This post is part of a series reflecting on my Pilgrimage to the Holy Land. The Pilgrimage was a guided experience called “The Footsteps of Jesus” – every Friday, I’ll be posting a “Footsteps Friday” reflection. I look forward to your sharing your thoughts and comments.
Upon returning from my Pilgrimage, the most frequent question I receive is a variant on “what was the most special moment?” I have a hard time answering this question because there wasn’t one singular moment, but rather a whole collection of disparate moments. I didn’t go with an expectation of an amazing revelatory experience – rather I went with a readiness to enjoy the experience in full.
That said, there is one story that keeps rising to the top. A story that seems to crystallize some things God has been teaching me over the last several years.
It was our last full day on the trip. For two weeks we had travelled together, laughed, hiked, eaten, studied, sung, prayed, and enjoyed fellowship. On this last day, we rose early, before the tour groups and the crowds, to walk the Via Dolorosa as a prayer exercise.
Bob, our pilgrimage director, explained that the Via Dolorosa was a medieval invention, not really having any correlation to the actual route of Christ through the city. Our devotions would be simple; we would walk in silent contemplation from one station to the next. At each station, we would read scripture, recite a brief liturgy, and pray. Our emphasis would be on the call to follow Christ.
As we walked the morning streets of Jerusalem, we silently passed shopkeepers opening up, trash men picking up the last bits of refuse, and cats prowling for their morning meal. Despite the early hour, there was a peddler at the first station, hawking trinkets to eager pilgrims. I’m afraid our band offered nothing but disappointment for him.
Trekking from station to station, we passed by several churches that I didn’t know existed. For the past two weeks, I’d spent my free time roaming the city, trying to get into every church I could get into. Among my many geekeries are church architecture and the variety of expressions of the Christian faith. Oh, the stories I have to tell about some of those adventures, but those will have to wait for future Fridays. In my mind I had thought I would visit every church in the Old City. Now I discovered that I had missed several very important churches. You can imagine my disappointment. I began calculating how much time I had that afternoon and figuring out if I might be able to make it back for a visit.
Onward we made our way to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, built over the rock of Calvary and over the empty tomb of Christ. This historic edifice itself will be fodder for several reflections in the future. Outside, Bob gave us instructions for praying through the last four stations on our own (since we couldn’t go through as a group). These stations commemorated Christ being nailed to the cross, Christ on the Cross, the anointing of Christ’s body, and the empty tomb.
As one enters the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, to the right is an ancient and worn stone staircase that lead to 2 chapels. These chapels are built overtop the outcrop of rock upon which Christ was crucified.
The first chapel is covered in glittering mosaics. The second chapel is festooned with censers and oil lamps, soot stained icons. At the end of the chapel are large ornate icons and a great altar. Beneath this altar is the stone upon which Jesus died. Of course, it is entirely covered by the chapel, but underneath the altar is a hole in the floor. Worshippers can, one at a time, kneel underneath that altar, reach your hand through the hole, and touch the stone.
Some people find this a very powerful moment. Worshippers come before the stone, walking on their knees. Some leave weeping. I didn’t know what to expect, but I wasn’t anticipating anything earth shattering. My spiritual life has not been characterized by ecstasies and wonders. God is much gentler with me. Though I’ve never had a blinding Damascus Road experience like Paul, I think I understand something of Elijah’s experience of the still small voice (I Kings 19:12-13).
So when my time came, I knelt beneath the altar and placed my arm through the hole, resting my hand upon the cool stone underneath. Though the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is a crowded place, this spot felt isolated. People stood a respectful distance back, and the altar provided privacy on three sides.
I knelt and prayed.
I felt the presence of the Lord.
Though I know God is always about us, there have been times in my life when I’ve felt a special presence. There’s a kind of tingle in the skin and a sharpness to the senses. A mild euphoria flows within. Frankly, it’s hard to describe, but I know it when I’ve experienced it.
And then the words “It is enough.”
That’s all. Nothing more.
After I left the chapel, those words kept resounding in my head. No need to run about the city to visit more churches. “It is enough.” No need to yearn after ecstatic experiences, simply enjoy the still small voice. “It is enough.”
The words work in me on so many levels – urging contentment and joy in the present life that God has given, for it is indeed enough.
And it occurred to me later that these words came to me at the place of Jesus’ sacrifice. Truly, truly “It is enough.”
Those words followed me through the day. They have followed me home. One of our fellow pilgrims commented in an email that after returning “Things are the same, and yet not.” I think that captures how “It is enough” will continue to work in me. I’m back to the same life. But it is not the same. Deep within, I know “it is enough.”
And that, for me, is enough.
Soli Deo Gloria
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