Look to the hills where my help comes from. The hills in Israel are anywhere from snow-covered mountains to old worn mountains like those found in the Appalachian range. In ancient cultures, erecting a temple at the top of a hill or mountain was common. Whatever was closer to the heavens was a good place to worship. Many of the high places were torn down where pagan idols were worshiped in the history of Israel. Idol worship was common in Israel until the exile.
I thought a good respite from grief would be a pilgrimage to Israel. In October of 2009, I decided to go to Israel. I made sure it was okay with my wife that I go. She couldn’t go because she was in school for massage therapy. In March 2010, I drove to New Jersey and stayed at the house I grew up in. I then drove to JFK on March 9th. I left late to make a midnight flight.
I was a pilgrim in exile from my grief. I had to tear down my high places of idol worship. This is the prayer I wrote before leaving: Let this trip bring me closer to you and your purposes—for me, for your church. May I be affirmed by You. May I meet you along the road and in the air. May I see your kingdom that is now and not yet. May I know you more deeply and intimately—knowing your majesty, your care for each one of us, your love, your anger of injustice and sin, your mercy, your compassion, That You Are God.
When I reached the shores of Lake Tiberias, otherwise known as the Sea of Galilee, I felt like I was home. When we visited a Franciscan monastery on the Galilean shores, I recalled a dream I had years before. These were the same shores where Christ met his disciples after the resurrection. In my dream, I was in a state of sadness. I was a shepherd and was tending to the sheep, and I held a small lamb in my arms and it comforted me. I told one of my friends and he reminded me of the scripture where Jesus calls the disciples to shore. He speaks to Peter about feeding his sheep and tending the sheep. At the time (2006), I wasn’t sure what this meant. But when I was in Israel, the shore became real to me. It solidified my call to serve Christ in the church.
Though I was still in the midst of grief on my pilgrimage in Israel, Christ was leading me closer to him. In some ways, I didn’t know what the purpose of the journey was. But walking in the footsteps of Jesus was the same road I was walking. I too was following Christ to the cross. I was being led where I didn’t necessarily want to go—to lose my life that I might find it in Christ. To die daily to self. To daily struggle against the old man and rise every moment with Christ in the resurrection. And I would follow Christ so that I can carry on that mission—to point the world toward Jesus Christ, in his death, resurrection, and second coming.