“The center of the world,” some call it. For others, “a city in transit” or “a meeting of strangers”. The always restless Holy Land, the Promised Land… Jerusalem. Eternal Jerusalem.
For me, it’s not so much a place as a “non-place”: a wrinkle in time; the days don’t pass in the same way as when you’re at home, or living elsewhere, and you’re not the same either. It’s like an alternate universe in which you live without ever fully knowing what you’re living. When you’re there, it’s very difficult to assimilate everything you see and experience.
The presence of faith baffles you, whether you’re a believer or not, because you’ve never seen it manifested in so many different ways in such a limited piece of land. You feel that there’s an abundance of grace that’s almost palpable. But there’s no way to explain it, it’s impossible – you know it, you live it, and you take it for granted.
Jerusalem is a magical city. I mean it. You fall in love right away and never want to leave.
I don’t think my mind ever really understood what it meant to live on holy ground. I was overcome by the fact that every Mass I attended was less than a mile away from where the first Mass ever took place. And you wonder: how can you come here and return the same ? We Christians realize that there is no way to love the Lord in the same way after knowing the place where He grew up. I imagine that it’s the same for people of other faiths who come and see their roots.
Living in Jerusalem makes every day an adventure. Going to pray in a Holy Place where what you’re reading in the Gospel that day happened; going out to do buy groceries and being invited by the butcher to celebrate Ramadan with his family; talking about Jesus Christ with an ultra-orthodox Jew at the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre… The culture shock never ceases to amaze you: it’s incredible to be surrounded by such different worlds and see how they live together.
Jerusalem is a magical city. I mean it. You fall in love right away and never want to leave. I was warned when I arrived and it’s true: it entraps you. There’s always something happening: whether it’s a conflict, a procession of palm branches, or a wine festival in an art museum, there’s no room for boredom. Yes, it’s a hustle and bustle of things around you… but it’s also a hustle and bustle within the heart and soul. Both will be strongly shaken by a series of revelations and events, and it may take years to discover all the wonders that can be drawn from them.
Visiting the Holy Land may take only a few days… but living it, really living it, lasts a lifetime.
The author, Paulina, is from Mexico and was a volunteer at Saxum Visitor Center for a year after finishing her bachelor’s degree at the School of Communication of the University of Navarra.
Photo: Saxum Foundation (shot by Paulina).