It's A Gray Area: Trip to the 'Promised Land' has a profound effect

July 23, 2011|By James P. Gray

My wife, Grace, and I just returned from a two-week tour of Jordan and Israel sponsored by Saint Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Corona del Mar.

What a great trip, and what a privilege to visit places I have read about in the Bible and elsewhere since childhood. It was truly sobering to think that we were standing in the places where so many important things happened throughout history!

As one of my best friends says, the Holy Land is a powerful place filled with confusion, but brings clarity to pilgrims seeking to know God. I agree and, first and foremost, this was a humbling religious experience. But it was so intensely personal that I don't feel I can share it with you, other than to ask you to pray for me, as I will pray for you.


Otherwise, as St. Augustine said, "Life is a book, and people who don't travel read only one page."

In that regard, there were many things I had not realized before this trip, such as how small Israel is. For example, the distance from Jerusalem to Bethlehem is about five miles, to Jericho about 40 miles, and to Nazareth about 70.

Furthermore, and I don't think this is sacrilegious, often throughout our time in the Holy Land I kept wondering why God would have ever designated this place as the "Promised Land," where it is hot, dry and rocky. Why not Maui, Pacific Palisades or Newport Beach instead?

We started in Petra, Jordan, one of the great historic and archeological sites. The elaborate tombs of kings and nobles were sculpted straight out of the sandstone cliffs. And I am happy to tell you that Petra was not destroyed by Indiana Jones in his "Last Crusade" movie.

We also visited the Sea of Galilee, which is really a freshwater lake, and swam in the Dead Sea, which is the lowest point on Earth's surface at 1,400 feet below sea level, and is so salty that it probably is impossible to drown. In fact, I couldn't even sit down in 18 inches of water because my legs kept popping up.

The ruins of the synagogue at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee were truly moving. This was where Jesus spent most of his time teaching, where he gathered disciples, and also performed some of his miracles.

We also learned that as best as can be determined, actual history does not match some of the stories we have heard all of our lives. For example, Jesus was probably born in 4 B.C. around harvest time, which would have been in April instead of December.

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