So Much to Do,

So Little Time

Let’s remember, as we start out this entry,, we came here as a VIM team. We are here to get some work done. We want to be supportive to our Christian brothers and sisters in the works they are doing every day. We want to share our lives with them. They have been gracious enough to allow us to do so.

Our time for sightseeing is limited. Today we are going to make the most of it. We are attempting to do in one day what most tour groups would do in two days. It is a very full schedule. Oh, but what a day it will be.

We begin early with a 6 am wake up call. We are on the bus no later than 7 am. Off we go. We are headed from Nazareth to the top, west corner of the country. Our terrain will change. The altitude will change. This part of the country is breathtaking. We are close to a few bordering countries. We can see Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. We are told of old boundaries and new boundaries that have changed in the course of time. We are shown signs of hardship and war that remain for all to see and remember. We are even told of a town that is named, in English, “Eight.” It was named this as a reminder that eight people were killed in one of those conflicts.

It feels a bit disconcerting to see the beauty the is all around us and to feel the pain that it holds in its past. I lift a prayer for continued peace among these nations.

The first goal for today is to see the three main sources of water that feeds the Jordan River. Our first is simply a drive-over sighting. The spring that feeds this source is across the border to the north. We will not be crossing the border. We can, however, drive over the Hasbani (Snir) river. Most of the water feeds these springs and rivers comes from the melted snow of winter. We are early enough in the year the water is still up and the rivers are strong.

The next two sites will be much more substantial as we will go to the springs and subsequent rivers. Both places are favorites of mine. I could easily come here and stay all day. God’s nature at its finest.

We come to source number two. Tel Dan was historically controlled by the strategic stronghold of Leshem.  The Old Testament in the books of Joshua, Judges, and Isaiah tell us that this is the northernmost city of the Kingdom of Israel, taken over by the Tribe of Dan. This city is re-named with a Tel located in Upper Galilee, known as Tel Dan. Today it is part of a Nature Reserve.

The Reserve is spectacular. The river winds itself in a snake pattern. Vegetation is everywhere. Trails have been put in place allows us to immerse ourselves in it. Several opportunities are given to water over the river. There are various places where one can rest and reflect. Once passed the river we walked out into an area holding the remains of what was once the city. There are two main signs of which to take note. There is an Israelite Gate and fortress like structure. It is large enough to walk through and get a sense of the time and way of life. A bit further is site still very much a work in progress of a Canaan Gate going further back in time.

After enjoying the hike, nature, and especially the river, we board the bus and head on the third source for feeding the Jordan. This site is not too far from the others. It is at the foot of Mt. Hermon. The snow of Mt. Hermon feed the springs that surfaces at Banias. This site is in the Golan Heights appearing a place associated with the Greek god Pan. It had been inhabited for 2,000 years, until it was abandoned and destroyed. Today it is another Nature Reserve. A small spring turns quickly into layers of waterfalls shaping the river. Paths have been created to encourage a sojourner to wander and enjoy the nature this river supports. There is a large picnic area and several alcoves lined in stone allowing groups to gather and learn all about he area and its history. Tradition tells us this is the place where Jesus gathered with his disciples and asked them, “Who do others say that I am?” Jesus has an exchange with Peter who declares him to be the Son of God.

If our day were to end here, I would be perfectly fine with that. I love coming here. Both Dan and Banias are for me places that reaffirm my belief in God. I can find peace and serenity here. I am motivated by the rush of the river. I am enchanted by the forest. I can be completely taken in by the silence and calls of nature.

Our day is not yet over. We still have much to do and see. It is time for lunch. There is a small town that once was part of Lebanon. After the six-day war it became a part of Israel. For many years it was completely closed off and protected to itself. Only locals were allowed in. Today it is open to strangers and offers up an opportunity to break bread together with a simple elegance of fried bread and melted filling folded into a sandwich. I had a cheese filling with some herbs and spices. It was quite good. Other options included spinach or even Nutella. Yum.

We headed south to move across the north end of the Sea of Galilee. We take a look at what is called, “The Jesus Boat.” It is a boat pulled out of the Sea of Galilee believed to be 2,000 years old. We watched a video telling us of the process of retrieving the boat and moving into the current museum. We are allowed to walk around, take pictures, and observe this ancient structure. It is quite impressive.

Our next adventure is to board a boat and sail the sea. There is on our boat a small group from the Philippines along with us. We enjoy a quiet ride across the waters. There is occasionally some music playing, but mostly it is a great time to reflect and observe all that is around us. The engine is cut off, the music stops; and we are given a chance to hear words of wisdom and sing some songs of faith and inspiration. The guide for the Philippines gave an interesting demonstration of how Israel and the human body relate to each other. It was thought provoking and a bit humorous all at the same time.

After leaving the boat ride we quickly made through Capernaum, Tabgha, and Mt of Beatitudes. The day is growing long. The heat of the day is beginning to take its toll on some. Energy is waning. What a great day this has been.

I enjoyed the day. Obviously the first two stops were especially meaningful to me. I always fight the tension within myself when it comes to the other experiences. I like having the holy places where we can reflect on the significant biblical events that shape our lives. I am torn at the commercialism that has invaded many of these places for them to be profitable.

I’ll give you just one example.

When I first started on spiritual faith journeys with others the Mt of Beatitudes was a church sat on a hill surrounded by beautiful gardens. You came into this place through a small entrance. You pulled up to a gravel parking lot and greeting sojourners was a small shack with basic snacks and bottles of water. You would walk through a small path leading in front of a simple structure housing the nuns that maintained the holy site. A person could go into the church; you could walk the outer breezeway and look out over the Sea of Galilee; or you could stroll through the gardens. They could find quiet spaces to sit, reflect, or even converse with others. The nuns would encourage an atmosphere of reverence and peace. It was simple. It focused on the Beatitudes and the One who gave them to us.

This place has turned into a large attraction. The shack and gravel have all been replaced with a large gift shop, a full beverage snack bar, restrooms you must pay to use. The parking lot is huge and paved. The small paths have all been replaced with concrete sidewalks. Even the convent has been rebuilt to better match the grandeur of the overall place. Markers have been lined along the main path leading to the church with each of the beatitudes inscribed on them. The gardens have all been gated off and you can still go in them for a small donation.

I am reminded of the old commercial phrase, “Calgon take me away.” If nothing else, it has helped to remind me why I came here. I am ready to work. I want to meet people and find out what they would have me do. I want to share life with them and hear their stories. These are the living stones that draw us closer to God. Lord, you have come to the Lakeshore and are calling my name. Here I am, send me.

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