Friday, July 9, 2010

Week 30: Sea of Galilee

Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee.

For nearly a week this was the sight that greeted us each morning from the balcony outside our room at the Oasis Emmanuel Pilgrimage Guest House in Tiberias. Breathtakingly beautiful. Perhaps such scenes as this helped inspire Jesus to see the Love that is God in every person and throughout all of creation. Located on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee, the kind staff at the Guest House helped Kris and I discover the many places to see and appreciate all around this freshwater lake where Jesus found his twelve disciples, preached his Gospel, and performed many signs of the powers embodied in him.

On a Sunday Kris and I went to the Church of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha on the Sea of Galilee. Sunday Mass is celebrated outside right next to the water. This is reputed to be near the place where Jesus took a 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and fed 5,000 people, having baskets of food left over after all hunger was past. A day later it was pointed out to me that we had 2 fish and 5 loaves (plus salad and watermelon!) with a young couple we had met in Bethlehem, with Ryan cooking the fish (from the lake) over charcoal eagle-scout style! While not miraculous, the watermelon was the best I have ever tasted, richly red with no dark seeds.

Being joined for two nights and a day by Ryan and Hope was a real blessing. Their good company (and rental car!) greatly facilitated our seeing places that would have not otherwise been very possible. We drove together to the Church of the Beatitudes where Jesus is thought to have delivered his Sermon on the Mount, to the Church of the Primacy of Peter built among among the ruins of Capernaum at the location where Peter`s home is reputed to be, and to a museum that contains the remains of a 2,000 year old fisherman`s boat that was discovered buried along the shore of Galilee. All of these places, however, seemed strangely uninspiring to me. The location of the Sermon on the Mount, for example, was beautifully developed (very developed) as a place of contemplation – but all I really wanted was to sit on a nearby hill and imagine the scene as it was before: I could not, because lunchtime was upon us and those who maintain the place were closing it down within 30 minutes of our arrival! For me these holy sites were now more tourist locations than centers for spirituality.

My most spiritual moment, surprisingly, came as Ryan, Hope, and I decided to go exploring for a cave while Kris rested in Tiberias. Within ten miles of the Guest House are the Hamud Caves. I had read that in one cave called Zuttiyeh, evidence of human habitation had been discovered dating back 250,000 years! A complete skeleton of a Neanderthal man (aged only 10,000) had also been found there. Had I not taken note of directions to the place from the book, we would not have found it – as there were no on site markers or signs of any kind and its main entrance was not visible from the road. At Zuttiyeh there were no people. Livestock had produced the path we took to it. Once there, it was as if we had been transported back in time – so far back that even Jesus was recent history! Here had been our ancestors. Their presence could still be felt.

The Zuttiyeh Cave required about a 100 yard steep hike upwards to reach it. Once there one is met by an oval entrance at last 40 feet high and 60 feet wide. Inside is a fairly flat interior floor space of at least 1,000 square feet, complete with nooks and crannys some of which seem fairly deep. Out of respect for a rare species of bat which now inhabit this cave, a posted sign discouraged further exploration. From the backside of what had once been the large common space, one can look out of the cave entrance to see the small valley below, another large hill just across that valley, and (that day) a sunny blue sky. Looking to the left from the cave entrance the valley clearly flows down to the Sea of Galilee (near Capernaum) perhaps 3 miles away. I wonder whether Jesus ever came to this spot. Odds are he must have known of it. Had he known of the cave`s ancient history as we now do, I have no doubt that he would have appreciated it also....

As Hope and Ryan drove back to their volunteer work at Wi`am in Bethlehem, they dropped Kris and I off in Nazareth. There she and I walked around the grounds of the Basilica of the Annuciation until the doors were opened – and we found a morning Mass is process. We sat through a pleasant ceremony, though I confess paying more attention to the architecture of the building than to the service (in Italian, I think). There was the original wall of a crusanter church destroyed 900 years ago. There were portions of the Franciscan rebuild in 1620 (when Christians became saf ely able to return after an absence of 450 years). Now in a central area built below the entry floor was the sacred place revered as the location where the Angel informed Mary that she would become pregnant with a child to be named Jesus. In the same compound as the Basilica is the Church of St. Joseph, constructed over a site thought to be the homw and workshop of Jesus` family. Archeological uncovering of housing, to be seen in the downstairs are of tis church, seem to give plausibility to the claim. One explanatory panel makes mention of a brother to Jesus (named Jude). Curious: maybe Jesus had brothers and sisters! Much has been lost to the shadows of time….

Upon returning to Tiberias, our final activity was to go out onto the Sea of Galilee (really a lake about 15 miles long N/S and 7 miles wide, E/W) in a ``Jesus`` boat (constructed as a facsimile of boats in Jesus`s time). We were allowed to join a tourist group of 28 persons on pilgrimage from Quwait: ethnic Indians mostly from Kerala and Tamil Nadu! Kristine smiled as she knew this was exactly the company I would have preferred had I a choice. My conversations revealed that an organizer of the group is a relative of Dr. Mahajan, a respected Gandhi Scholar I had met with several times while visiting the Gandhi Studies Program at Mahatma Gandhi University in Kottayam, Kerala. It is quite amazing how very small the world can seem at times. Small in a good way!

After five days with Tiberias as our home base, we traveled back to Bethlehem for one night (as we had no other accommodation booked). God would provide, Kris had told me. Well God set us up with our friend Zoughbi Zoughbi as he set us up in the empty apartment previously occupied by him with his wife and children. He stayed behind (a stateless person, and committed to work for change here), when she left for the U.S. (where she is a citizen). The children are with her, as a son was in need of special medical treatment for an imperfectly healed broken leg. To stay the night in his former apartment was most generous of Zhoughbi, but it also served to remind us of how families are often divided by the circumstances of life here.

Today we go through the military checkpoint through which Zhoughbi has no permission to pass – into Jerusalem where he, as a Palestian Christian, cannot freely worship. It is my hope that I may come back and forth into Bethlehem at least once this coming week to share more with this wonderful man. Let us all become more conscious of how privileged we are to move as freely as we may. As Kris and I go through the gate in The Wall which divides Jerusalem from Bethlehem, however, I will be thinking also of another Wall (built by the U.S.) designed to separate us from Latino immigrants. That Wall, also, must one day be dismantled and the immigration laws in the U.S. reformed.

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