Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Time is Coming

My mother gasped when she saw me and immediately burst into tears. The nurse said, "Those are tears of joy, mummy." My mother said to me, "I didn't think I would see you again. It has been so long." We embraced as she cried.

She was alert and chipper, but those moments fade suddenly. We shared a few Hershey Drop chocolate candies and she was looking for her dog, Lulu, to feed a drop. Since the dog did not come, she ate it instead. I said, "We can feed her when she comes back."

I asked how she was doing, and she said, "Well, I'm dying." "Do you think that will happen soon?" "Yes, I'm not ready yet, but I feel it." "What is it like?" "It is just coming on."

"Are you afraid of anything?" "Not really." "Is there anything you would like to say before you go?" "I've said everything that I need to say. Everyone knows I love them. No, all is good." She continued, "I meet so many good people here. Most are very kind, and they really like me. I feel good when people like me, and many do." She asks a nearby resident, "Do you like me?" She nodded, and my mother said, "and I like you too. It is really about liking people and caring for them."

I looked around to watch all the people who were visiting. A woman was visiting her mother, who is on the bossy side, but the mother became very tender around her child. Sons were holding their mother's hands and daughters were making their mothers laugh. Staff were attentive and caring. Lots of goodwill was being splashed around the center. People were very happy.

Two male residents died within the past week. One was very healthy and death came quickly for him; the other lingered in pain for a while, so death was merciful to take him.

I asked how my mother's legs were feeling and she said, "A little better, but everything is getting hard for me. It is overwhelming and I think it will end soon."

"It is OK for you to go. Your pain will be gone, and you'll feel better, and you'll remember us. And we'll remember you." I hope so.

"You'll see your Ma and Pa, and Betty, and Dawn Mari, and that will be a happy time." I hope so.

"You'll be close to God and to Jesus and you'll be able to see everything that we are doing. You'll be close to us from heaven as we stay on earth, but it won't be too long before we join you in the future." I hope so.

"And it is OK to let go. Jesus will be there to catch you as you pass from this life to the next. He'll hold you in his arms just as you held us when we were born. And what did you do? You held us close to your heart, you kissed us, you smelled us, you smiled at us, and Jesus will do the same with you. He'll be smiling at you when he holds you in his arms, and he will keep you safe." I hope so.

"And everything will be very fine." I want that.

"So, I want to say to you: I love you. I'm sorry for the ways I offended you, and I hope you forgive me. I forgive you too. I'm sorry. And mostly, I want to say: thank you." That's OK.

"Would you like to pray now and receive communion?" "Yes, please." We say the Lord's prayer and I offer he communion. After half a minute she says, "It is funny. The piece of communion is dead in my mouth, but it is so alive. It really is alive."

I gave her some moments in silence and her eyes became heavy. Then a nursing assistant came over to move her to her lunch table. I asked her for a hug and she sank into my arms.

A Return to the United States

We arrived back in the United States on Friday night after a smooth journey. Some pilgrims caught connecting flights; others were back in the city they call home. All agreed that many aspects of the trip worked out very well and that it was not a typical pilgrimage.

On Thursday night, we shared conversation and wine as we debriefed and spoke words of friendship to one another. We spoke words of gratitude and we appreciation for the ways we were enriched and enlightened. We wished we could have listened longer to each other, but we had to pack and rise early for the final leg of the journey home.

Our guide, Joseph, was being collected by his son. As we pulled up to Tel Aviv airport, his son arrived in the family car to pick him up. We saw that he was pulled over by Israeli security to pass through to the airport, Our driver, Edward, was heading back to Jerusalem to begin driving for another tour group. We had top notch Palestinian Christian drivers and guides and we appreciate their care for us.

We know this trip will take time to process. We hope others will want to hear our stories. We hope others will chose to come on this pilgrimage in the future. We wish to share of love of Christ with others.

Now, it is time to settle and to grow where we are planted. May each pilgrim have a blessed return home.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Sea of Galilee

Ah, finally, we are off to the shores of the Sea of Galilee where Jesus lived and did much of his ministry. Because of a concert to be held in the church in Tabgha (Heptapegon), Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, we headed there first to make certain we could visit. This is the site of the miraculous feeding of the 4,000. The chorus, soloists, and orchestra were rehearsing during the visit. It made us feel very privileged. The mosaics depict the flora and fauna of the area and at the entrance of the church is a small pool that contains seven fish. It was originally called Heptagon to indicate the seven streams. It hearkens back to the seven days of creation. Just north of the sea is Bethsaida, which was the home of the fisherman.

We then traveled to the Mount of the Beatitudes where the Sermon on the Mount was spoken and we had mass overlooking on the hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Because of the valley and the rocks, the acoustics are tremendously clear. The area around Tiberias contains 60,000 people now and was an important commercial center. It is an amazing sensory experience to imagine the crowds gathered to hear Jesus and it is equally amazing to understand the radical way of life to which he called people.

We then took an hour's boat ride in the Sea of Galilee. We saw the method of net fishing and we experienced the depth and breadth of the Sea. There is a wind tunnel to the southern side of the sea where winds whip up in a tempest and this is where Jesus may have calmed the storm that threatened the safety of the ship. Seven springs feed the Sea at the northern end and it forms the Jordan River to the south.

We then ate lunch at St. Peter's restaurant where we many had St. Peter's fish, which is a tilapia. It is served whole and is char-grilled. It was quite tasty. So was the shish-kebab.

We then toured the Church of the Primacy of Peter and saw the rock upon which the church was built. The site commemorates John 21 as well where Jesus and Peter spoke at the seashore.

Next we travelled to Capernaum, the town of Jesus, which was cursed and lay vacant. Capernaum is named because it is the far village that marks the boundary between the regions of Kings Herod Antipas and King Herod Phillipi. Capernaum is where Jesus taught in the synagogue. A fourth century synagogue stands on the spot where the first century synagogue once stood. It is also the site of the curing of the man with the withered hand and other miracles. Matthew, the tax collector, was called to be a disciple from this area because this route was an important north-south route for the Roman Empire. A new church is now built on the site of Peter's Mother-in-law's house because she was healed of her fever and then tended to the needs of Jesus and his friends.

We returned to the hotel for a tasty dinner and then shared graces of the pilgrimage over glasses of wine. I will certainly cherish the many memories of this trip. Now, we are ready to return home.


To see photos of the area around the Sea of Galilee, click on the link below:


            




Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Haifa, Mount Carmel, and Cana

The day began with a tour of the Carmelite monastery on Mount Carmel. As crusaders, soldiers visited the area in the 12th century and had mystical experiences that inspired them to settle into a life of heremetical prayer. In the year 1190, their rule of prayer was accepted by the Latin Patriarch and they set up a cloister on Carmel, which means God's vineyard.

In the 13th century, the Muslims occupied the land and forced the Carmelite monks to leave the area. Hermits were likewise not well accepted in Europe so they changed from hermits to mendicants (beggars.) Simon Stock received approval from their Superior General so that they could canonically began beggars. The area is where Elijah the prophet worked various miracles. His cave is located in the basement of the shrine. It sits right on the Mediterranean Sea and overlooks beaches and a modern downtown city. We enjoyed a nice tour with Sister Esther, who is quite a bundle of righteous action and prayer, and then we had lunch at the Stella Maris restaurant after celebrating the Votive Mass for the Blessed Virgin Mary in commemoration of her presence in the area.

We visited the Baha'i Gardens at the Shrine of the Bab, who came from Iran to practice his religion. We then visited the place east of Mount Carmel where Elijah vanquished the 450 priests of Ba'al, who opposed the God of the Israelites.

We then headed back to Nazareth to a village called Cana, the site of the first miracle in the Gospel of John. In this place, Jesus turned the water into wine at a wedding for wealthy friends. One notable aspect of the wedding is the length of the festivities as it takes three days for friends and relatives to travel from Jerusalem. They visit for a while before they return. Also, the poor in the community are often guests at weddings as the community's efforts of inclusion.

In a special service at Cana, married couples renewed their marital vows in the presence of other pilgrims. To further the celebration, we imbibed pomegranate wine at a local market and then shared some hookah tobacco.

After dealing with traditional traffic, we unpacked at the Golden Crown hotel and enjoyed a bountiful meal.

To see photos of Haifa, Mount Carmel, and Galilee, click on the link below:

            


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Nazareth and Mount Tabor

We left the resort in Jenin for Mount Tabor to visit the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus at the summit of the mountain. To arrive at the holy mountain, we passed through the Jezreel Valley, which is the area where Naboth would not relinquish his land to the king that wanted to exchange his land for Naboth's. Naboth held onto it because it was very fertile. The Valley extends from Haifa down into the Jenin and is the grain basket of Israel.

The church is stunning in its magnificence and the glory of the Lord is captured well in the building's architecture. It does appear to be a place of transfiguration. The brilliance of the gold that outlines the mosiacs is splendid. It is the highest mountain in the area and it is a vantage point to see the vast beauty of the Jezreel Valley.

A favorite part for me was to the ironwork statue that depicts Jesus coming down from the cross momentarity so that he may console dear Francis.

It also is the area where Nain is located. Jesus brought a widow's dead son back to life restoring her livelihood. It called to mind Elijah's raising of the widow's son in Zarephath.

At the base of Nazareth is the area where the courageous Deborah fought for four tribes of Israel who were sent to occupy the land. The tribes were discouraged because they had no modern weapons to face the inhabitants. The word Nazar, from which Nazareth is named, means to guard. Nazareth, therefore, guards the Jezreel Valley.

Nazareth is percentage-wise the most populated Christian village in Israel and the West Bank. They make up about 40% of the population.

In Nazareth, we first visited Mary's Well, which was the spring at which Mary and the other women of the small village of 200 families would have drawn their daily water. At the base of the spring, we also saw the place considered to be Joseph's workshop. We passed by a real carpenter's shop who was using a plane to smooth out the wood products.

We dined at the Abu Alaa restaurant with an Italian fare. We had spaghetti, cole slaw, roast beef and potatoes, and some fresh macaroons for dessert.

We then walked to the Basilica of the Annunciation where the Angel Gabriel visited Mary's house. Her house is encapsulated in the lower floor of the basilica, which is darkened to represent the people who lived in darkness prior to the Annunciation. The upper room is light and spacious to indicate the presence of the Holy Spirit descending upon Mary. The shape of Basilica is said to be in the form of a lilly.

We celebrated at mass and one of the pilgrims played the main organ. The day was ending and we were the last group of pilgrims in the church so it was fascinating to see the filtered light set upon the day.

From there we drove to Haifa on the Mediterranean to stay at the Golden Crown Hotel. This hotel feels luxurious.

To see photos of Nazareth and Mount Tabor, click on the link below:


            





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Monday, November 13, 2017

Nablus and Jenin

We left Bethlehem today and headed straight into the heart of the Palestinian Territory, just northwest of Jerusalem. Nablus was founded in 72 AD by the Flavian Emperors and was built on the northern slope of Mount Gerizim.

We first visited a Samaritan village, which is made famous by the Good Samaritan and the Woman at the Well. Visiting the area makes real how shocking it was that Samaritans would have been the one who helped the robbed victim at the side of the road. Samaritans have always tried to live up to this reputation as being a good and kindly people. Samaritans respect only the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible (Hebrew Scriptures.) Their prophets end with Moses and they do not have any Old Testament literature after Deuteronomy. They are descendants of Joseph's clan.

Mount Gerizim is the location where Moses entered into Palestine from wandering in the desert and set up the first altar. Jacob's Well is in the area. The woman at the well describes that her people worship God from Mount Gerizim while the Jews worship God in Jerusalem, which the Samaritans do not accept. The Samaritans hold Gerizim in the same regard as the Jews do the Temple Mount. It was forbidden for a Jew to speak to a Samaritan, or for a woman, and Jesus held her in high regard. She believed that he was the one who possessed eternal life, and she ran to tell the villagers about the one who is the Son of God.

We then took a bus break in a small town where we enjoyed a Middle Eastern sweet called Kanafeh. It was cream cheese in it and pistachio-sugared water. We enjoyed eating 2,000 calories worth of sweets. Then we set off for the church.

We had our church musicians prepare music for the mass at a tiny village called Rafidia We kept the readings focused on the Samaritan Woman and the Good Samaritan. Then we traveled to Sebastia for a late lunch. Some associate the head of John the Baptist with Sebastia. There are Roman ruins, a Hellenistic Tower, and many vineyards and olive groves.

After lunch we climbed the hillside to watch the setting sun and then do a little shopping. We were supposed to go to the Church of Burgin, the third oldest church in Christianity, the site where Jesus cured the ten lepers.

We finally arrived at the Palestinian Resort in Jenin for a night of relaxation and comfort.


To see photos of North Central Palestine, click on the link below: