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.