Jesus: A Pilgrimage

This is one of those books mentioned during RCIA (nearly two years ago!) that I never felt quite ready to tackle: an entire book on Jesus, as told through the Holy Land lens. I was both excited and intimidated by the prospect, but I finally decided Lent was an appropriate time to explore it.

This is part Bible study, part travel journal. I much appreciate the way each chapter is laid out, beginning with traveling to a destination and then discussing its relevance in Jesus’s life. Though the pilgrims did not travel in chronological order, as originally planned, the book tries its best to. We journey from Bethlehem to Galilee to Jerusalem; we delve into details surrounding both Jesus’s humanity and divinity. Every so often a personal anecdote is included, like an overenthusiastic cab driver or nearly dying of heat stroke in the literal Valley of the Shadow of Death.

I really enjoyed the chapters on Jesus’s humanity, which take up much of the early chapters. After all, during this time he was a simple carpenter, not yet ministering. Though we don’t know a lot about his early life, it’s easy to picture it with archeological evidence. Nazareth was a small, poor village, and the young Jesus likely knew everyone in his then-vocation. I’d never considered how much his preaching had been inspired by this experience, and how there are so many metaphors relating to construction and farming. That was his life.

The chapters on his actual ministry were regrettably not as interesting, but do offer some insight not commonly known. Fr. Martin has studied Greek, so he often discusses the original translation and intent. In traveling the land, he comes upon many locations (especially around Galilee) where Jesus would have been, and their descriptions are so vivid that you can nearly feel the salty air off the sea. I was often reminded of a phrase repeated during my own Israel excursion, when confronted with an area that Jesus may have been: “If not here, then near.”

Sometimes the book tries to do too much, and it’s clear than its original intent was a much larger tome. Between travel journal, Biblical study, and personal reflection, there’s a lot of information to take in. I do wish there’d been more talk of the pilgrimage itself, rather than retelling Gospel stories. It tries to cover this ground for non-Christians who may be reading, but I also feel it would be difficult to grasp for someone who doesn’t already know something of Jesus’s life.

One the whole, it’s a great read for Lent. The chapters on the Crucifixion and Resurrection hit it home, especially after exploring Jesus’s life and humanity. And it shows me how much I still need to see in Israel. Fr. Martin spent a lot of time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, whereas I regrettably did not. But I’ll return one day, and take some travel tips from his notes.

Quarantine

The decision came two weeks ago that my company “should work from home if you can.” We packed materials we expected to need in the next month. Desks had already been emptying; I washed my tea mug and took my food from the communal fridge. We all left for the evening with a “See you when I see you,” a sentiment that reminded me far too much of leaving previous jobs.

We worked from home for one day before I had to go into the office. There was one package we couldn’t reroute, and we needed it. So I braved the elements that Friday morning, walking from Penn Station to my office in the rain. Outside, people wheezed behind N95 masks; electronics ads told me to wash my hands for 20 seconds with soap. Even the office was dark, mostly abandoned, with a neglected flickering light in the corner. The communal fridge was still packed with milk, as if everyone would be arriving for their morning coffee.

I wanted to go home. But when the following week came, and the office officially closed down, I wanted to go back. I’d developed a cough, probably related to seasonal allergies, but checked my temperature anyway (it was always normal). I couldn’t take a deep breath, but I’d been having trouble doing that the past few months, anyway. I knew it was anxiety-driven, but it still made me dizzy and irritable. I alternated between yelling and crying. I was stressed over work that I could normally think about logically.

I had to calm down.

I haven’t, really; I’m just too tired anymore. I can’t go to CVS without people glaring at me; I picked up lunch, and the paper bag was handed to me by a woman in surgical gloves. While searching emails, I find things that occurred while I was still in the city, life divided between pre– and post–distancing.

But in the midst, we still reach out to others. Parishes are effectively closed, but we have Livestream and virtual prayer time; concerts have been canceled, but musicians offer free performances online. I want to complain about working from home, but limit the time I even talk about it online. Because we’re all doing it, and highlighting the bad only makes it worse. Instead I share my baking and prayers; I encourage others who are doing the same, making the most of a terrible situation. It’s not easy. I’m not exactly being positive, but I’m trying not to spread negativity like… well, a virus.

It’s a hard time for us all. But last week I prayed the rosary along with a Livestream from the Vatican, with countless others around the world. Their prayers were in Italian, which I began to mostly understand, and I replied in English. It’s strange to feel completely separated, but know we’re all together. There’s no telling how long this will last. Some say weeks, but some say months. I say I can’t do it, but I have to. I’ll keep to my usual schedule. I’ll exercise daily. I’ll do my reading, talk to God, and appreciate others’ good efforts. I’ll do my best.

On Temptation

During the first week of Lent, “temptation” was the recurring theme. It was in everything. In the week’s Gospel and the Little Black Book reading, and in the start of abstaining from sweets for the season. It appeared in my reading of Fr. Martin’s Jesus book, and at a social event featuring frost-your-own-cupcakes. I never saw myself as one to succumb to temptation, so it wasn’t something I’d really thought about before. But maybe that means I do.

I’m starting to understand that temptation isn’t merely resistance. It’s more than resisting to tell a little white lie, and more than choosing fruit over my favorite sugar cookies (but those cookies are really good). These are relatively easy to overcome, so there’s a sense of satisfaction when you don’t eat that cookie. It’s a little prideful, no? But temptation lies in your thoughts, too. These can be ungodly things that become habit, until they don’t register as a “temptation” anymore. Like believing you “can’t” do something, even though all things are possible with God. Like believing you’re ugly, even though we are made in His image. The real temptation is not believing the lies about yourself, and there’s where I succumb all the time.

I’ve never been great in the self-esteem department, and Satan knows that. He knows just the thing that’ll switch my mood from “good” to “everything is terrible.” It’s not just tempting to feel sorry for yourself—it’s often easier. You don’t have to do anything, besides whine. It’s tempting to talk yourself out of responsibility, because nothing matters, anyway. Sent a typo in an important email? You’re stupid. Try on a pair of poorly-cut pants? You’re fat. What’s the point?

The point is, you’re being ridiculous. None of that is true. The temptation is to wallow in self-pity and never ask God’s forgiveness, but I guarantee that’s not how He wants you to live.

I heard the recollection of Jesus’s 40 days in the desert several times during the week. There was one thing I never understood—the temptations of Satan. Sure, Jesus was human and experienced human things, but couldn’t he still ignore the devil? The way the story is told doesn’t help, either, like this is merely friendly banter between friends. But those temptations are more than we can see. Jesus was the only one there, so we know only what he wants us to know. I imagine the actual experience was worse. Just like our temptations are more than just resisting cupcakes.

I keep on picking on food, but that’s a real struggle, too. Look at Satan’s first temptation: it’s food. I get hungry after four hours, so I can’t imagine fasting for forty days. Jesus is hungry, and Satan is like, “You know, you can turn those rocks into food.” Duh, Jesus. But he doesn’t. Our sustenance is more than just food. It’s God. I’m starting to learn that I won’t pass out if I’m hungry, because Jesus sustains me. He supports me. As much as I’d like to live on bread alone (I love bread), I can’t. Nor do I want to.

Temptation is always going to be there. But if you don’t eat cookies for a while, you don’t have that craving for cookies. I have apply that to my emotional health, too. “Look on the bright side.” I made a typo in an email, but we all make mistakes (maybe the recipient didn’t even notice). Those new pants look terrible, but the cut isn’t suited to my body type. Sometimes it’s hard to be positive. But the more you avoid the temptation of self-pity, the easier it is to overcome it. There will be sad days, but you pick yourself back up. Light spreads easier than darkness, like noticing that first streak of sunlight after a days-long rain.

Maybe that’s something else to give up during Lent—that negativity. The temptation to see everything as terrible. Because that’s definitely not true.