Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

September 12, 2014

Are you ready to die?

I often ask myself this question. As a child I wondered about the vastness of the world and my complete obscurity compared to the billions of people who exist. I asked why life felt so unfair, almost left to fate – whether or not we would be born with the advantages of clean water, surplus food, a protected environment and strong genetics. After all, we aren’t given a choice what country we are born in and which parents we will have. Our lives seemingly feels like it’s left up to chance instead of choice.

I delved into a lot of depression thinking about very deep questions in my youth. Even today, I want to wake up feeling like there’s a purpose to why we exist. I want to know there’s something more beyond our robotic routine of working, eating, cleaning and/or caretaking. Were we really born just to simply die one day? And yet, I see death all the time. Every time I watch an elderly resident slowly pass away, when I witness one of my husband’s honeybees lay lifeless on the pavement or as our season transforms into fall – all of those dry leaves dropping represents a cycle in this life, a cycle that will one day represent the end of my life.

How humbling to realize that the moment we are born, we are already in the path to dying…

As I prepared for my recent Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land I was naturally concerned about the precautions of being around a war torn region. I thought about my children, my family and my work responsibilities, all things I lacked when I vicariously traveled internationally alone in my twenties. I weighed the possibilities and considered the media’s propensity to sensationalize stories. I asked if I would live in fear or live with bravery, knowing that the chances of me dying in a car was more plausible than my plane being hijacked while traveling to the Middle East. As I considered all the possibilities, I came down to the very question I ask myself every morning before my day begins…

Are you ready to die? If today was your last day here on earth, would you have any regrets? Did you strive for purpose, peace and progress? Did you teach your children faith, a belief set that will carry them through their toughest times, especially when the day comes when they can no longer reach out to you? Did you reconcile with all your foes and do the people you love, know undoubtedly that you love them? Lastly, did you utilize your in-born talents, a strength unique to your passion, to be of service to the world?

I said yes. And I consciously choose yes every day.

One of the hardest things coming back from a spiritual pilgrimage is knowing that the greatest war you will fight is between you and your ego. It’s hard not to look at the latest gadgets on TV, the beautiful people on magazines, the fit bodies on Instagram and the romantic relationships on Facebook, and not feel some insecurity about your lot in life. The truth of the matter is, is that none of this matters.

None of it.

Working in elderly care has blessed me with the unique perspective and ability to be a servant in the last living years of people’s lives.  In the end, it’s not the fancy house, the newest fashions, the people who admire you or the car you drive that matters – it’s the passion, love and goodness you gave to the world that lasts, even passed your physical death.

It’s not what we take from this world that makes us eternal, it’s what we give.

nun
In this (purposely) blurry picture, I am standing with an Iraqi nun whose family in Iraq was recently killed and beheaded by the Islamic Rebel group, ISIS. God Bless the Christians in the Middle East (and all religions) who are facing persecution.

We are standing in a church on top of  Mount of Beatitudes, the place where Jesus delivered one of his famous sermons (Matthew 5:1-18).  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God….”

Bethlehem

Inside the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem is the place where Mary gave birth to Jesus. (Luke 2:1-7)

holy steps
Many people have asked how to book a trip to the Holy Land. My father and I chose to attend with Steve Ray (seen here pointing out the Holy steps that Jesus climbed when he was imprisoned the day before he died) whose tours are geared towards Catholics. Steve was a practicing Baptist before converting to Catholicism (we are all Christians FYI). You can read his amazing story here. Besides having a great biblical scholar host us, we attended Mass every day, walked the stations of the cross in Old Jerusalem and had a video crew film our entire journey.  If you are interested in booking a tour with Steve (who I highly recommend) please click here, if you are interested in a non-denominational Christian tour click here.

dead sea
Can you see me? (my hand is up) I’m floating in the Dead Sea, the lowest point on earth. The sea is 10x saltier than the ocean!

camel
I briefly rode a camel while visiting the Jordan Valley. We saw the mountains of Moab, the cave where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Mountain of Temptation (Matthew 4:8)

boat
This 1st century boat is AKA the Jesus Boat. In 1986, after several years of drought, the water level of the Sea of Galilee dropped. Two young men noticed the outline of a boat in the mud and discovered a 100 BCE fishing boat! Pretty incredible that this is the same (type) of boat Peter fished in. You can read more about this boat here.

peters house
This is Peter’s house in Capernaum. Jesus made Capernaum his home during the three years of his ministry. (Matthew 4:13-17)
holy thursday

This is the prison where Jesus was held captive during Holy Thursday, the day before he would be crucified the following day on Good Friday.

jordan river
This is the Jordan River, the site believed to be where John baptized Jesus. (Matthew 3:13-17)

syria
There was a point in the trip when we stood on a mountain at the Israeli border on a lookout overseeing Syria. Just a few days prior, rebels took over the city of Queneitra (seen here) and captured UN soldiers. We could actually see and hear gunfire and bombs. It was perhaps one of the most surreal experiences of my life. I really can’t look at life the same way after viewing the destruction of humanity right before me.

tomb
In Jerusalem I visited the Holy Sepulcher, the church built over Mount Calvary. After Jesus was crucified and died, on this rock, they prepared his body for burial by wrapping him in linen and spices

More pictures of my pilgrimage to the Holy Land can be seen on my Instagram.

7 Comments

  • Reply Heather September 13, 2014 at 1:05 am

    I really enjoyed this post. I would love to travel to Israel one day! I often ask myself this question on death as well and i am so thankful that you wrote this article because it really re-iterates how meaningless worrying about material possessions is and how giving and bettering the world starting with the dear ones close to you is what truly matters.

    • Reply Maria Kang September 13, 2014 at 4:40 am

      Thank you Heather. Discussing matters of Faith is always an ‘iffy’ topic for most public figures so I’m glad you resonate with me. I think we all think about our inevitable humanity – all it takes is more reflection to find peace with it. You should definitely make it a goal to travel to Israel! You would enjoy it.

      • Reply ingchingkang September 17, 2014 at 2:42 am

        BING and Maria,well done!Who went to the Holy Land with you?What do you think of the noises of weaponry/gunfire/explosives in the background?Any real danger from all these?I heard that the Israeli government treats other religions(besides Judaism<even their own citizens) as 2nd-class religions/citizens!Is this true? Regards from CHING(/uncle)/KK/Sabah.

  • Reply Rachel September 13, 2014 at 4:16 pm

    I’m not sure I’ve ever commented before, but have been following you for a while. For some reason I just feel like I need to thank you for this write up. It is impacting me in a way I can’t really describe, and truly came at a perfect and much needed time in my life. Thank you. Also, glad you had an amazing trip, and made it back safely 🙂

  • Reply McKenna Phillips September 13, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    This is amazing, Maria. Of all the day’s to read a post like this, I’m glad it was today. Saturday’s are a day of quiet, reflection, and relaxing for me. This is exactly what I needed to read today. It has me really thinking about more than my everyday routines… now I’m thinking…. what really is my purpose in this life? Am I doing enough? Trying enough? Thank you so much 🙂

  • Reply Andrea Jorgensen September 13, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Maria– I was so enthralled as I read this blog post! Some day, I hope to visit this amazing place and have my faith strengthen as I feel of the Spirit that I can only imagine is so strong there. I loved your initial question. I ask myself this a lot and feel peace knowing things will work out, no matter what. But, to be honest, with 6 kids under 12, the idea of death frightens me. I know it’s a lack of faith, but I can’t deny it scares me. However, after reading this, I feel inspired to live for today, rather than fear what it may bring. Do all the things you said, so that when I ask all the questions you asked about our loved ones knowing we loved them, following our passions, etc., I can answer with a confident, “Yes!” Thanks so much for this! I am so glad you’re home safely and were able to glean so mih from this experience! What a blessing!!!

  • Reply K September 13, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Thank you for sharing. I am also a Christian but have at times become severely depressed because of my personality type and propensity to contemplate the big questions including death and its implications on life. I do not think that I am like this because of a lack of faith but from excess thoughts! I was very inspired to hear about your pilgrimage and hope to take one of my own one day. Even though thinking on such topics may be depressing, it is the kind of depression that has its own life cycle and as the depression dies, it is replaced by a new outlook and fervor for life.

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