Noun: a person who journeys, especially a long distance, to some sacred place as an act of religious devotion.

(Note: not a person who wore a funny hat and traveled on the Mayflower.)

Jennifer WyantAlmost three weeks ago, I walked a prayer labyrinth in Nazareth. I was trying to figure out what it meant to be more than just a tourist, more than just a traveler collecting memories for the scrapbook.

I knew how to be on a trip, but what I didn’t know was how to be on a pilgrimage.

I had joked with people before my trip to Israel with the WMEI[1] and 23 other seminarians that I was going to look for stones that Jesus had walked on, but in reality, I didn’t know if I would see any. You see, seminarians can be a tad bit skeptical. We tend to question most everything we hear. I wanted to hear archaeological evidence on every sight. I wanted proof at every place that this was in fact the place where Jesus had been.

But then our tour guide, Wisam, a Palestinian Christian, spoke to us outside the Church of the Annunciation as we huddled together in the wind:

“It’s not that Jesus might have been here that makes this place holy. Jesus did not come to make stones holy. It’s the people who came here to worship over the centuries that makes this place holy. It’s the people. It’s the worship of God that turns this space into holy ground.”

Pilgrims for centuries had come searching for God in these places. And God had met them here. God had been meeting people here for thousands of years, and that made these places sacred ground. And as I saw people crowded around the altar at the Garden of Gethsemane or taking the Eucharist in a church in Emmaus, I realized that it wasn’t about whether or not, it was this garden or the next garden over that Jesus physically prayed in or if it was that tomb or another tomb where they laid Jesus, it didn’t matter. Because ultimately, Jesus wasn’t there anymore; he wasn’t in any of them. He is alive, meeting people on the long road home and in cold crowded churches, making them holy.

And so I went and walked in places where Jesus walked and maybe in some places where he didn’t. I walked around Israeli malls and refugee camps, past border fences and into the Dead Sea, along the Via Delarosa and the Sea of Galilee.

And I wondered what it meant to realize the reality of the resurrection and the gospel of Christ in a place that still knows so much hate and brokenness.

And as I walked around that prayer labyrinth, I realized that above all else,  no matter where following these footsteps led, I wanted to always walk in the places where Jesus walked, whether it be at a Palestinian refugee camp or back here among the halls of the CST[2].

[2] Candler School of Theology Building