Israel already feels like a lifetime ago, but a few memories still stand out particularly fresh in mind. Many of you know I am a Christian, I believe in God/Jesus/Holy Spirit… the whole deal. Growing up my dad was always an example of someone who really listened to God… I mean like, REALLY LISTENED. To this day me, and a somewhat random collection of dozens of his friends and family will receive his daily text mini-sermons – (littered with typos and in ALL CAPS), or he will frequently call to tell me a story of how the Lord told him something of significance that day. I actually have some crazy stories from my childhood where ‘the Lord told my dad to do something’ and one instance actually saved my life (involving a tree falling on our house growing up). Probably because of him… I feel like I’ve inherited some of his weird spiritual inclinations or premonitions or whatever. He just always emphasized the importance of listening and I think ever since I can remember I’ve just really spent time trying to hear. This has likely resulted in me being more of a spiritually inclined person than religiously inclined…the pros and cons of which are things I’ve debated in my head many times over.
When mentally preparing for Israel I really felt like I was going to grasp religion in a way that I hadn’t been able to. I thought that because I was going to where Jesus was, the place where the stories I had heard all my life actually happened, that I would be inspired to become more religious. I’d be inspired to read the Bible more, seek out a church community and my faith would be changed in its entirety.
Being in Israel, visiting site after site, I noticed that I wasn’t feeling as compelled by my religion as I had hoped. I didn’t know if I should be disappointed or concerned but I decided to digest that when I got home. I had so much more to see and do that I didn’t want to make any decisions or formulate any opinions prematurely.
Our first few days in Jerusalem were incredible and a few of my favorite. We visited Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity (the birth site), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (where Jesus was crucified), the Garden Tomb (where some say Jesus may have been buried), the Chapel of the Ascension (where he rose into heaven) and many, many, other sites. In all of these places I was expecting an emotional reaction, a spiritual experience, a place to really solidify religion’s place in my life but at the end of each day, I was filled with new knowledge, but left longing for a spiritual experience. I was tired, happy, but tired.
Our last morning in Jerusalem, for some bizarre reason, I woke up singing a song we sang as kids in Sunday school.
Zacchaeus was a wee little man
And a wee little man was he
He climbed up in a sycamore tree
For the Lord he wanted to see
And when the Savior passed that way
He looked upon the tree
And said, ‘Zacchaeus you come down!
For I am going to your house today!
For I am going to your house today!’
Zacchaeus is a character in the Bible only mentioned in one book. He was a tax collector who lived in Jericho, and certainly not a main character in the narrative of Jesus’ life
I really had no idea why I was singing that song and how it got stuck in my head, but there I was humming along while getting ready and packing since we were leaving Jerusalem and heading to Galilee that morning. In fact, I didn’t think anything of it at all. And eventually I just stopped thinking about it all together.
After breakfast we packed up our van and headed to Masada. We visited Masada in the morning in an attempt to beat some of the desert heat and finish our day at the Dead Sea for a float (the lowest dry land on earth… like 1,300 feet below sea-level). After our float (note: float not swim… it’s too salty to really swim… you just bob up and down), our guide suggested we stop by his home in Jericho and see the city since it was also a place of significance – given it’s one of the oldest cities on earth. It wasn’t on our itinerary, but it was an opportunity we didn’t want to miss so we decided to do it.
We were spending a lot of time traveling by car this day, so I had some more time to dwell on the whole ‘wanting a spiritual experience’ thing. By this point I was feeling like maybe I was not as in tune with my faith as I should have been or could have been, making me second guess my connection with my faith in general. I was beginning to feel like Zacchaeus climbing a sycamore tree, just trying to get a glimpse of God.
After a long day of driving, we finally pulled into Jericho, and were driving through the center of the city when our guide pointed to a random tree on the side of the road. He casually told us to look at the tree and asked us if we remembered the story of Zacchaeus...
I smiled to myself because I had spent that morning singing that old Sunday School kids’ song about Zacchaeus and I immediately felt at peace. Just like Zacchaeus didn’t need to climb a tree to see Jesus I realized that I don’t need to go find Jesus in these historic sites or in religious traditions because He is everywhere, even on the side of the road. He was with me in Israel, He is with me at home and He is no less with me here than He would be there. He was asking me to come down from the Sycamore tree. Visiting these places, for me, was not how I was going to feel or see Jesus, I was climbing the tree for no reason. Jesus was noticing me even when I was just standing amongst the crowds.
And not that religion or faith is always about this… but there was my “aha” moment, a connection with my spirituality and my religion.