I had the blessing after Christmas of taking a fourth pilgrimage journey to Israel—the Holy Land, the Promised Land. I keep thinking that the next trip will be my last, but God keeps laughing at that notion. There’s just too much to see and experience there in one lifetime. I know I will go again, God willing, and I hope you will be able to explore this land of faith yourself. It’s worth all the effort needed.
With these multiple trips, I find more dots getting connected, one by one. We traipse the field where young David faced down the giant, Goliath, and we bend to pick up five smooth stones, just like David, from this field still covered with such stones even after all these years. We walk to the edge of the River Jordan at the very site Joshua led the people of Israel into the Promised Land and 1,400 years later, John baptized Jesus. We touch the place where Christ was born in Bethlehem, and we spend the night near the city of Jesus’ adult life, Capernaum. We follow the pilgrimage route down the Via Dolorosa—the Way of Sorrows—retracing the final footsteps of Jesus as He carried His cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha.
We walk and touch and feel and see and listen and experience these things on not just any ground but holy ground, the very ground of the Bible, the ground of the Judeo/Christian faith. Then it occurs to us: our faith is grounded in real life, in history, in actual places and people and events. There is dirt under our feet of faith.
So I return home from this latest pilgrimage, with the soil still on my shoes and under my fingernails, and I hear a person say, “I’m spiritual, not religious,” and I immediately recoil. Now I hear a danger warning in that statement, a danger that faith can become too spiritual, too detached from the ground of history, too disembodied from real life.
For the Christian proclamation says that God became a human being, real flesh and blood, and was born in an actual place, and walked on real earth, and died a real and painful death, but rose from the grave with a real, actual body and now calls us to follow Him in the nitty-gritty of daily life. Our faith in Christ is grounded; faith is the stuff of substance. Knowing that, we are saved from becoming “too spiritual.”
Mark Graham is the Senior Pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Roanoke. Visit them on the web at www.stjohnlutheran.org