Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Tuesday, 10 January 2017: Lower Galilee

Today’s journey takes us first to the Jordan River where we have the opportunity to participate in a renewal of baptism. Next, we’ll drive through Magdala (home of Mary Magdalene) and visit the village of Eilaboun, a typical small Christian/Muslim village in Galilee where we will have lunch, meet local residents, and visit a Melkite church. Next we will travel through the beautiful Lower Galilee and arrive at our hotel in Haifa. (B, L, D)

Remember:  photos are being cranky, so I'm uploading all of THOSE on Facebook.  Will connect them to the blog stories when back in the States.  

I've decided to take a little bit different of a blogging approach today because this day was ANYTHING but ordinary.  Our travels first took us to the Jordan River.  THE RIVER where Jesus was born.  I'm less concerned about an "x marks the spot" kind of approach and more concentrated on a "general feeling" sort of understanding about this whole trip, so it didn't matter where we set foot in the River...ANYWHERE was amazing.  And what was SUPER amazing was the fact that there were people actually being baptized near us.  One group for Ethiopia - singing, chanting, joyfully exclaiming just to our left.  What I wouldn't give to be able to remember my baptism, each piece, each promise each word spoken in truth.  Thankfully, my parents and grandparents did, and raised me in those promises, and look where it's landed me today!

As Lutheran Christians, we are baptized for ONCE, so for us, we AFFIRMED our baptisms in the Jordan River.  Three of our group pastors stood IN the river (up to their knees) and we came forward to have the sign of the cross marked with the Jordan River water on our foreheads.  As a group, we were singing, waiting our turn in the River.  I take any and every chance to affirm my baptism, using whatever water source is available....but marking and remembering these promises in the space where God opened the heavens to speak to God's son?!  Incredible.  The surrounding land was MUCH more lush than I had expected it to be.  Somehow, I had it my head that it would be desert area, with little more than a trickle.  From my pictures on Facebook, you can see the area was green with growth.  Other issues regarding the River were brought to my attention later in the day, and I'll need to take some time to further investigate.  For now, however, I'm living in the joy of remembering to truly let my light shine for others so that they may see my good deeds and glorify my God who is in heaven.

The day could certainly have ended there.  Complete.  Capital.  Left to ponder and meditate and think on all that had happened.  But alas, our tour group lets NO GRASS grow under us, and off we were to our next stop:  THE SEA OF GALILEE!

I'm guessing you're all caught on by now that WATER is an important part of my life.  So visiting all of these bodies of water that have spiritual and emotional relevance is beyond life-changing.  We stopped at the Church of the Multiplacation, the place where Jesus showed those disciples that it's better to trust than complain.  This is the place where Jesus took five loaves of bread and two little fishes (every childhood song is coming to mind!) and turned them into a feast'a'plenty!  Not only had we celebrated our baptisms that morning, but now we're would celebrate the sacrament of holy baptism.  How much can one heart take!?  Susan and I took our places on logs near a white tent, overlooking the seashore.  Pastor Gabi and Peter set the table for us to partake in the Meal, and we sat for a centering moment in silence, simply taking in the amazing sounds of the trees and the waves.  I can't even explain how beautiful it was to just SIT there, thinking of the tens of people once gathered on the grass around us.  How fretful the disciples must have felt.  How bemused Jesus must have been.  And how grateful EVERYONE was at the site of the food multiplying itself, thanks to God.

We sang hymns from a printed booklet, and gave our prayers to the Sea as we sat on those logs.  We were connected to the people we love, even if they were oceans away.  And we were as close to Jesus as if he were seated on a log, right there with us.  Sara beautifully read the Gospel story about this location, and Pastor Gabi consecrated the elements, right there, along the Sea of Galilee.  Susan and i could have sat there forever.  What peace was found at the Sea that day.

The actual Church of the Multiplication was a quaint little building, with high ceilings and beautiful Windows - just the kind of space that made this singer wasn't to BURST out in song.  I didn't by the way...but holding in a song of praise was CHALLENGING!  THe famous mosaic of the two fish and four loaves (the fifth loaf was Jesus, the living bread) was much more plain than I had imagined.  All commercial representations have this being in a vibrant, cobalt blue.  THis was a gentle, almost pastel and faded in hue, making it a gentler scene to behold.

We had no sooner taken in this scene than we were whisked away to the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, which is none other than the site where Jesus appeared to the disciples AFTER his Resurrection, and re-named Peter the main man, the head honcho, the kingpin of the church here on earth.  This is the space where Jesus built the charcoal fire, a fire much like the one Peter hunched near right after DENYING Christ.  Not only was the Church beautiful, but there was a little child inside, peering through the stained glass windows.  I have an entire blog post coming about the children on this trip, but this little one's wonder made my day.

Done?  Heavens no.  There is still light in the sky!  We must move!  On to Eilaboun, Pastor Gabi's hometown here in Israel.  What a visit THAT was.  First, the Priest personally baptized Gabi's eldest son, and had major connections to Gabi's family, so the personal aspect of this visit was heightened.  Then this Priest could SING!  He chanted Psalm 121 for us in the church, as humbly and boldly as possible, simply turning his face toward the altar, and giving his praise to God.  We enjoyed listening to the care and commitment he has for the Church, emphasizing again and again that the Church is the Mother of the Village.  Cares for all, loves all.  What a guy.

He took us on a tour of the village, which include seeing where Pastor Gabi went to high school, and seeing him point out his grandparent's house with great pride.  All through the town, the village people would come to shake hands with the Abouna, or Priest.  He wasn't looking for fame or popularity, he was humbly greeting people as though they truly were family.  THis village is incredible, and has gone through an awful lot, including a forced exile to Lebanon after the murder of 14 young boys of the village.  Walking through the spaces and place of the town, remembering these events, made everything so wonderfully visceral. Not a one of us will forget where we heard that story from Pastor Gabi that day.  Our hearts broke with his all over again, as he told the story of his people.  Incredible.

As if our hearts weren't already overflowing with love, Pastor Gabit then took us to MEET his parents!  Yes, all 35 of us crowded into their home, sharing chuckles over old pictures of Pastor Gabi, and thankfulness to his darling parents for raising a son that everyone loves.  What a blessing to be invited into their home...into their family.  Our hearts could not be more full from this day.  Thanks be to God.  

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