As we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven, it's important that we not lose sight of the years he spent here with us.
The great part about having grown up kids is watching them spread their wings, especially when whatever they're up to is spiritual in nature. That's one reason I was thrilled to see our youngest daughter leave for a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, but there are a thousand others. When we sat down together with her itinerary a few weeks ago, they all came flooding back.
Anyone who is able to travel to the Holy Land should. I'm glad Marjeta did. I've been blessed to travel there twice; once on a mostly Jewish tour six months after the Six-Day War, when I was six years old, and once on a Catholic pilgrimage with my grandmother, mother, and oldest daughter when she was six. It's a powerful experience, but not always in the way you expect it to be.
When you go to the Holy Land, you can't help but be filled with anticipation. You know you are going to be in the places where so many of the things you've heard about all your life took place. You expect that you will feel God's presence more than ever before. You trust that it will be a deeply spiritual experience. But then the travel is exhausting, the weather is too hot, or your shoes are uncomfortable. Someone in your tour group is annoying. You get on and off the bus a hundred times and the sites all run together. You don't remember what your guide told you, and the endless stream of information starts to grate. And somewhere in the midst of it, you start to question whether you will get anything lasting out of the trip.
Then something happens. Out of the blue, and often where you least expect, God is there and you know it. It will be the sound of the waves at the shore of the Sea of Galilee, or on the climb up the terraced hill to the house of Elizabeth, or in the light streaming through the windows of the Church of the Transfiguration, or in the breeze through the olive trees in Gethsemane. God comes, and you realize that He brought you half-way around the globe just for that one moment.
There is absolutely nothing like being in the Holy Land. Nothing. It's because when you visit the places where Jesus walked, or taught, or prayed, you realize that our faith isn't based on myths or stories. Our faith is rooted in history: in real people who lived real lives and did real things in the real world.
Once you've been to Israel, you never hear the readings at Mass the way you used to. A personal encounter with history makes the Scriptures come alive. Everything that was black and white or gray about the Bible suddenly bursts into color. There the entire physical world testifies to the incarnation. Desert and sea, stones and dust, hills and valleys, walls and gates and paths all bear witness that Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God and Son of Mary, lived a human life. At a particular time and place, in a particular culture and in a particular language, Jesus walked the earth.
As we celebrate the Ascension of the Lord into heaven, it's important that we not lose sight of the years he spent here with us. Let's imagine Jesus at the shoreline, walking along the Jordan, climbing a hill to be alone with the Father. Let's remember his birth and boyhood, the miracles and the crowds, as well as his suffering and death. But let's also recognize that our lives, whenever and wherever we live them, are a pilgrimage with Jesus, one that will lead us to heaven. In the meantime, we are called to walk with him. When we do, the ground beneath us becomes holy.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.