Newsletter: Vol. 14, Iss. 1
May 2015

Pilgrimage Reflection

The Rev. Darren Morgan

Many of our churches sing We Gather Together during our Thanksgiving worship services. It reminds us not only to ask for God's blessing in this season of harvest, but also to ask God's presence as we gather with family and friends around our holiday tables. While there is much to be thankful for, we sometimes overlook and take for granted the many freedoms we enjoy as Americans. Experiencing a culture outside our own helps us to recognize the immense freedoms we experience on a daily basis.

I led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land a few weeks before Thanksgiving. We journeyed to a known yet unknown land. Many were seeking a spiritual encounter with the Holy in the place that plays such a prominent role in Christian faith. For me, it was a personal experience of the Holy in the people we met along the way. During this trip, I gained most, not from the historical/religious sites we visited, but from the personal conversations we had with those who live in the region.

This was my second journey to the Holy Land. As a first time pilgrim to the holy sites, I would describe my experience as being "lost in wonder, love and praise," to borrow a phrase from Love divine All Love's Excelling. On this second journey, I was more attuned to the contemporary issues that the people of this land face on a daily basis. My reflection this Thanksgiving week is to be thankful not only for all the blessings in my life, but also for the people I met during this recent visit to the Holy Land.

We were able to visit with Shay Davidovich, a former Israeli soldier who had served in Hebron and is currently a member of Breaking the Silence. Breaking the Silence is an Israeli organization made up of IDF veterans who object to Israel's presence in the West Bank and is dedicated to educating Israelis about what that presence means. We met with Hagi Ben-Artzi, an Israeli Army officer and a professor of Jewish studies at Bar-Ilan University. Dr. Ben-Artzi spoke about Israel's return to its homeland as a fulfillment of the promise of God. He stated that the basis for Israel's existence comes from the Bible and that the will of God is stronger than any leader or power, including the United States. He believes that the establishment of the State of Israel is a Diving process and that to resist this process is to go against God's will. We also met with an Israeli journalist and peace activist, Lydia Aisenberg, who lives on a kibbutz in Galilee and works for an joint Israeli Arab & Jewish peace center called Givat Haviva. Lydia describes herself as a Zionist. Givat Haviva is an organization whose mission is based on understanding that building and maintaining a shared society characterized by mutual responsibility, full participation, and equal opportunity among all the citizenry is essential to peaceful, democratic and prosperous development. On a visit to the only brewery in the West Bank, we met with the Khoury family, proud owners of Taybeh Brewing Company, who established the only craft brewery in the Middle East to fulfill their dream of contributing to the Palestinian economy.

I am thankful to the people we met during our pilgrimage who opened my eyes to the current presence of God in this Holy place. In this season of harvest, I am exceedingly thankful for the men and women who journeyed with me to the Holy Land and who shared this experience with me. I am thankful for the witness each carries of what we saw and heard in our time together. Finally, I am thankful for the United Church of Christ which for decades has called for peace between Israelis and Palestinians. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools."

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