At that point, I was ready to thrill to another foreign land – one more chance to be out of my north and out of my country. So I did embark on the trip. It was a promise to walk the steps of Jesus Christ and I nonchalantly said to my mind, okay! Well, there was this two-pronged bonus to the Israel package deal, the first being the fabled Lost City of Petra in Jordan where one comes face to face with rose-colored monumental buildings artfully carved out of sheer rock! I experienced not only the Indiana Jones film right in here but also the realization that this amazing city had been borne out of bare hands actually in a non-technical age, so to speak. The other bonus came in terms of the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Like Petra’s buildings, these gigantic tombs of Pharoahs were a testament to human labor as well as ingenuity- perhaps with some camel and donkey help, but again at a time so moved away from our present. One does get to be left speechless at such spectacular world wonders. But well, it was just another travel episode to me!
Israel, the Holy Land, however, came as a distinct experience. It is said that this land located at the end east of the Mediterranean is a land and birth of many faiths – of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as it is also a land of unrest – of war, blood, and misery, (and I am reminded of my own homeland and the troublous south), but it has played a great role in human history. Here lies the ruins of the world’s most ancient civilization beckoning humanity to come visit up to this day. To the Christians, especially, the history of Israel is bound with their faith as it is in this land where Jesus lived and died. Biblical events unfold here like the stories of Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah and many others, but of course, central are those of Jesus himself.
From north to south, from sea to sea, from mountain to mountain, and from church to church, I followed His steps. The path was basically from the Annunciation in Nazareth to the Crucifixion in Golgotha. In between these two celebrated remembrances were the stories of Christ’s life mostly captured in time through Basilicas and Churches built on the places where the events happened. I had the benefit of being at the spot of His Nativity in Bethlehem; – at the well in Nazareth where as a boy, with Mary, he was said to have drawn water and, of course, – at the house of his parents where he worked with Joseph, his foster father; and – in Capharnaum, where after Nazareth, he lived as an adult, and particularly at the Synagogue where he taught. I had the chance to be in Cana where He changed water to wine; in Jordan where He was baptized; at the Mount of Beatitudes where He gave His well-known sermon. I had the privilege to be in Tabgha where he multiplied two fish and five loaves of bread to feed five thousand people;- in Galilee where He walked on the water towards Peter; – in Jericho overlooking the Mountain where He was tempted by the devil. I found myself on Mount Tabor where his disciples witnessed his Transfiguration; – on Mount Zion where He had His Last Supper with His Apostles ; and – on the Mount of Olives where He had ascended to heaven. Now, earlier I said this was going to be another of those trips. Why, then, l started to think, were these Holy Land places giving me a feeling I found hard to explain. Just being there was simply being effectual to me like everywhere I’ve been to was now water down the drain.
At the Via Dolorosa which we followed, my mind would now even be less Appreciative of the interests my environment offered–much less be aware of it.
Of the 14 Stations of the Cross, two were located within the site of the Antonia Fortress, the site where Jesus was led from the house of the High Priest Caiphas to be mocked and scourged and condemned to death. The next seven were located in the streets of Jerusalem, and the last five in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher which stands on Golgotha where Christ was crucified and was buried. The strange feeling I couldn’t understand continued and was fast getting into me.
It was at Gethsemane , however, where I felt the impact of the entire Holy Land trip. I stood there momentarily among the Olive Trees at the Garden as I imagined Jesus prostrate in prayer, taking upon Himself all the sins of the world. But I had to get in the church already. And as I entered, a soft, palpable darkness kind of arrested me – a condition probably brought about by the light filtered through the purple-tinted windows, making a lovely atmosphere for prayer and meditation. So I knelt there. And as I raised my eyes to the altar painting of Jesus in agony, I clearly saw the tremendous pain on His gentle face. I saw how humbly He was offering His bitter cup to the Father, even as He asked to be spared His up-and-coming suffering and death. Then strangely did the next moment whip a cold blast to my face! I felt myself a wretched creation of God.
My mind traveled to the things I relished – the joys of comfort and well-being, my friends and loved ones, a taste of knowing different cultures and lifestyles- maybe even a sense of belonging to some of these. My life was perfect, right? But seeing my Lord prostrate in prayer struck me as being a part of His bitter cup. Whatever perfections I thought my life was made up of, they couldn’t erase the fact that I was a sinner like everybody else It brought home to me the reality that while Christ’s cup was full, mine was actually empty. His was full of His love for humanity, mine was empty because if there was love at all, it was only love for myself and for all it was worth, it was nothing. And unabashedly, my tears began to flow and it went on like a river. A river? Wait now, I told myself. The river goes on forever, or so the poem goes. If Christ’s bitter cup represented suffering and death, inextricably connected to these was resurrection– of life after death! Suddenly it dawned on me that if I wondered where my river was going, that was where – into a hopeful aftermath. And my despair transitioned into a sunrise of resolve.
If I had lived in nothing but a material world, a path into a complementing spirituality had just been lighted up for me to follow. Gethsemane had just spelled out for me the essence of true Christianity. As the saying goes, “Man doesn’t live on bread alone!”
And as Robert Frost asks, “How many things have to happen to you before something occurs to you?”–DR. SONJA ALBANO CHAN, ST. LOUIS UNIVERSITY, BAGUIO CITY, PHILIPPINES / northboundasia.com