August 21, 2020

Israel is like nothing else. I traipsed across the foreign landscape carrying three cameras (a DSLR, a medium format Contax 645 and my iPhone 10) aching to tell the story I saw before my eyes. I came back with a card full of images and a bag full of film exposed in the warm light of a place I now knew and longed for return. These photos are like treasures to me. We walked where ancient stories took place and breath in the air rich with history and personal, spiritual meaning.

The trip which spans a total of 10 touring days took us on a journey following in the steps of Jesus, His disciples and Old Testament figures in the Bible where we ask the question, “How does standing on this spot help me understand what God communicated better?” From Bethlehem to Nazareth to the shores of Galilee to the Judean Desert, ancient Jericho and the cliffs of Ein Gedi to the streets of ancient Jerusalem, the Temple Mount steps and down the crowded Via Dolorosa the Bible pages we’ve studied for the years come to life in the warm Israel light in vibrant and very real new ways.

It would be an understatement to say the feet on the ground experience of the trip came as a surprise. The tour moved at a breathtakingly fast pace and the weight of the significance and meaning of each site weighed heavy on our hearts. If you blinked you missed it. But we wouldn’t have it any other way.

I was thankful to be surprised by the diversity of the landscape of this small country. It wasn’t until Day 5 when we began our journey into the Jordan Valley visiting Beit Shean, ancient Jericho, Ein Gedi and Qumran (the caves where they discovered the Dead Sea scrolls) where I finally thought, “this was the Israel I was envisioning.” Desert-like and foreign. Heavy with history. Stories first told in flannel-graph form in Sunday school rooms came to life.

The Garden at Gethsemane: I couldn’t wait to visit this place. I imagined sitting quietly contemplating holy things. Then we arrived here, stumbled off a bus into crowds, walked through a gate into more crowds and peered through wrought iron fences shoulder to shoulder with the crowd at this small garden dotted with ancient olive trees and blushing blooms. It’s a scene much different than the one I imagined. And a scene much, much different from the story of Jesus I longed to recall. A vast contrast to the quiet, inky black night 2000 years ago where my Savior sat here and agonized to the point of tears over the sacrifice He was sent to make.

This day it’s blanketed in perfect sunlight. There is something about the light in Israel that I’m not quite sure I’ll ever be able to put my finger on. It’s bold yet gentle like a breeze, it’s crisp and warm all at once, it’s nearly perfect in every way. Can you see it? It’s like God took all the best light and put it here. Kind of like He did when He sent the Light of the World to this very place not just for that moment in time 2000 years ago but for all of time from that point forward. I’m thankful for that reminder of that moment when Jesus weeping beneath olive trees said “Your will be done.” And here we are, Christian pilgrims, born out of that sacrifice standing in the perfect light side by side with the crowds in awe of our Saviour. I’ll take that unexpected, undeserved gift any day.

Bethlehem Shepherds Field: When we toured the holy land we found ourselves standing in the blinding sun squinting, peering out at shepherds fields and ancient gardens that hold stories from the black of night. A place transforms based on light. A field doesn’t seem so far away from a city in the daytime when you can see it in the distance. You can’t even glimpse the stars, though they are surely there behind the veil of brilliant blue. The fullness of the light of the sun oftentimes blinds us from the small moments in powerful stories told in the dark. Yet there we stood in the shade squinting our eyes because our tour didn’t include any nighttime stops though the stories they held surely did. On that first Christmas Day a new beginning came in the dark of night lit by handheld lamps and far away stars.

Israel had surprises around every turn including its modernity. Naively I only envisioned taking in the history and the stories here amidst ancient stones and dusty landscapes. I didn’t take into account that the ancient stories are nestled within the the modern day, right here in the right now.

We moved our bags from one lovely hotel to the next like this one in Jerusalem just walking distance from the walls of the Old City. We were met with this sweet reprieve at the end of each day with the mother of all buffets (including piles of sweet desserts!) and comfy beds for resting and recharging. I can’t wait to one day go back and hopefully spend a bit more time in this sweet city where the story of Israel is forever being told.

Caroline Maxcy Fox

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