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CHRISTIAN VIEWPOINT: Pilgrimage helps missing piece fall into place

By Andrew Dixon

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Beatrice Somers.
Beatrice Somers.

Absolutely life-changing! That’s how Beatrice Somers describes her first visit to the Holy Land where Jesus lived.

As we chat in St Michael’s Church in Inverness, she tells me about her trip to Israel as one of a group of 33 led by the wife of a Church of Scotland minister.

Beatrice was drawn to Christian faith as a child, fell away for a while in young adulthood, and then gradually returned. “Over the last few years, my faith has become so much stronger,” she says. She speaks of ‘searching and not knowing what I was looking for, but realising that there was something missing.’

It seems that, during her Holy Land pilgrimage, the missing piece fell into place.

I asked why she found visiting Israel so life-changing. “Because you’re standing there beside the Sea of Galilee looking across the water to the hills on the far shore, and suddenly you think ‘this is absolutely real!’ It’s not just stories in the Bible, not just something you’ve always believed to a certain extent. It suddenly means so much more.”

Beatrice describes visiting the Mount of Olives where some of the oldest trees would have been saplings when Jesus prayed there the night before he died. She was asked to read part of Jesus’s famous Sermon on the Mount on the very spot where he first shared this wisdom. “That,” she tells me, “was the single most incredible moment in my life.”

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee.
Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee.

On that hillside more than anywhere else she experienced ‘a great sense of peace, an absolutely overwhelming sense of peace’ despite the crowds surrounding her. “Once you’ve experienced this peace,” she says, “you can always link back into it.”

While in Israel, Beatrice had a powerful sense of global human community. She felt at one not just with the Christians she met there – the monk she spoke to in French, the people in her group – but with others too, such as the Palestinian Moslem she chatted with. Her sense of the importance of talking to people and finding ‘common ground’ was underlined by the evidence she saw of discord and conflict between Jews and Palestinians – not least the stark wall surrounding Bethlehem.

Prior to her visit, Beatrice was already committed to ‘bringing the light of Christ into the world’ through words and kindness, but such was the impact of the Holy Land on her that she is now reconsidering her priorities. “You have to totally engage with faith. It can’t just be a peripheral thing in our lives, but must be at the centre.”

Would she recommend visiting Israel? In reply, she says with a smile: “Well, I’m going back in November!” I’ll take that as a ‘yes.’

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