Elizabeth: A Holy Land Pilgrimage is available in paperback and on kindle and is being reprinted on Catholic News Agency with author’s permission. Cheryl’s non-fiction book is called Our Jewish Roots: A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Fulfillment Today by Connecting with Her Past.Chapter Twenty-Two
The Lord raises the needy from the dust, lifts the poor from the ash heap, seats them with princes, the princes of the people. Psalm 113:7-8
Beth loved the fact that she felt near starvation as they left the wall. For her, the physical emptiness mirrored her spiritual emptiness and she knew that just as a good meal would satiate the pangs in her stomach, God would fill the void in her heart. She had come to the right place and was humbled by that knowledge.
“We are going to stop and eat before we head to the Garden Tomb and Golgotha,” remarked Rachel. Sipporah smiled at Beth, sitting in the back seat. To her surprise, Beth realized she had not shed one tear at the wall and Sipporah’s smile indicated that she understood, based upon her own experiences, how Beth’s journey was unfolding.
Beth had learned, after the death of her beloved grandmother, that there were five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Beth was beginning to see that she could apply those same stages to her life over the past few years. At first, in her early forties, she began to feel great denial in how her life seemed to be working out.
In a frustrating, dead-end career, kids arguing and fighting with both her and themselves, and seemingly endless lapses in communication between herself and Luke, she literally would find herself saying such things as, This can’t be my life! If anything could classify as denial, that was Beth’s life at forty-two and forty-three years of age.
Then, denial evolved into anger. As she looked around and surveyed what she felt where the ruins of her existence, she became angry. She screamed at the heavens, Why is this happening to me? What have I done to deserve children like this? Where did my life go? It was a terrible time for Beth and to get a handle on things she began bargaining with God. If I work at becoming a better mother, will you make my kids nicer? More respectful? If I promise to stop bickering with my husband will you bring some joy into my life?
When she made these feeble attempts and didn’t see the results she was hoping for, praying for, bargaining for, she became depressed. She literally let the kids sit on the computer for hours at a time. She simply did not care anymore. Weeks went by when she didn’t vacuum or fold clothes. Fatigue settled into her bones. She couldn’t make the effort to maintain the family and she stopped putting up a fight with the kids.
Her bag of tricks was empty and no one was giving her a refill. It was in the midst of this depression that she had looked at her calendar and hatched her plan to visit the Holy Land. She wondered now if it was divinely inspired as she could literally feel herself moving into the last stage, which was acceptance. But a peaceful acceptance versus a resigned, defeated acceptance. She could feel her heart and soul saying, With You at my side, I’m ready now for whatever comes.
There was no panacea for what ailed Beth’s life, no quick cures or remedies. Beth was starting to see that life was more like a marathon where there were times you were ahead and times you were behind. Making it to the finish line, so to speak, committed to your goals was what mattered. Beth was starting to see her life with faith filled eyes and like a volcano rumbling deep within, she just knew that an outpouring of peace and tranquility was soon behind.
Rachel opted for a typical “American” restaurant even though Beth could have easily eaten another falafel plate. Seated inside, in a blue vinyl covered booth, Sipporah said, “We thought you might like a good old-fashioned hamburger today!”
Beth would have never considered making her friends feel awkward and agreed that a hamburger sounded perfect. As Beth watched Rachel and Sipporah eat their own burgers and fries, she wondered who really wanted a burger!
Getting back into Rachel’s car, it was a fairly short trip to their destination. They parked near the Damascus Gate of the Old City and walked up Nablus Road to the beautifully manicured area that very much reminded Beth of the English country gardens she had seen in some of her favorite movies. The silence and simplicity of the garden were in stark contrast to the hustle and bustle of East Jerusalem and the ornate furnishings within the Holy Sepulcher.
Both, however, provided the pilgrim with an opportunity to transcend time and space. There were brochures in languages that Beth couldn’t identify, speaking to the nationalities around the world that called Christ, “Lord.” Beth contemplated the realization of the sheer magnitude of people who chose to make this journey and put a physical experience to their Gospel studies.
Beth picked up a brochure and was reading about Charles Gordon’s theory, offered in 1883, that this location was the actual spot referred to in The Gospel of Mark as the ‘place of the skull.’ Apparently Gordon, a British general having spent many months in Jerusalem, was looking out of his window and was amazed when he noticed the rock formations that literally looked like a skull. Gordon became convinced that what he was looking at was, literally, ‘the place of the skull.’
Many people joined in Gordon’s enthusiastic discovery and a fundraising campaign ensued. Its goal was to purchase land adjacent to the formation. By that time, late in the nineteenth century, a rock-cut tomb, various water or wine cisterns, and a wine press had already been excavated. Their cause, and enthusiasm, was bolstered by these finds.
According to the New Testament, Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy citizen, provided the tomb in which Christ was buried. Although the site seemed to have all the elements to make it a likely place for Jesus’ death and burial, more recent research indicates the tomb was actually too old to be Christ’s, as His was freshly cut at His death.
Regardless of the conflicting information, Beth felt that the garden provided a wonderful setting in which to contemplate Christ’s sacrifice. It was late afternoon and Beth noticed different groups of people gathering in the garden. They weren’t like the guided group tours that were also roaming about, enjoying time on the benches and privately sharing their thoughts and prayers with God. Soon these groups had assembled themselves into cohesive units, with some lighting incense and others lost in their own thoughts. Then, as if choirs of angels from heaven had made themselves known, the groups began singing the most melodic chants Beth had ever heard. Taking turns, they praised God and lifted their voices to His throne.
Beth remembered the song that Judge Deborah sang after the Israelite victory over the Canaanites and easily slipped through the cracks of time. Her heart was filled with the edicts of Psalm 100, Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. And once again Beth began humming.
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