The Meaning of a True Pilgrim

Sunday started off in Tsipori (Sepporis), another national park/archaeological site where the layers of history are stacked like a birthday cake or a Jenga game depending on how you like to look at the tidiness of the intersection of natural and political forces. Highlights here were a crusader tower with wonderfully interactive, goofy educational movies and mosaics—oh the wonderful mosaics!

The group then went to Nazareth, starting near the spring that made the town possible. From there, we moved to St. Gabriel, a Greek orthodox church where we got to witness (from the outside) the baptism of a boy who was about 7 years old. The attendees at the church were friendly and welcoming while the church worker who guarded the door was a bit brusquer. They proudly wanted to share with us water from the spring and seemed to appreciate our interest in the post baptismal rituals. A stroll through the old streets of town took us to the churches traditionally associated with the homes of Mary and Joseph, respectively. For anyone interested in art, this part of the day was a treat! The stained glass, paintings, and mixed media from all over the world were amazing.

Our final stop was at the tomb of the famous Rabbi Maimonides (1135-1204 CE). On the women’s side, there was a lot of praying and emoting. It was interesting to observe that the conservative, orthodox, and ultra-orthodox women here used a similar bodily gesture to that we had seen among Coptic Christian women in Egypt at a holy man’s tomb: forearm and forehead leaning on the box of remains. It is a powerful gesture, and the meaning of it is probably as individual as the number of people using it.

One thing was clear to me—Hollywood has lied to us about spiritual experiences. The typical image we see is women devoutly kneeling with hands raised in prayer, gently crying while maintaining a look of adoration, hair and scarves arranged in pleasing ways. That is not the image of a true pilgrim. Wherever we see Pilgrims seeking God, we see frizzy hair from sweaty walks. We see people limping and dragging. And most strikingly, the eyes are matt and weary. It is the same look from different denominations, religions, and ethnicities. It is as if pilgrims think we are here to find something, but God in God’s mercy is helping us lose something instead. Alhamdulillah.

Elisabeth Chapin
3rd year, MDiv/MACE