Greetings, Dear Reader! Today was our first full-fledged day of touring in the Holy Land and there’s plenty to report. I switched to our Canon PowerShot for quick pics and its SD card played much more nicely with the MacBook Air than my Samsung Galaxy S5 did. Remember: you can click the pic to see a larger version in your browser.
The Sun Also Rises Over Galilee
While most of you settling in for the evening at home, we were roused with a 4:30am wake-up call (or 8:30pm CST, as we’re 8 hours ahead) so we could make it to breakfast and on the bus before 6:00am. You’ll recall the roads out of town were closing then to accommodate a few thousand people descending upon Tiberias for an annual marathon run around the Sea of Galilee. We all made it to the bus (no runs for us today) and ended up leaving on time and headed to the Sea of Galilee just in time for (a cloud-covered) sunrise over the water.
It was a beautiful site and I appreciated the varied landscape of the city so we could get a bird’s eye view of the land, the city, and the sea.
A City with a History of Sketpical Nathans…
Next, we traveled to Nazareth, Jesus’s hometown. You may recall the first chapter of John when Philip runs up to Nathanael and says we’ve found him, the Messiah, and he’s from Nazareth. To which, Nathanael replies, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” See, we Nathans are a skeptical crew. Anyway, Philip told him, “Come and see,” and it paid off big. But Nathanael didn’t say that because he’s a jerk looking to put down Nazareth like some sort of arbitrary high school rivalry (ya hear that, Luverne?!). Instead, he knows the truth: when you start a city in this region, you do it based on three important geographical pieces: 1. Build it on the high ground (defense), 2. Build it on a trade route (commerce), 3. Build it near an ample water spring (life). Nazareth has none of those things. It stayed small and poor in Jesus’s day because 1. it’s built in a valley, 2. it wasn’t near any major trade routes, and 3. the water spring was very, very small.
What it did have, though, is a cliff. It was this cliff the people tried to throw Jesus off after he read the Isaiah scroll and asserted himself as the one through whom the scriptures have been fulfilled. I know it’s tough to be an adult and have an adult-age child come back to your home and to see them as a fellow adult, but the people of Nazareth weren’t having this and they took him to the cliff. Yeah, sometimes a young adult just can’t go back to his or her hometown and expect a great welcome. It’s like something out of a song by The Head and the Heart.
Any young people out there, given what I just wrote, what do you think about this: “You can’t go back to Nazareth.”? Is it true for you?
I wasn’t sure how I would feel about this site (more on that in another post) and I found it to be incredible. Was it the cliff? Hard to say but it’s a good guess. I’ve certainly felt like I can’t go back to my own personal Nazareths from throughout my life several times and that cliff definitely would have been a death sentence for Jesus. It makes me ponder if I will be able to rise to the occasion of treating the young generation with grace when I become the old generation. If I can’t offer to others what I yearn for from others myself, I’ll end up nothing but a stubbon old hypocrite. Or worse, perpetually skeptical, and even the Biblical Nathan got over his skepticism!
Mary’s House in the Middle of the Church
(Bonus points to anyone who comments with the 1980s song that section header is a play off…)
Next, our buses took a trip from Nazareth to the Basilica of the Annunciation. “Basilica” comes from the Greek “basilia” or “kingdom,” and is often used to name large churches. So here we were at the Basilica of the Annunciation. Well, the big one of two. While the Bible describes Mary having one interaction with an angel and her singing her passionate song of joy and overcoming the bonds of poverty and the downtrodden, our guide, Sam, explained that the oral tradition in the region is Mary was approached twice. Similar to how Jesus interacted with a Samaritan woman at the well, so too was Mary approached by an angel at the well. Terrified, she fled to her home where the angel was already waiting for her. Hence, two locations.
The one we went to has the remnants of an excavated ancient home that, by tradition, is the home of the young Mary. A small chapel was erected with it and there it stayed until Pope John Paul VI visited the site i 1964 and commissioned a giant church be built in 1965 – what at the time was to be the largest Christian church building in the middle east. The outdoor courtyard is adorned with sculptures, paintings, and mosaics of Mary from a wide variety of countries each depicting Mary through their own indigenous lens. I took a few photos of beautiful ones (a good photographer could probably make a few bucks off of capturing them all for a book) and which I thought would interest a few people I know whom have connections to these countries. I’ll post those later. For now, here’s one I connected with:
The inside is ornate, too, and would’ve been even more ornate had the workers not told the Vatican they were overworked and underpaid, and so the powers that be decided it was done enough and ceased work. Thus, the inside walls aren’t painted or tiled but merely cement. Mary’s partially excavated home is set apart like a dig and guests may walk near it in the basement of the church.
Despite (or because of?) being a “holy site,” I was fascinated by two things: the amalgamation of the ancient and the modern, as well as the graffiti. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people visit each of these places every day and there’s a big demand to keep them nice. Still, there’s writing on the walls, change thrown into areas like it’s a wishing well, and constant reminders of what is expected, acceptable behavior:
Likewise, while it’s a 50-year old building housing a 2000-year-old house dig, and no matter how holy the site, there still needs to be practical measures of technology:
I think my favorite part of this place was all the artwork. It was all beautiful and I loved the expansive, many visions of Mary. While the Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches hold Mary in high regard, that hasn’t been part of my personal faith journey nearly to the same extent. I found the icons and architecture quite beautiful. How about you? How has Mary figured into your faith journey?
Visiting with a Palestinian Arab Christian Archbishop Who Was Born One Thing: a Baby.
In a school he helped build, Archbishop Elias Chacour spoke to us about what it is to be many things in Israel. He is an Arab, a Palestinian, a Christian, and he emphasizes he was born only one thing: a baby. That we were all born babies, made in the image of one great God, and perhaps if we were to remember our most common of roots, this may be just the sort of thing that could help create unity. He helped us understand the Palestinian community is quite varied, too, including various religions and ethnic heritages, and yet their identity as Palestinians is what unites them together. Another highlight that I thought was powerful: he said go ahead and completely believe in only the Palestinian cause, the Arab cause, the Christian cause, to go ahead and do this… but then, do not call him friend. He is not interested in people who will only see things from one side because that is what will continue to create wide divides. He is a hopeful man, to be sure.
I really appreciated hearing Chacour’s perspective. I’m only just beginning to dip my toes into comprehending the complexities of the history and present of how all these people live together (or don’t live together) and his will be one of many perspectives we’ll hear on this journey. My notes are upstairs and I don’t want to wake my roommate so I’ll come back to update this portion of the post later.
Who Needs More Wine?
We journeyed to a small town called Cana (there are or were a few Canas but it’s believed this is the one mentioned in the Bible because of some of the geography in the story) to see the place where the first miracle of Jesus is celebrated. Many know this miracle; it may even be your favorite. It’s the miracle at the wedding at Cana when Jesus turned water into wine. Here, ancient ruins of a home were found and declared the site where this could have happened. The church that houses this site also has a giant stone jar, the big ones from the story. So it goes, Jesus and his mother are at a wedding and learn there’s no more wine and he says fetch six jars of water and behold, they’re now wine. That’s a win-win for everyone.
Our guide, Sam, said culturally weddings are celebrated for several days and most people like friends, family, and neighbors aren’t invites; they’re just expected to show up. So, it’s not uncommon for several hundred people to show up for a wedding today, which makes it challenging to figure out how much of any dish – or delicious grape-inspired alcoholic beverages – to keep ready and waiting. The only difference from Jesus’s day? No grocery stores or liquor stores or even a drug store for near beer. Instead, a miracle.
Dinner and Sleep, Sleep, Sleep
I ended up with some motion sickness throughout the day on the bus and took to closing my eyes and using Kelly’s neck pillow to try to catch some Zs, or at least feel better. It’s this odd feeling of nausea, exhaustion, and hunger. I’m going to call it “Tim.” Tim came with me today. Tim just had to tag along today. What is up with Tim? Can Tim wait at the hotel while I go on the bus?
Dinner was delicious and the dining room was filled with families on holiday for Shabbat. After nearly three days of contact nearly exclusively with adults (and older adults at that, as I’m one of the youngest on the tour and definitely of the Tannanites), it was refreshing to see the joy of children. They ran, laughed, chattered, and got underfoot in the most delightful ways. I was met with many smiles of little ones and caught the eyes of approving parents. My hunch is I’m a unique-looking person in this neck of the woods.
And that’s all she wrote. A nice, full day! Tomorrow, we’re leaving this hotel in Tiberias for our next hotel in Bethlehem (south of where we are now, and south of Jerusalem). But first, we’ll take a boat ride across the Sea of Galilee. I asked if I should bring my swimsuit and I was told I can but I won’t use it. Fine by me. It’s cold! I did see a man in a Speedo who’d clearly taken a dip. Good for him. As for me, I’d like to spend tomorrow as dry as possible.
Thank you for your comments and prayers!
P.S. As I was posting, I had a nice conversation with three young Israeli boys chasing a balloon through the lobby. We exchanged names and I showed them photos on the laptop of Minnesota snow which made them laugh. Again, fun to be near children after a few days away, and I miss my girls. 🙂
P.S.S. Did you learn something? Take the poll and add a comment to let me know!