Israel Pilgrimage Journal Monday, April 27- Tuesday, April 28

It was a dark and stormy morning on Monday, April 27. There were tornado warnings and even confirmed tornadoes for Baton Rouge, Gonzales, and near New Orleans, where I was supposed to fly out at 5:30 PM. New Orleans Advocate story and pictures of stormy weather on April 27, 2015  I ran the bulletins for the May 3 service and ran a few errands before loading the car about 12 PM. We stopped in Ponchatoula to eat and the let the New Orleans airport clear a bit because the weather was so bad that they were diverting planes after closing the airport earlier that morning. Arrived at the airport about 2 PM. I said goodbye to Jana and started my Israel adventure.

Security at the airport was long, but moved fast. I guess it was everyone leaving New Orleans the day after Jazz Fest. When I cleared security and got to the gate, people were running to catch a plane to Atlanta, their schedule delayed by the bad weather. My own flight to John F. Kennedy airport in New York was also delayed, not leaving until about 6.

I was on a small regional jet and one of my carry ons had to be stowed under the plane. I snuggled in next to the person in the adjoining seat and we were off to JFK. I read and played games on the way to NYC, hoping that I would be tired enough to sleep some on the 10+ hour flight to Tel Aviv.

When I landed at JFK, I was basically one level below my gate for the flight to Tel Aviv. Emile met me at a burger place in JFK just down from our gate. I ordered a burger and fries and finally received it after a long wait. The restaurant was in a hurry to clean up, so that they could close at midnight. Our flight must have been one of the final flights out of JFK because the airport was almost empty, even in “the city that never sleeps.” After eating, we went straight to board the plane. It was chaos. The waiting area was too small, so many of us were forced to stand.

The variety of people was interesting. There were many orthodox Jews with hats and conservative dress, others wearing a yamaka on their head. There were also many Christians with Bibles or study guides. As we started to board, we went through another level of Israeli security. I forgot to take off my watch and the metal detector alerted. I removed my watch, they scanned it, and I went back through security and passed!
Finally, I boarded the plane. It was 9 seats across! The biggest plane I have ever been on! I was near the back of the plane- aisle seat on the left side. I was seated next to 2 women from Florida. They were also Christians headed to Israel for plilgrimage. One was working on a study guide.

The flight was LONG! I watched “Exodus- Gods and Kings”, read my Israel tour book and tried to sleep. But I soon discovered there was not much room! I think I got about 2 hours of sleep. The flight was pretty smooth, just a little bumpy over the Mediterranean sea and as we left JFK.

When we arrived in Israel, the passport control long was quite long. When I finally got there, the official asked me who I was touring with. “Gordon Tours” I replied. “Is it a Delta company?” he asked. “I don’t know” I replied. He asked to see my boarding pass and let me through. I guess he decided that I had not swam to Israel!

We found our baggage quickly and our tour guide. She put us in a cab driven by Ronnie. Ronnie rarely spoke to us, but I only thought I was going to die a few times, so not too bad a ride in a foreign cab! Got to the Grand Court hotel after about an hour and a half drive from Tel Aviv, made longer by construction. We checked in to room 937. It was a long walk to reach our room from the elevator, as our room was on the opposite side of the hotel.

Supper plate from the Restaurant at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem

Supper plate from the Restaurant at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem

We arrived in Jerusalem a little after dark, about 7:30 PM. We went to the room and unpacked a little, then went down for supper. Supper was good- chicken, beef, broiled fish, and lots of salads and vegetables. Lighter than American fare. Lots of desserts and they were very good! We were hungry after the airplane meals.

Our Room at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem

Our Room at the Grand Court Hotel in Jerusalem

After supper, we walked around a little, buying a few bottles of water at a nearby corner shop. We walked through a little shop at the next door Olive Tree Hotel, then returned to our hotel. We considered going to the Old City, but we weren’t sure exactly how to get there. My phone was dead and I had left it in the room to charge, so I was no help. I mostly wanted just to sleep anyway. We returned to the room, did some unpacking, and turned out the lights about 10 PM.

Putting Down the Pen . . . and Picking it Up Again

After my trip to Israel last month, I was asked to share my pictures and experiences.  I replied that I planned to put my daily journal that I wrote while on my pilgrimage and some of my favorite pictures on my blog.  “Good,” he replied, “I noticed that you hadn’t written anything for a while.”

fountain pen on paperHe was being kind!  When I looked back, I realized that I had not written anything in over 10 months!  Maybe there was not much to write about, I thought.  No, that was definitely not true.  I had seen God working all around me and had plenty of things that I could have written.  No, I had just put down my pen and had not been disciplined enough to pick it back up again. I had become busy and had not taken the time needed to practice the discipline of writing.

Isn’t that just like what happens in our spiritual lives?  We have good intentions about how we are going to go to church, read our Bible, spend more time in prayer, even spend more time writing, but life breaks in and all of our good intentions are set aside.  These things that keep us connected to God are not particularly difficult, but they must be practiced regularly for maximum effectiveness.  I wonder if these simplicity of these practices may actually impede consistent exercise of them.  “I can read the Bible tomorrow, today is really busy” we think.  Or “It’s already Sunday!?  I’m tired.  It’s been a long week. I think I’ll just sleep late instead of attending church.”  Using these practices is like strength training for Christians.  Maybe that is why they are called spiritual disciplines.  Because it takes discipline to make the things of God something we attend to regularly.  If we are not careful, intentional, and disciplined, in approach to spirituality and Christianity, then before we know it, months have passed and we have not attended to our spiritual lives.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, was very disciplined in his life and practice.  He wrote many books, but maybe his most amazing work was his journal that includes almost daily entries from October 14, 1735, to October 24, 1790.  In case, like me, you are not a math major, that means that Mr. Wesley wrote in his journal for over 55 years!  I am amazed and astounded at the discipline and commitment it takes to do one thing for over 55 years!  I dare say that there are very few things in our lives that we will do for that long!  Of course, John Wesley was disciplined in his life and faith in many more ways than just his writing, that’s how he came to be called a Methodist.  Even today, those of us who seek to follow Jesus in the footsteps of Mr. Wesley are still called Methodists, though I sometimes wonder how methodical we really are, but that sounds like a topic for another day.

So following Wesley’s example and inspiration, I have put down my pen for far too long.  I pick it up again to follow his example and hopefully to be more disciplined in my writing and my faith.  The good news, for me and for all of us, is that Wesley was a staunch proponent of God’s grace, grace that gives us a new start, grace that is present even when we aren’t looking for God.  So claiming that grace, I pick up the pen again, hoping and praying that I will have the discipline to attend to the things of God consistently and praying God will use what I write to impact your life and faith.

By the way, if you are interested in reading more of John Wesley’s journal, you can find it to read online or download to your e-reader at John Wesley’s Journal at Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Things to consider:  When is the last time you have attended to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Bible study, worship attendance, and other things that keep you in touch with God?  How can we be more disciplined in practicing the disciplines of Christianity?  What disciplines have you set aside that you need to pick up again?