Friday, July 21, 2017

Exfoliation and Reflection

Our last day in the Holy Land was filled with visiting ancient ruins, remembering epic stories, floating in the Dead Sea, and wading in the Jordan River.

We started out our last day by going to Masada. Which was so cool. If you don't know the story of Masada (I only knew bits and pieces of it before we went there), basically it was an almost impregnable and entirely self-sustaining palace of the paranoid Herod the Great that was taken over by a group of Jewish rebels in 66 A.D. (when the Romans were destroying Jerusalem). The Romans lay siege to it (but it took an awfully long time to be able to break down the fortress walls since it's on a high mesa top), but before they could capture the rebels, the Jews at Masada committed mass suicide so they wouldn't be enslaved by the Romans. Anyway. It's a fascinating, tragic story and it's an incredible site to visit.

[Going up the mountain on the tram. There was no way we were hiking that in 100+ degree heat]

[That is a desert]

[You can still see the siege ramp the Romans built to get their battering ram up to the fortress gates]

After Masada, we went to the Dead Sea. Because when you get a chance to go to the lowest point in the world (and to float in it!), you definitely take that chance. 

[Floating in the Dead Sea!]

[You also cover yourself with mud.]

[So much exfoliation.]

We also went to the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized (not at this exact particular spot, per se. But He was baptized in the Jordan River). 

[Jordan River. The barrier is the country of Jordan.]

Oh! Also, we went to Jericho. And drank its famous orange juice. And I rode a camel. 

It's honestly amazing how much we were able to do during the week we were in the Holy Land. I am grateful for the opportunity I had to go. Truly, gratitude is the first word that comes to mind when I think of this trip--grateful for the things I learned, the people I met, the places I saw, and the things I felt. And I hope I get a chance to pay it forward someday, and to strengthen, inspire, and lift others from the things I learned. 

As one of our travel companions said at the Garden of Gethsemane, "It just makes me want to be someone with all that has been given me." 

And it's true. The opportunities I've been give make me want to "be someone." Be someone better, kinder, and more loving. 

I guess that's what all travel should inspire you to do. 

But especially so when you get a chance to visit the Holy Land. 

Bethany and Bethlehem

After Galilee, we headed back to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas. Two of the places we went were Bethany and Bethlehem. Both are in the West Bank (so we had the experience of border checks and being stopped at a border for 20 minutes since it was closed for some unknown reason), which means that there aren't quite as many tourists as in the holy sites in Israel.

That being said, traveling in Bethlehem is certainly not for the faint of heart and there were plenty of crowds and tourists in Bethlehem to make for an exciting experience.

[At the Church of the Nativity. None of us were really sure what was going on at this point, tbh. We had had a mishap and couldn't bring our car with us into Bethlehem, so someone else had to drive us around once we got into Bethlehem. Everything worked out; it was just a bit crazy.]

[I think this is a traditional spot of the manger.]

[I just really liked this mosaic.]

Bethany was a lot calmer, and going to Lazarus's Tomb was really special for me. I love the story of Lazarus (including how this story is used in Crime and Punishment). I will need to do an entire blog post about why I love the story of Lazarus, but for right now I'll just say that I love the apparent hopelessness of the situation--and that Christ can take people and events and things that seem hopeless and dead and restore them to life. I love that "whatever Jesus touches, lives." And I love the tender pity and love He shows for His friends. That He weeps with them when they are sorrowing. Even though Christ knew He would raise Lazarus from the dead, He still mourned with Mary, Martha, and the others, because they were hurting. I love the image and the reality of the God who weeps. 

[Lazarus's Tomb]

We also went to a lot of female pilgrimage sites that day, including the church which marks where Mary met Elisabeth when they were both pregnant, and Rachel's Tomb. 

[The Magnificat in many different languages]

[This church was stunning. I loved all the women depicted in the paintings]

[I thought this one in particular was lovely. I loved the references to the divine feminine]

[The divine feminine looking over human history]

[So many beautiful paintings]

Rachel's Tomb was particularly moving to me. It's a site where, traditionally, women come to pray for family-related desires: a husband, infertility, help with children, etc. But it's also a place where you can just come and cry. When I walked in there, I really did feel such an overwhelming sense of faith. You can sometimes just feel hopes and prayers; they were tangible at Rachel's Tomb. 

And yes, we both cried a bit at Rachel's Tomb and offered prayers with the other women there. Because sometimes you just need to weep and pray in solidarity with your sisters across cultures and generations.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Galilee--Swimming where Jesus walked

One of my favorite parts of the trip encompassed a lot of religious sites. I loved the Galilee region. I loved its quiet stillness. I loved the Sea of Galilee. I loved being in an area of the world where Jesus performed so many of His miracles and His ministry--the feeding of the 5000, raising Jairus's daughter from the dead, the calling of the apostles, the Sermon on the Mount.

Galilee is much quieter than Jerusalem. And after having been in Jerusalem, it was easy to compare the two regions and realize why Jesus decided to spend most of His time up North. (And, in the time of Christ, Jerusalem would have been even more tension-filled for Him, as so many people were trying to kill Him.)

So Galilee would have been a welcome place to live and rest. It certainly was a nice respite for us.

As we drove north up to Galilee, we stopped at different sites along the way, including Jaffa, Caesarea (and later Caesarea Philippi), Mt. Carmel, Nazareth, and Mt. Tabor. Each has scriptural significance, and it was neat to share thoughts about those places and scripture stories. 


[Mt. Carmel--where it was Elijah vs. the Priests of Baal. I kept singing Mendelssohn's Elijah to myself while we were there. Also, the story of Elijah is one of my favorites in the Bible. #funfact]

[Also a fun fact: from the top of Mt. Carmel, you can see the Valley of Megiddo, AKA, the Valley of Armageddon. It's quite a stunning view.]

[Overlooking the end of the world]

[This is so embarrassing, but now I cannot remember what church this was. I think it was Joseph's church in Nazareth. But I could be completely wrong. In any event, it's a very pretty church.]

[But this is from the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth. A lot of countries sent mosaics honoring Mary. This one is from Ukraine, and I think it's absolutely lovely.]

[At Mt. Tabor--a traditional site for the Mt. of Transfiguration]

[Inside the Church of the Mt. of Transfiguration]

[And the view from the top]

When we got to Tiberius, it was so cool to be able to go to so many different sites where Jesus would have been. Capernaum, Magdala, and the Sea of Galilee itself. I always assumed that most of His ministries and miracles took place in Jerusalem, but most of them took place up north. Most of His ministry was in the Galilee region. And so it was neat to realize that and realize that we were literally in a land of miracles. 

[The Valley of the Doves--a highway between Nazareth and Capernaum]

[St. Peter's Primacy. This is the site where Catholics believe Peter became the first pope. While we were here, we listened to Elder Holland's talk, "The First Great Commandment," which is one of my favorite talks. It was such a peaceful place to sit, ponder, and remember the commitments I have made to be a disciple of Christ. And to recommit to being a disciple of Christ.]

[Mount of Beatitudes. I loved this church.]

[So pretty]

[Banyan Tree at the Greek Orthodox Capernaum site]

[Soooo, this Greek Orthodox Church was one of the prettiest churches I've ever seen in my life.]

[Just look at those paintings. They are depicting all of the miracles that happened in the Galilee area.]

[The archaeological site of Magdala (where Mary Magdalene was from)]

[I also loved this church. It is dedicated to women of the New Testament, and there are pillars with names of women in the New Testament. The last pillar is blank, and women that visit there are supposed to trace their name on the pillar.]

[I also loved the name of the church, which was "Duc in Altum," which means "Come to the deep" in Latin. I just love the symbolism of it--come to the deep, come out of your comfort zone, and come to Christ.]

[At Casearea Philippi]

[Headwaters of the Jordan River]

[It looked like something out of Lord of the Rings]

[But really. It really did.]

One of my favorite parts of Galilee was the Sea of Galilee. It was fun to swim in it, and to "swim where Jesus walked." (I still get a kick out of saying that.) It was also neat to remember the miracles that happened on the Sea of Galilee--from Jesus calming the storm to Peter walking on water. There's a lot of faith that has been shown on and around that lake in northern Israel, which is beautiful to think about. 

[On a boat]

[Dani and I were happy to be in the water. Dani especially. But I was happy, too.]