By Chris Brady
The bag on my back, though small, irritates me from long companionship, and the camera that produces the pictures I so love is an annoyance.
My senses are overloaded and my brain is full.
It’s been another full day of touring the Holy Land.
From Dan to Beer-Sheva, and Caesarea (Maritime) to En-Giev, we’ve covered this land.
We swam in the Sea of Galilee and bobbed in the Dead Sea (this latter event so comical I couldn’t stop giggling at the curious situation of lying on top of the water).
We’ve surveyed archeological digs both old and new, gathered smooth stones from the Brook of Elah where David did so to the great chagrin of Goliath, and drove to the military installations along the borders of the Golan Heights.
We passed through the Palestinian checkpoint at Jericho where the soldier there (Palestinian) was watering flowers.
I’ve seen the Israeli soldiers, many of them young girls with cute pony-tails bouncing down the backs of their uniforms, toting AR 15 machine guns as if they were shopping bags.
We have pushed through crowded, narrow market streets while the Muslim call to prayer boomed loudly from speakers mounted to minarets high above.
I’ve seen monks in their brown robes with white ropes, nuns in their hobbits, and beggars of several faiths.
We walked into many an old church, usually constructed dead atop some Biblically important site, now entirely obliterated by the building meant to commemorate the very event it now obscures.
Perhaps the most adventurous activity was wading through the narrow (and sometimes short) tunnel of Hezekiah, a 1750 foot wonder that snakes around back and forth under the old City of David and takes water from the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam.
This required feet that could withstand long exposure to the cold and still flowing spring water, a flashlight, and the ability to duck repeatedly, as well as a decent ability to fight off claustrophobia.
But we all made it through, shamed by the 90 year old lady who soldiered through it with us without a word of complaint or even a slow step.
Climbing the recently unearthed ceremonial staircase from the Pool of Siloam to the Temple Mount above (way above, I might add) turned into another spelunking adventure as we ended up squeezing between ancient ashlars that framed a drainage system (at least that was our best guess).
There have also been cats, lots of cats, loose in every nook and cranny of these old cities.
But everywhere and all the time there have been people.
I have been all over the world, and have visited what I had previously believed to be some pretty crazy, diverse places.
But I must admit, never in my life have I seen anything like Israel. Enemies exist in muted tension side by side. Radically different faiths fight for the same commemorative soil.
Cultures crash like cars in a downtown intersection, with sounds and wounds just as loud and painful. I work my brain like a prize fighter trying to make sense of it all.
Our trip was billed as a study tour, and study tour it has been.
Under the masterful tutelage of Dr. Doug Bookman from Shepherds Theological Seminary in North Carolina, we’ve been whisked around this mysterious land like the students in the classroom of Miss Frizzle, the zany but enthusiastic grade school teacher whose “Magic School Bus” transforms itself into whatever shape is needed to give the students a tactile, on-location lesson of the material being covered.
With contacts in every corner of this land, Dr. bookman has us transported up to places like the half-built and then abandoned palace of Jordan’s King Husain, which was begun in 1965 but quickly abandoned with the outbreak of the Six Days War in 1967.
From it’s ruined hulk, a place (to quote Dr. Bookman) where “Osha has never been,” we could look out at the surrounding hills and almost see the Bible narrative that occurred there coming to life.
While we pass other tour groups in silly kerchiefs and matching hats, we sneak around where people rarely go and take a look from off the beaten path.
Another joy has been traveling with long time friend and business partner Orrin Woodward and his wife Laurie.
As we learn we discuss, and review and analyze.
Learning is always more fun in concert with other minds equally enthused and invigorated with the lamp of growing understanding.
Further, we’ve been in cahoots with a small team of others from Califormia, Indiana, North Carolina, and Georgia, who have been as fun as they have been adventurous.
This tour is not over, but its days are rapidly ending.
And as they close, I realize once again that the more I learn, the more there is to understand.
Further mystery is always on the other side of new understanding, and these days in Israel have opened me to more wonder than I ever could have imagined.
My appetite to study and learn even more about the foundations of my faith and the plan of God for this land is mightier than ever.
My faith is stronger, my knowledge higher, and my camera fuller than when I began.
And yes, my feet might throb as I drop into bed at night, but my mind races and my heart leaps at all that God has done.