Some things are hard to explain. Before I got married, I would often ask people who were married how they knew when they met “the one.” The would say things that barely made sense: “When you know, you just…know.”
Before I had children I didn’t understand what it was like to love a little human more than your own life. People would say things about how it felt to become a parent, especially the feeling when seeing their child for the first time. I probably just stared blankly at them. Then, on one sunny morning in July of 2013, it all made sense. When I looked at my daughter for the first time, I finally understood the phrase “love at first sight.” There are lots of things in life like that. In case you didn’t know, going to the Holy Land belongs on that list.
Before going to Israel, I wouldn’t have had much to say to someone who had been there. I probably would have stared blankly at the ever-so-cliche phrase that I have now repeated a few dozen times: “You just have to go.” Oddly enough, I had never thought much about going before I went. But the experience can only be described as life-changing.
How do you explain the things that defy explanation? All you can do is try. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that my functions of articulation all but shut down. For me, that’s a strange feeling. If I put thought into something I can usually find words for it. But lately I’ve struggled to express the important things because the weight of all the feels presses so hard against the bottleneck pathway from heart to brain to mouth (or hands) and I get stuck. I guess it’s like the old expression: The best way to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. (DISCLAIMER: I have never eaten, nor would I ever attempt to eat, an elephant).
It’s funny how perspective changes everything. You can live your whole life thinking you know what good food tastes like, which is obviously those special occasions when you go to Ryan’s all-you-can-eat buffet. And then one day you go to Ruth’s Chris and your eyes are opened. “Good” suddenly has a different meaning. When you see Israel for yourself, your perspective is radically changed. I’ve spend a lot of time reading the Bible over the years, and I’ve always felt like I took it at face value, like I believed what it said. But when I saw those sights and stood in those places, I realized that there was more theoretical distance in me than I imagined, more space between what I understood and what I knew. Sometimes the gap between concept and reality stares at you with incredible severity.
One of my favorite movies is the classic comedy The Three Amigos, starring Chevy Chase, Martin Short and Steve Martin. If you haven’t seen it, shame on you. Actually, you should probably stop reading this and go watch it. In the movie, three has-been movie actors get mistaken for injustice-fighting heroes and are called on by a poor village in Mexico to defend them against their local guerrilla bully named “El Guapo.” The irony of the situation is hilarious: the actors, although in immediate mortal danger, think they’re filming a movie. Because they don’t see the reality, they face off against the bandits with a careless bravado. It’s easy to be brave when you’re pretending.
Things come to a screeching halt when one of the (real) gunfighters fires a shot which grazes the arm of one of the actors (Steve Martin) and suddenly he sees the truth: this isn’t a movie. The danger is real. In an unforgettable scene, Martin walks up to the other two actors and says, “Uh…This is real. They’re going…to kill us.” And everyone starts to cry.
It may be a crass comparison, but I stood in so many of those sacred spots in the Holy Land and the phrase that kept coming to mind was “Uh…this is real.” I thought to myself, how could I have been so careless, thinking I understood so much more than I do? When you look out at the Sea of Galilee and imagine Jesus walking on the waves, it changes your perspective. When you see the garden where he prayed before his arrest, the reality comes crashing in: this is real. HE is real. A real man walked on these real streets and really died to rescue the world from sin.
I’ll be digesting the experience for some time, probably for the rest of my life. You’ll probably see a few reflections on this site as I process my thoughts. I can tell you two things: I’ll never read the Bible the same way, and, of course, you have to go.