"We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders."
"Israel? Are you going on pilgrimage?" the receptionist asked.
"No," I blanched. Pilgrimage? I hadn't heard that word for awhile. That's what Catholics do, I thought. "Just a trip," I dismissed. But as I left the room I wondered: Maybe I am.
I am leaving Monday, in 4 days, for Israel. I've been there several times before, but it's been 30 years. I'm flying over alone then meeting my son in Tel Aviv. We'll walk around Jerusalem for a few days then head up north to the Sea of Galilee. We're going to hike the trail that circumnavigates the Sea for a week, just the two of us, stopping at ruins, museums, monasteries. If there is time, we may hike part of The Jesus Trail.
I am going because I must. Because there are too many questions whose answers I must discover. Questions that will send me out on the Sea of Galilee. That sent me out on other fishing boats this summer. That will send me circling the Jesus Boat (the fishing boat excavated from the time of Jesus) to Tagba, where Jesus endlessly divided the loaves and fishes, to the underground city . . .
There is so much I wonder about, so much I don't know and don't understand. Can a place be sacred? What does that mean? The Sea of Galilee is considered one of the most sacred bodies of water on earth. The Jordan River as well, where thousands come from around the world to tie on white robes and line up and descend down stairs to be baptized... . What does it feel like to spend all your savings for this moment when you step into the river that Jesus was baptized in. .. . and the water is colder than you thought and you want to believe in him more, and can you, can you love him better now, now after this sinking in the Jordan, this holy water?
I want to ask them, the pilgrims who come.
Why did Jesus choose so many fishermen as his disciples? Possibly six out of the twelve were fishermen. What is it about fishermen? (Did he ask others, and they said no? )
And out of all the places on earth, why did God choose that little crescent of ground, that slip beside the Mediterranean, and why that teapot of a lake for the storm that would shake the whole world?
And Jesus called those fishermen away from their nets, but we're still working ours . . . . Should we?
It's a strange, troubling feeling I know as the deep kind of wonder that will necessitate years of thinking, praying, agonizing, searching, asking, writing . . . (Yes, hopefully my next book, after Forgiving Our Fathers and Mothers.)
It's hard to begin this, because we don't do it much anymore. We no longer wonder; we google. We carry the disturbing weight of a question just long enough to make it to the keyboard to type in the search. We've paved the stony trail of knowledge into a superhighway, light-speeding us from question to fact, from puzzle to resolution in seconds. What took our parents and ancestors years, even a life time to learn and know, we find-----now. That fast. We can no longer sit with doubt or find a home among questions.
(And when answers come that fast, does wisdom come as well?)
What do we know now of the slow beauty and trouble of wondering? The kind that disrupts your world and makes you do something about it. That drives you out under the stars and sends you up a tree, that pulls you up a mountain of books and out into a hundred interviews with people you don't know. That sits you down before a winter beach and blows snow into your open mouth. That sends you stumbling for days around a faraway sea, with eyes blinking open and heart hurting just a little, for not knowing yet . . . That makes you ask, seek, knock . . .
But I do not want to end my trip carrying the same weight of wonder. Wonder is the beginning, not the ending. I do not worship wonder, nor set my life panting after it, as some do, dismissing all answers and brushing aside any possibility of knowable truths. Wonder is what teaches us how little we know, how small we are. And if we are wondering well, it leads us into libraries and into the world believing there are answers, that the world and the God who made it all is knowable, and wants to be known. God has already spoken; creation still listens and we can too when wonder cracks open our ears and eyes. Let wonder do this work in us.
I will be hiking long rocky trails next week . ... wandering, taking side routes, watching, reading the gospels as I go, asking questions, reading museum signs, praying. I don't know what I'll find there. I may find some answers, some ideas. Some stories. I know I'll find more questions. Maybe wonder will take me even further. Do I dare to hope? Maybe I will see Jesus there, in one of those white robes descending into the river. . . .
I don't know. Right now, I can only pack, and read, and--------yes, wonder at all that is ahead.
Would you pray for me as I go (and for my wonderful husband and sweet sons who stay behind?)
My prayer for you: Let wonder do its sweet, troubling, wise work in you this week.
(Post Script: Friends! I do not know if I'll be able to post in the next 3 weeks or not! Yikes! Can I really survive without my weekly letters to you all? I'm not sure! Let me say I will do my utmost to get at least a few photos and notes of my wanderings out to you while I'm gone. I WILL be thinking of you all! )