Sunday, August 21, 2011

Holy Land Journal: Pebbles on the beach of the Sea of Galilee

JERUSALEM – I have not posted in a couple of days because we’ve been at a German Benedictine monastery on the Sea of Galilee. Although we have been in wonderfully comfortable accommodations, there was but one computer available for guests, and the keyboard kept switching from English to Hebrew to Arabic. So one post on Friday seemed the extent of my abilities.

We are back in the Holy City of Jerusalem and I am typing on our own laptop computer and using the reliable Internet connection at St. George’s College.

Let me begin by mentioning I have received a number of emails and Facebook comments expressing concern for our safety given the violence along the Egyptian border and in Gaza. Truthfully, you probably know more about this than we do. We’ve heard snippets of news but not much, and in our travels, the people we encounter appear to be going on with their lives without missing a beat.

Everyone we meet – Jew and Muslim – is friendly and hospitable, and I get the impression that they have long learned to live with the cycles of violence and conflict that is so much a part of this sadly troubled land. Whatever is happening to the south of here doesn’t seem to have had much impact on anyone we’ve met, at least outwardly. We feel quite safe in our travels.

We spent two days by the Sea of Galilee, a serene lake in the desert that felt far, far away from the concerns and conflicts of the world. I understood for the first time why Jesus spent so much time here – it was a perfect place to work things out, to be with God, to pray, to teach, to be with his followers. The politics of Jerusalem and the Roman world must have felt very distant, and who in authority would have even heard of this obscure Jewish rabbi in this remote place.

On my first morning at the Sea of Galilee, I got up early and went to the shoreline alone to read Morning Prayer. The lake was green-gray, and the sky misty blue. I sat on a pebbly beach, and the air was warm even before the sun came up burning red-orange. I could easily imagine Jesus sitting here in silence and prayer.

Soon the fish were jumping after insects, and my first reaction was wondering why Peter had such a hard time catching fish (all he needed was a fly rod). I sat on a rock and read the psalms and biblical lessons for the day, but soon realized that the place is more powerful than any Scriptural passage. I could almost hear Jesus sitting on a nearby rock teaching a small group sitting there with him. The words on the biblical page seemed but a thin reflection of what that must have been like.

According to the scriptures, Jesus told Peter somewhere near here that he would be “the rock” upon which he would build the church. I was struck by how many rocks and pebbles there are on this beach. It seemed to me that is the many small rocks and pebbles upon which the church is built, not just one big rock. I took a handful of pebbles with me.

Later in the morning, I was the celebrant at a Holy Eucharist at the Church of Peter’s Rock, built upon the supposed rock of the biblical story. The church is under the stewardship of the Franciscans who let us use an outdoor altar.

I brought my pebbles from the beach and put them on the altar with the bread and wine of our Communion. I mentioned in my homily about how we are the pebbles and how all of us add up to be the Kingdom of God.

I must say it was one of the greatest thrills of my life to celebrate the Eucharist by shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.

On Saturday evening, we went to Vespers at the German monastery, which is built upon the remains of a 3rd century church. To my delighted surprise, it is the home of the mosaic of the “loaves and fishes,” possibly the most reproduced mosaic in the world. The monastery is built upon the site of where legend says Jesus fed the 5,000 with only a few baskets of bread and fish.

Today is Sunday, and for our Holy Eucharist, we ascended Mount Tabor, the mountaintop of the Transfiguration. For those who don’t remember the story, Jesus took two of his disciples to the mountaintop to pray, and they saw him turn a dazzling white with Moses and Elijah at his side. The disciples asked if they should build a dwelling place for each of them, and Jesus said not to build anything.

Now there is a large Italian church on the top of the mountain, with huge chapels (dwelling places) for Jesus, Moses and Elijah.

We celebrated our mass at an outside altar, and the celebrant was one of our fellow pilgrims, The Rt. Rev. Colin Johnson, who is the Anglican Archbishop of Toronto. He wore gold vestments, graciously provided by the Church of the Transfiguration. He reminded us that our experience is not about the dazzling dwelling places, but about our catching a glimpse of the Risen Christ who is traveling with us.


Ellen said...

Jim, As always, your photos and writing are beautiful. Thanks for sharing your journey with all.

Janice Dean said...

I am so happy for you and Lori--your trip sounds amazing. Your last couple posts have made me misty-eyed in a wonderful, happy way. Savor it while you're there, and share it with us when you return. Hugs!