Due to a positive COVID test, I was unable to travel to the Holy Land with this year’s pilgrims. I do have them on my mind and in my prayers. Our pilgrims will spend a large portion of this week in the desert—the wilderness. B’midbar. It is the first word of the Book of Numbers in the Hebrew Scriptures. It is typically translated ‘In the wilderness.’ Some linguistic scholars consider it a contraction of three Hebrew words: B—in, M—from, and dabar—words. Literally, ‘in from words,’ or as I like to translate it, ‘in a place where there are no words.’ Less than one mile outside Jerusalem is the Judean desert. Less than one mile from the celebrated Church of the Holy Sepulcher, less than one mile from the sacred Via Dolorosa, less than one mile from the quiet Mount of Olives, less than one mile from the vibrancy of faith and life…there is a wilderness—a place where there are no words.

As they travel through a literal desert region, I’m thinking of how many of you are in a wilderness right now—a place where there are no words. The death of a friend or family member is a wilderness. Harm or betrayal in the actions of a fellow human being is a wilderness. Economic upheaval and the lack of necessary resources is a wilderness. The barren and lonely emptiness of a home can feel like a wilderness. Being ignored or misunderstood in a space filled with people can be a wilderness. There are a hundred ways we can be left painfully speechless—in a place with no words—and these are the wilderness moments of life.

As one travels the Holy Land, it is traditional to remember friends and family in prayer at the Western Wall—the Wailing Wall—of the Jerusalem Temple. This western retaining wall is all that is left of the last temple built in Jerusalem. Pilgrims write prayers on slips on paper and press them into the cracks of this wall. I typically pass on the paper during my travels there. Instead, while on a bus driving through the arid, rocky wilderness of Judea, on the two-hour journey from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea, I say a prayer for those I know who are in a wilderness. Today, since I was unable to travel with our pilgrims, I am praying from the solace of my home that you will sense God’s comforting presence in the wilderness of your life. If you are in a place where there simply are not words…I am speaking a word of prayer for you today. Amen.

—Jim

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