If you do an internet search for “Pilgrimage to Israel,” one of the first sites to appear is sponsored by the government of Israel. Follow the link “The Pilgrimage Experience” and you are greeted with a verse in large, red font.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” (Jn. 1:14)
Just below this, the Ministry of Tourism describes what a pilgrim is likely to experience.
Pilgrims frequently describe their pilgrimage to the Holy Land as a life-changing experience. They find it difficult to express the absolute bliss they feel during this unique spiritual adventure.
As they literally follow the footsteps of Jesus, some find the journey a way to get closer to Jesus or to discover the roots of their Christian faith. Others recount passionate feelings of being human bridges for peace and reconciliation or of feeling part of the rich tapestry of religious history that inspires every corner of this Holy Land.
Despite the deeply personal nature of the Holy Land experience, the pilgrimage itself unites all believers as one. It unites them in Christ, in Faith and in their contribution to preserve the precious Christian heritage in this magnificent land.
“And he said to them, “Follow me…” (Matt. 4:19)
It’s a beautiful image, one that inspires millions of travelers to book tours—carried by luxury air-conditioned coaches, led by skilled tour guides—through the sites of Israel/Palestine each year.
Yet this sense of commodification, or what some scholars have called the “Disneyfication” or “McDonaldization” of the Holy Land, that has left some dismissive of the experience. How do travelers find something true, something spiritual, from such carefully planned itineraries?
This is the sort of question Hillary Kaell, assistant professor of religion at Concordia College in Montreal, set out to answer in her beautifully wrought ethnography of Holy Land travel, Walking Where Jesus Walked: American Christians and Holy Land Pilgrimage. She poses a number of questions: How do tour guides minimize the intrusion of commercial activity into what is billed as a transformative spiritual encounter? How do travelers sort through the politics, change, and contestation taking place in this part of the world to find something “real?” Most basically, Kaell asks: What does it mean to return to the source, to “walk where Jesus walked,” in the context of 21st-century American Christianity?
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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Brian M. Howell