Take Time To Be Holy

We are in our second day moving around the Sea of Galilee.  There are sites here that are not so special because of exactly where they are located but rather because of the significant times and events they honor by way of scripture. It is because of the scriptural accounts of significant words and deeds of Jesus that we have established these places to pause and remember; and, to reflect on their impact they have on our own lives.

It is important to start the day off right. We board our bus to drive from the northwest corner of the Sea just around the corner to the west and down about 2 miles. We find there a very low key boat dock with a few tourist ships sticking out of the water. This is not at all what I was expecting, but I’ll hold back any judgement until it is all over. Nestled between two big tourist boats we look down toward the water. There it is. It is a small wooden craft with a one man crew. The entire crew bids us welcome as he helps us down the passage way to his boat. We carefully board the boat. Our small team fills it comfortably. We head out on a venture across the waters. This small vessel is structure much after a boat that was discovered some years back and has been dated to the time of Jesus.  We take our time moving out further to sea. It is a slightly hazy day which appears to be clearing off as the sun burn through the mist.

I am at peace. Our whole group is just quietly taking it all in. The captain puts on some quiet meditative music. Some birds are flying by. The water is within reach of curious hands. No one is speaking a word. The captain turns off the motor and we drift in this awesome, breath-taking moment. Stories of Jesus and the disciples out on the sea begin to flood my head. A short devotion is given reminding us that God, in Christ, demonstrated on this Sea that he has the power to calm our storm and bring us peace.

The motor is on again. We move about and take a few group shots to memorialize the moment. We are for at least this moment at one with each other and with God.  It was an absolutely perfect start to the day.

Our next stop is the up and coming site of Magdala.  The remains of a very old Synagogue and remnants of a village are signs that this might have been the home town of Mary Magdalene.  Much work is still being done on the site. There is a beautiful church built just off the edge of the Sea to honor Mary and to offer a place of sojourners to worship God and remember the ways Mary and Jesus interacted in their lives together. It was really a very interesting site to see. I look forward to seeing how it might continue to develop. There are already in the works a study center and a large guesthouse being built just next to the excavations. Hopefully, it will become a place to learn, remember and reflect without too much commercialism in the mix.

Speaking of commercialism…we board the bus and head up the hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. There is just one major site on this path, The Mount of Beatitudes.  25 years ago, a simple church with lovely prayer gardens overlook a natural hillside leading down a few miles to the Sea of Galilee. A group of pilgrim friendly nuns lived in a convent that was just above the church. They would welcome you and encourage you to find a peaceful spot and reflect on the Beatitudes which were written on signs throughout the grounds. There was a small gravel parking lot with a modest roadside stand where the kindly old man would sell you a large bottle of water for “one American dollar.”  It was meditative, it was lovely and it was sacred. Today the church has been replaced by a large monument designed by some famous architect and was paid for by some dude who was trying to buy his way into heaven. The gardens now all have gates that are locked and can only be opens by a nun once you put some money in her hands.  The pathways have morphed into wide concrete walkways. The parking lot moved to the opposite side of the sight and is paved and marked to maximize buses and cars who might be silly enough to pay to come in. The modest little shop has turned into a shopping center with two gifts shops, a corner coffee shop and restrooms, yes, you guessed it, you have to pay to use them.  I cannot hardly get myself to go in all anymore. So, this time I did not. As the group moved forward through the site; and, the nun over a loud speaker shushed everyone and told them all to remember it was a holy site of prayer; I sat at a picnic table overlooking the Sea sipping an iced coffee and having the time of my life. The group came back out to the parking lot edge where I was. Some enjoyed the view, while others paid to use the facilities. Seems like a fitting end to being there.

Someone asked me to take a picture of the hillside of which Jesus spoke to the crowds, feed the five thousand and gave the Sermon on the Mount. I said I would do the best I could. Here is part of the challenge; if you believe Jesus preached near the Mount of Beatitudes site, then he would have to have been miles from the Sea. The site is up in a beautiful setting, but too far up I fear to have really been the place where Jesus would have spoken to the masses. Another issue, in cultivating the area, what used to be natural hillside is now banana orchards and crop land. What has not been turned into agriculture has been left to be overgrown with weeds and shrubs.  The hillside I remember 25 years ago, simply no longer exists.  I take several pictures of a number of possible places where the setting and the location could possibly meet. I think that is about the best I can do.

We proceed down the hill. We will be moving along the roadside to a few places in which significant events in the life of Christ and the people took place. Our first stop being Tabgha. This church site was vandalized just a year ago and they are still in a state of repair and recovery. Thankfully, it was just the entryway that was damaged and has been taken out. The church is modest and quiet. This sites marks the place of Jesus feeding the five thousand.  There is a lovely mosaic of baskets of loaves and 2 fish presented just in front of the Altar. It is a special place still held in reverence as we enter and remain for a short time looking, smelling, touching, and hearing all that we can to be in that moment.  There is a small gift shop of which is a nice place to stop. Often they will have items that you do not find in many other places. It is a great place for sacred moments.

Just next door is another such place. This St. Peter’s Primacy.  There are sculpted gardens that lead you down a cascading path all the way to the Sea’s edge. There are 3 heart shaped stones at the beach’s edge and a small unobtrusive chapel that sites just along the side.  As we were there a group of sojourners were holding a service in the chapel. I love seeing the sites being used not just as sites, but truly as places of worship and meditation. The Primacy celebrates to key events which are related to each other. The first is that of Jesus appearing to the disciples after the resurrection and calling them in from fishing all night. He offers them helpful fishing tips so there empty nets are filled. The second part of the story is that he offers them breakfast and calls them to eat with him. He pulls Peter aside and asks 3 times of Peter loves him. Peter answers each time with a positive response and Jesus tells him to feed and tend his sheep and lambs. I used to focus on the 3 times as an atonement for Peter in his 3 denials. In the latter years, I have come more to think that Jesus was really trying to just get Peter to think about the answer and give it from his heart.

You know what I mean, right.  You come up to someone and you say “how are you?” they says, “Oh, I’m OK.”  You asks again, “really, how are you?” this time they say something like, “well, life could be a bit better, or, I’ve had a touch of the flu, you know.” You ask a third time, “How are, You?” The third time you starting hearing what is really weighing on their hearts and minds and how they feel physically and emotionally. It took three tries to get to the heart of the matter. I think that is what Jesus was doing with Peter. Jesus already knew about the denials and he already knew it would have nothing to do with how Peter really felt about Jesus.  But, did Peter know? Had Peter taken the time to really discern his own thoughts and feelings and know what that meant he must do? If her hadn’t before, he certainly did then.

I know that there are those out there that don’t think much about this site. They fail to see the importance of it. It is not the site that matters, so much as what it asks of us. To put aside ourselves and really look deep within; To break bread with Christ; and, ask ourselves do we love him and are we ready to do whatever he calls us to do? This is a special place for me. I pray it will never lose its innocence and will always draw me home to the heart of my savior. Amen.

If you come to the Holy Land there is an experience that must be offered to you as a pilgrim, sojourner or tourist. Find a place, preferably with a great view of the Sea of Galilee and sit down to eat St Peter’s fish.  What makes this fish different from all the rest, you might ask? It is a pure, who fish fried and served on a plate. When I say whole fish, I mean who fish. The only thing missing are the inner parts. It is succulent and crunchy and smiles up at you with every bite you take. One should eat it slowly and carefully so as to not grab a bone and enjoy each and every bite. What a great lunch.

Our next stop is to visit the city of Capernaum.  There is much to see and tell. There are services going on here, too. This makes it even more special even to the observers. There has been for some time one of the best examples of an early time period synagogue, Peter’s Mother in Law’s house, and the development of an Harbor along the seaside. Truly this is a place where you can stay for a period of time filling your every sense with great inspiration.

Our last stop is coincidentally right where we are lodging. There was several years ago a drought in the Tiberias region. As the water receded a discovery was made of an ancient boat. It took several years and great expense to bring this boat out of the mud and preserve it as best they could for further investigation and learning. This boat has been dated back to the time of Jesus. It is often referred to, for that reason, as the Jesus boat.

I ask our group to gather for an early time of reflection today immediately after settling in from our rounds. We have two of our team that our headed back to the USA and will be joining family for a graduation at the University in Warrensburg. Congrats to Levi on this achievement.  We spend some time sharing and join in a service of Holy Communion as we bid this couple farewell and prepare the rest of us for moving on tomorrow for Jerusalem. It has been a great journey. We look forward to hearing updates from them. We look, with great anticipation, the final steps in our journey here, as well.