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Holy Land Invitation

( Originally Published 1908 )

WHO would not go to Palestine ?

To look upon that little stage where the drama of humanity has centred in such unforgetable scenes; to trace the rugged paths and ancient highways along which so many heroic and pathetic figures have travelled; above all, to see with the eyes as well as with the heart

"Those holy fields - Over whose acres walked those blessed feet Which, nineteen hundred years ago, were nail'd For our advantage on the bitter cross"

for the sake of these things who would not travel far and endure many hardships ?

It is easy to find Palestine. It lies in the southeast corner of the Mediterranean coast, where the "sea in the midst of the nations," makes a great elbow between Asia Minor and Egypt. A tiny land, about a hundred and fifty miles long and sixty miles wide, stretching in a fourfold band from the foot of snowy Hermon and the Lebanons to the fulvous crags of Sinai: a green strip of fertile plain beside the sea, a blue strip of lofty and broken high-lands, a gray-and-yellow strip of sunken river-valley, a purple strip of high mountains rolling away to the Arabian desert. There are a dozen lines of steam-ships to carry you thither; a score of well-equipped agencies to conduct you on what they call "a de luxe religious expedition to Palestine."

But how to find the Holy Land—ah, that is another question.

Fierce and mighty nations, hundreds of human tribes, have trampled through that coveted corner of the earth, contending for its possession : and the, fury of their fighting has swept the fields as with fire. Temples and palaces have vanished like tents from the hillside. The ploughshare of havoc has been driven through the gardens of luxury. Cities have risen and crumbled upon the ruins of older cities. Crust after crust of pious legend has formed over the deep valleys; and tradition has set up its altars "upon every high hill and under every green tree." The rival claims of sacred places are fiercely disputed by churchmen and scholars. It is a poor prophet that has but one birthplace and one tomb.

And now, to complete the confusion, the hurried, nervous, comfort-loving spirit of modern curiosity has broken into Palestine, with railways from Jaffa to Jerusalem, from Mount Carmel to the Sea of Galilee, from Beirût to Damascus,—with macadamized roads to Shechem and Nazareth and Tiberias, —with hotels at all the "principal points of interest,"—and with every facility for doing Palestine in ten days, without getting away from the market-reports, the gossip of the table d'hôte, and all that queer little complex of distracting habits which we call civilization.

But the Holy Land which I desire to see can be found only by escaping from these things. I want to get away from them; to return into the long past, which is also the hidden present, and to lose myself a little there, to the end that I may find myself again. I want to make acquaintance with the soul of that land where so much that is strange and memorable and for ever beautiful has come to pass: to walk quietly and humbly, without much disputation or talk, in fellowship with the spirit that haunts those hills and vales, under the influence of that deep and lucent sky. I want to feel that ineffable charm which breathes from its mountains, meadows and streams: that charm which made the children of Israel in the desert long for it as a land flowing with milk and honey; and the great Prince Joseph in Eygpt require an oath of his brethren that they would lay his bones in the quiet vale of Shechem where he had fed his father's sheep; and the daughters of Jacob beside the rivers of Babylon mingle tears with their music when they remembered Zion.

There was something in that land, surely, some personal and indefinable spirit of place, which was known and loved by prophet and psalmist, and most of all by Him who spread His table on the green grass, and taught His disciples while they walked the narrow paths waist-deep in rustling wheat, and spoke His messages of love from a little boat rocking on the lake, and found His asylum of prayer high on the mountainside, and kept His parting-hour with His friends in the moon-silvered quiet of the garden of olives. That spirit of place, that soul of the Holy Land, is what I fain would meet on my pilgrimage,—for the sake of Him who interprets it in love. And I know well where to find it,-out-of-doors.

I will not sleep under a roof in Palestine, but nightly pitch my wandering tent beside some fountain, in some grove or garden, on some vacant threshing-floor, beneath the Syrian stars. I will not join myself to any company of labelled tourists hurrying with much discussion on their appointed itinerary, but take into fellowship three tried and trusty comrades, that we may enjoy solitude together. I will not seek to make any archaeological discovery, nor to prove any theological theory, but simply to ride through the highlands of Judea, and the valley of Jordan, and the mountains of Gilead, and the rich plains of Samaria, and the grassy hills of Galilee, looking upon the faces and the ways of the common folk, the labours of the husbandman in the field, the vigils of the shepherd on the hillside, the games of the children in the marketplace, and reaping

"The harvest of a quiet eye That broods and sleeps on his own heart."

Four things, I know, are unchanged amid all the changes that have passed over the troubled and bewildered land. The cities have sunken into dust: the trees of the forest have fallen: the nations have dissolved. But the mountains keep their immutable outline: the liquid stars shine with the same light, move on the same pathways: and between the mountains and the stars, two other changeless things, frail and imperishable,—the flowers that flood the earth in every springtide, and the human heart where hopes and longings and affections and desires blossom immortally. Chiefly of these things, and of Him who gave them a new meaning, I will speak to you, reader, if you care to go with me out-of-doors in the Holy Land.

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