Today had a dreamlike-quality to it. It began like this: I opened my eyes to the sights and sounds of the Sea of Galilee in the town of Tiberias. This is it, I thought. This is where many of my most beloved scripture stories took place. Over there, Jesus may have walked on the water. There, he taught the squatting crowds. Here, He fell asleep in the boat. “Do not be afraid,” I can hear Him saying, “It is I.”
Many of you who have been to the Holy Land will vouch for me when I say that the Sea of Galilee is, by Canadian standards, simply a large lake. I waited for a feeling of disappointment to surface at this discovery but instead, the sea's size brought me an unexpected feeling of comfort. I can't help but think how Jesus would have known the ins and outs of this territory like the back of His hand. He would have known each boat on the lake; no surrounding hilltop would have been strange to Him. The smallness of this region deepens the experience of intimacy with the Jesus, the Nazarene. I see Him everywhere. Every person I see walking on the side of the road is Him. He did this, here. He smiled, he ate breakfast with his friends and loved ones. He sat in the sun in the afternoons, He told stories in the evenings. Here. He was here.
This trip to the Holy Land is much different than a typical pilgrimage. For one, I am with a group of Catholic journalists whose trips have all been generously sponsored by the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. So, as you can imagine, our guide is cramming as much as is humanly possible within the confines of our 7-day trip. They want us to write, and so write we will do. I have been madly jotting notes and snapping photos but alas, at the end of the day, synthesizing is proving to be a daunting task. History, sociology, theology--all steeped in the aura of genuine conversion and spiritual inspiration--create a tough assignment climate! Even though it is becoming clear that this trip is not set up to be a pilgrimage, I am making it into one. Even as we are rushing through holy sites that each deserve a day's worth of attention (ok, so more like a year's worth), I string prayer intentions (ready-made and pre-packaged) along with me everywhere I go. Our host, Ben David, reminds us constantly that we must “run where Jesus walked”. I allowed for a moment of exasperation today but I firmly pushed it aside and replaced it with gratitude. On the way back to the hotel, I consoled myself with a single line in my notebook: “Now, He is with me everywhere. Everywhere is Holy Land.”
Today's highlights for me? The Mount of the Beatitudes and the Church of Peter's Primacy.
Our guide who is a Jew told us that “even as a Jew”, the Mount of the Beatitudes “does something” to him every time. And with due reason. Combine the lush green of the countryside with perhaps the most beautiful words Jesus spoke while He was with us, and you get the experience of the Mount of the Beatitudes. When I asked our guide why this site meant so much to him, Ben David told me that here, Jesus taught us how to be human. I couldn't have said it better.
Next, it was onto the Church of Peter's Primacy. I was looking forward to this for...well, my whole life. As I shared in a previous post, the story of Jesus calling His disciples to shore after His Resurrection is my favourite story in scripture. It was here where, in a single thought, I understood the “shock” of Jesus. I caught the fever and I understood what had happened 2000 years ago and how Jesus really did change everything. He listened to people. He understood that the road to His Father was until now a very difficult one. He watched with great love as his friends and family
tried to scale their way to God the Father. He came to free us. “Come away and rest awhile,” he told his scrambling and often times flustered disciples. And then with the crowds: “And Jesus looked on them with compassion, for they were like sheep without a shepherd”. Let us never miss the opportunity to thank Him for coming to us. Thank you Abba, for the gift of Jesus. Let us never act as though He'd never come. He embraced our humanity, and in doing so gave us permission to do so, as well. We are not unclean. We are deeply loved.
Until next time, my friends, Shalom.