Tuesday, March 15, 2016

something about the seaside

In a blur, we drove from the Sea of Galilee to the Mediterranean Sea early in the morning.  The first thing I see is one of my favorite shades of blue twisting and pulling with strips of white foam in large curves and deep gullies between the waves. we aren't at the seaside long, despite the strong ruins of Herod's aqueducts still standing in the sand, because there are other beautiful ruins that are waiting patiently on our feet, but the few moments we have are spent in glee. the wind is particularly wild today and it makes taking a selfie with the sea nearly impossible but yet again, we find ourselves in a moment of pure, unguarded community.
once we've hopped enough rocks and gotten the legs of our pants wet with sea spray, we head down to what we really came out to the Mediterranean for: Caesarea  Maritima. our guide explains that what we walk through is a reconstruction of the rubble discovered because the entire city was destroyed and leveled in the eighth century in an earthquake. but we know it was Herod's palace because of the archeological remains found in the seabed of his palace and freshwater pool. 
It feels weird still to stand in the rubble of another human being's former home. It feels weird to look out over the water and know that someone had the brilliant idea of building their home right over the water so they could constantly be close to the sea. the rest of the city that Herod built is also archaeologically and architecturally significant for many different reasons, but it is important to us to note that this is where Paul was shipped off to Rome. this is where the gospel left the Holy Land. It makes the rubble seem heavy, like perhaps they shouldn't have been destroyed and left for our gawking and photo taking. Like they were meant to contain life. And perhaps you could argue that they still do, but for the most part, anything they have to offer now is stale and recreated. we are so fragile. How was Herod to know that his architecture would perish and yet, still remain?
and then there was the Crusader castle built by the only really "successful" (if you can even use that word in the context of a crusade) wave that stands out among Herod's buildings. the architecture is gothic and impressive, but imposing. It is built on the rubble of one of Herod's buildings, and probably on the blood of thousands of innocents. 
moving on (past my qualms with the crusades & gothic church), we try to outrun a storm that moves in over the Mediterranean by driving inland towards Mount Carmel. there is a monastery on top of the mountain that commemorates Elijah's challenge to the pagan god Baal. the view is spectacular from the top, despite the descending storm and the wind, and someone reads the story out loud over the noise of the wind. It's one of the famous Old Testament displays of the power of YHWH. but what about the verses they skip over in Sunday school? what about the part of the story where, after the fire from heaven descended and consumed the entire alter built by Elijah for YHWH, Elijah takes the 450 prophets of Baal down the mountain to a river and slaughters all of them? how do we reconcile the violence of the Old Testament with the gospel of mercy and love of Christ? They seem to be two opposite ends of a spectrum of behavioral responses, but what if they stem from the same Almighty Being? How do we come to terms with violence? I am thinking about these questions as we walk around the quiet monastery, various wind chimes clanking under the leaves as the wind swept through them. I am still thinking about these questions as I sit typing this in the lobby of the hotel. I am still wondering. 
after a brief lunch break, we stop at the ruins of the city of Meggido. there are 25 layers of ruin underneath. To me, this is the city version of what Israel has endured since before the days of Abraham. This is me. This is all of us. Wrecked and rebuilt on the layers of our old selves only to be wrecked again and burned to the ground. Meggido's ruins are crumbling and sprawled out, and it is hard to really pay attention because the storm we had been outrunning all morning has finally caught up to us, and seems to have gained an intense hatred of something. Dr. wyrick lectures on despite the stinging rain and tropical storm force winds (no, really- no exaggeration there) and we have to follow him up the sloped and rocky path through the gates and ruins of the city as the wind blows our umbrellas inside out and nearly knocks us all over. Needless to say, we were not prepared to be caught in a vicious rainstorm, much less to take in a historical ruin and listen to a lecture out in the open on top of a hill. all was well though, because despite the rain and wind, we were together. And beyond that, there really isn't anything you can do but laugh. The rain intensifies as we head down the slope of Meggido to the tunnel where the city was able to have access to fresh drinking water when the city was under siege (because at some point you would have hoped that people would learn to stop settling there because despite their fortifications, they'd probably be conquered eventually) and the already steep steps become slippery. This only forces me to take my time making my way through the tunnel. If I really think about it, I cannot imagine carving out that kind of tunnel that proved to last centuries. At the time, I was shivered and dripping with rain- so the one thing we have all agreed on that marks Megiddo as memorable is that it became that time we were stuck on a hill that just so happens to be the place of Armageddon from Revelations and the weather just so happened to try and blow us off the ruins. At this point, someone yelled (amidst lots of grouchy, sarcastic humor) that every place we'd been today was "hella windy and hella rainy." I mean, they're not wrong. 
Our last major city stop for the day included a small hike up to the top of Mount Precipice. the wind was at it's highest strength and we were also at the highest point of the day. the view was so beautiful overlooking Nazareth, but it was difficult to take any good photos because the wind felt strong enough to rip things from our hands. Tanner pointed at the sign written in Hebrew about the mount and said, "hey, that's Hebrew for 'it's windy as hell,'" Aside from the view- that was Mount Precipice. The mountain overlooking Nazareth that is "windy as hell". In Hebrew, of course. 
we drove down into Nazareth and took a quick peek into the church built on Mary's Well. It was incredibly ornate and reminded me of eastern Byzantium churches or even the revolution of the idea of churches after the Council of Nicaea. it is beautiful, but I feel lost in the ornate fixtures and iconography of the saints. 
finally, our last stop of the day is at the museum north of the hotel on the Sea of Galilee that houses the "Jesus boat", the boat from 2,000 years ago that historians and archeologists believe belonged in the time of Christ. it was cool to see something so well preserved that dates back to Christ, especially since those things are far and few between, and because it is so deeply personal to the human life of Christ. 
once we wrap up at the museum, we head back to the hotel, and I immediately go back to the inlet shore behind the patio and pool area. the sun is setting behind the mountain ridge on the other side of the road so sunset is a quiet time where the clouds keep on moving and everything begins to fade into that soft lavender. tonight was more blue than lavender because of all of the rain clouds that rolled in behind deep fog on the other side of the sea, but it was really fantastic to sit and listen to the waters (actually calm tonight) and watch the rain come in. 
today was a good day. It's still a bit hard to believe it's just day 3. tomorrow we will leave the Sea of Galilee and head inward towards Jerusalem. I am both glad and sad to leave here. This particular place is lovely and beautiful. But it will come and we will keep on pressing forward through this speedy zip through the Holy Land and all will be well. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

high places and honey

hello friends!
It has been a lengthy few days. the flight from Newark to Tel Aviv was not nearly as awful as I thought it would be, but even so, just getting here and trying to take in my first experiences of Israel from the airport and darkened drive to the seaside hotel took a lot out of me.
we are staying on the seaside in Tiberias, for those of you who didn't see my sunrise photos. there was a small thunderstorm that moved through just before 4 AM (I was awake and watching the only channel I could find in english: FOX Sports -- this morning it was two reruns of professional international triathlons.) so we missed the actual sunrise, but it doused everything in a soft shade of violet and lavender, so it was really the gentle ease into Israel's beauty that we needed
after breakfast, we load into the bus and head off into Northern Israel. our first stop is the Mount of the Beatitudes, and we sit on rocks overlooking the still-hazy sea and listen to our guide talk about the significance of The Holy Land and hop through different chapters of church and Christain history. Nearby, there is another group gathered under a grove of trees and loudly chanting/singing some collective hymn in another language. the air smells softly sweet, like the taste of the honey drizzled bread that they served at breakfast, but I can't decide if it's the pollen from the extensively beautiful gardens or if Israel just smells like honey. at this point, it isn't even 9 AM and I've already had trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that we are in Israel and everything is so beautiful.
our second stop is tel-Hatzor, once the largest city of the Canaanite era. you can see the physical evidence of Old Testament wars still scared into the ruins. we wander around what is left of the palace and I pause on the steps to look out at the valley below. this used to be a person's home. someone lived there. Someone's home was destroyed by fire and took everything else with it and all that is left of them are the charred and shattered stone. Someone used to stand on the same steps that I did and look out at the Israel sprawled out before them.
Perhaps it is my antiquated love of the old testament or general appreciation for history, but it made
me consider the ways we, too, have fortified ourselves in cities and waged wars with fire and guns to maintain them. what will people say about us when they walk through our ruins?
Our third stop, we hiked up to the ruins of tel-Dan through leafy, shaded passage ways and sweet rushing streams. everything still smells like honey and I can't get the Old Testament reference of Israel as the Land of Milk and Honey out of my head. We pass by bushes of honeysuckles and suddenly it makes sense. It's a pretty logical explanation as to why everything smells like honey, but it still sticks warmly in my hands that the bible story name for the place Moses was to lead his people actually has a purpose, a legitimate reason for the nickname. I excitedly shared this revelation with a few of my companions, but I think the fire I have named still glows brightest for myself, and that is okay. I think Israel has become all things to all of us in the short time our feet have walked the soil and breathed in the air of the northern Galilean mountains. we see the ruins of the High Places and the result of Josiah's destruction.
 from the ruins of tel-Dan we hike a bit further and run into  an excavation site called the Canaanite Gate of the Three Arches. this is the entrenched to the city of Dan; this is the way Abraham would have entered the city. Abraham. I had to stop and sit down and let the soil sink into the soles of my feet because there was no other way I would be able to comprehend that my body is where Abraham's body once was. I try to imagine him convincing Sarah to go along with his (dumb) plan at the gate.
leaving tel-Dan, we head to Mount Hermon for a short hike to the ancient ruins of the Grotto of Pan, a Minor Greek god of nature. The significance of this stop does not lie in the ruins of Pan's Grotto, but in the pinpointed location of Jesus' question: "Who do you say that I am?" and a further pointed finger upwards to beyond the steeply sloped mountain edge towards the possible place of the transfiguration. Dr. wyrick explains this is significant because as soon as Christ comes down the mountain post-transfiguration, he's on the path towards Jerusalem, towards the crucifixion. it is one thing to cognitively consider these things and connects, but an entirely different experience to physically be in the atmosphere that he made these decisions in, that he sat with his friends and asked deeply intimate and human questions. it makes next week's resurrection taste that much sweeter. 
Next, we head back to the seaside for lunch at a restaurant on the shore that serves the famous St. Peter's Fish. If you look up "community" in the dictionary, there is probably a photo of us sitting in the restaurant laughing over a few variations of hummus and the most lovely kind of pita bread imaginable. Jonah likens it to Texas' chips-and-salsa routine, and we are all disappointed when we discover that the warm and fluffy pita bread is not bottomless, despite Jonah's ten or so requests for another basket. when our fish arrives, it is clear we didn't know what we were getting into, add though we are all good sports and try to eat the fishes through the skin and some with the heads, it becomes a moment of collective humor ("Was this fish bred in captivity? because I can taste the stress"; "I mean, no disrespect to Israel or their fish, but this fish tastes like they just... cooked it," - Jonah) that becomes community in the most biblical and sincere form of the concept. we bread bread, eat fish and laugh together overlooking the Sea of Galilee. before we can even really handle the fact that we just ate fishes whole or mostly whole, we are shepherded onto a boat and heading out I to the choppy waters. we're all a bit uncertain of our sea legs but Dr. wyrick is solid on his feet. he slings a plastic bag full of extra pieces of pita bread around to us and begins throwing the pieces to the hovering seagulls. there was water flying, people bumping into each other, gulls shrieking for food, and above all else, there was the cacophony of our insatiable laughter. I can't really put into words here why everything was funny or humorous or why we stood up to throw bread to birds on a tiny boat with just shelf-like seats and no handrails or why we kept laughing even after the bread was all gone. It was simply a pure moment of unguarded togetherness and community.
once the boat returned to the dock, we drove to Capernaum and walk through the monastery-owned remains of the first synagogue, Peter's mother-in-law's house and the ruins of the city of Capernaum. the sun is beginning to set, and that only makes the deep shadows in the layered synagogue that much more aged. The whole place felt heavy with wisdom. I wondered what kinds of words of hope and justice had been spoken from the corners? how many times love was expressed? What kind of lessons were preached from the Torah scriptures? I wanted to stay here longer, but we had as window to be baptized in the Jordan River. and that is something you don't pass up. the place that sat neatly in a bend of the river and allowed a safe space to be immersed remained open and operational long enough for nine of us to be rebaptized as the sun settled neatly and gently behind the palm trees and mountain ridge and covered the river and us in lavender light like a soft bed sheet. I am not sure that the reality of today had really sunk into my skin and cracked open my chest. despite this, what a way to start off a tour of Israel? What a way to begin experiencing the holy land by starting in the region Christ grew up. 
tomorrow holds a new set of adventures and jokes (like that one time we were hiking up to the Grotto of Pan and Dr. Wyrick hushes the entire group and we think it's because we're entering a place of worship, but really he's just seen a beaver-looking creature that is native to their area and quite skittish posing on a rock close to us. he pauses for a good moment to photograph the beaver before we continue into lecture and exploration while trying not to laugh too hard) and you will all be asleep as they are happening to me, but I had to share today with you before heading off to bed because sometimes adventures are too big to keep to yourself. 

All is well,

Thursday, March 10, 2016

israel 2016

If you had told me a year ago that i'd be spending spring break over seas in the Holy Land, i would have probably laughed at you.
But here we are -- four days until my feet will be on Israeli soil. Four days until the Holy Land.
And I suppose it's still a little overwhelmingly surreal. I'm hoping this blog helps me take it all in.
I'm hoping it helps you keep up with me, too.
I'm grateful to be going, and I am grateful to have a place to share with you my moments.
I am grateful to have you walk through this with me from abroad.

thank You.
- katelyn