagine that is exactly what it was like to encounter Jesus, another man from Galilee.