This is a series of reflections following my trip to the Holy Lands this fall. What a profound and life-changing experience to walk where Jesus lived. Visiting Israel opened my eyes and refreshed my heart on so many levels – historically, politically, biblically and spiritually.
Unexpected surprises filled the trip to the Holy Lands. I am discovering more of them now that I am at home – eagerly looking at photos, summarizing notes in my journal, talking with God about that sacred land.
Ever noticed how we humans love to mark special places? We want to honor, remember locations of significance. We may erect simple cairns – a pile of rocks – to note this is a space where someone encountered God or we build huge cathedrals – often on top of older churches on top of other historical sites on top of a once simple location full of God’s presence.
Since home I am realizing the places in the Holy Lands that have lingered most in my heart haven’t been the grand manmade churches, sometimes “guarded” by holy men in black long robes or the ones crammed with hundreds of icons, crosses, candles and candelabras.
The sacred places I return to in my memory and my prayers are the barren, plain, rough, more natural ones.
- Capernaum – The town where Jesus centered much of his ministry. I expected another touristy area with a massive church. Yet this site was an archeological dig showing us how they lived in the first century. I stood in the remains of the magnificent synagogue from the third century built on top of an earlier temple, probably where Jesus taught. There I remained for a quiet moment in the present time in the location where more than 21 of Jesus’ miracles occurred and where he gave his lessons – a sacred moment of connection for me, encountering Jesus as Rabbi and Healer.
- The Dead Sea – What surprised me most about this legendary body of water was its beauty. The blueness captured my entire view and I was amazed about its size, though it is smaller today and is shrinking more each year. Yes touristy in places but when seen in its natural state – an exquisite splendor.
- The Judean Wilderness – I thought I knew what barren desert looked like until we traveled through this arid, sandy, harsh and bleak territory – a vacant desolate land where John the Baptist ministered and Jesus was tempted.
- The geography of steep hills and narrow valleys – I heard the mountains names before – studied them in the Bible – Mount Zion, Mount Carmel, Mount of Olives, Mount Nebo, but their height, sharp verticals drop-offs into narrow fertile valleys with produce and villages surprised me. We traveled from beaches, to lush valleys, through rugged mountains, rabbling foothills and hot wilderness. A beautiful diverse scenery that forever changed the way I visualize Biblical story settings.
- Overlapping Old Testament and New Testament sights – I guess I never realized how the stories from long ago before Christ occurred near many of the events found in the New Testament. Sort of a no-brainer though when we learned that Israel is the size of New Jersey – of course these important episodes could occur in the same location. For example, we visited one of the locations where Jesus may have been baptized which is also near the site where the ark of the covenant entered the promised land and where Elijah ascended into heaven. On our way to Mount Carmel we traveled through the Sharon Plains, the location of the Song of Songs. At Mount Tabor we stood in the place of Jesus’ transfiguration and also near where Deborah defeated the armies of Sisera.
- Pilgrim led prayers and reflections – A highlight on this journey was different fellow pilgrims leading services and devotions at the various stops. We heard and prayed for grandmothers at St Anne’s church, healing at Capernaum and the Pool of Bethesda, and considered the lessons in the rocks that surrounded us at Petra.
I am still seeing the Holy Land with new eyes, learning its lessons, and beholding unexpected surprises:
- The extraordinary in the ordinary places of life
- The sacredness in the simple surroundings
- And the mystical in the nature settings
What unexpected surprises are you learning in the common, ordinary locales in your life?
Dolly @ Soulstops.com says
I’m so glad you got to experience Israel and to ponder and wonder at Jesus’ life in new ways…The Dead Sea is amazing…we actually got to float in it back in 2000 when my husband and I went with a tour group. Thanks for sharing your pics 🙂
Jean Wise says
I took the photos while the other floated in the Dead Sea, Dolly. It is an amazing place isn’t it?
Nancy Ruegg says
Oh, yes! My heart was also drawn to the more natural places in Israel. In fact, I was wishing that churches had NOT been built on so many sights. One of my favorite spots on our tour was the hillside by the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus may have preached his Sermon on the Mount. (Since then, I’ve heard that those chapters in Matthew may very well be a composite of numerous teachings on numerous occasions.) Yes, there’s a church there, but when I turned my back on the church, and limited my view to the trees and the sea, I could put myself back in New Testament times. I felt as if Jesus might walk out from the behind the trees at any moment! Such a thrill to “walk where Jesus walked!”
Jean Wise says
Nancy that was my reaction exactly. And that hillside by the Sea of Galilee was wonderful. As I hear the Bible stories now I certainly visualize them differently. Am looking forward to hearing the Christmas story this year with new ears. So glad we can share this together
Nancy Ruegg says
Me, too, Jean! Me, too! Your posts are refreshing my memory of our trip. Love that!
Hi Jean! I have such a tender place in my heart for St. Anne. That would have been a wonderfully holy place for me.
Love those photos! It really brings home your descriptions. What a rocky, barren place that desert is. So easy to tempt there with food and power. Wow.
I am learning a lot about myself lately. Not all really great stuff, mind you, but still important. I am common and ordinary to myself, but I find there’s a lot of silly stuff hanging around. Advent is a great time to pry off the cover to my soul and let out the dead stuff!
Mystical in the nature settings. I can really relate to that!
Jean Wise says
That church at St Anne’s was wonderful. We sang there and the acoustics were great. Your last sentence resonated with me – God is working on both of us – end of the year is a good time to assess what isn’t working well any more – what we need to let go or as you wrote pry off the covers. Great image. A time to shed so we can grow!! Blessing on you, good friend.
The subtitle for my blog is “finding the miraculous in the mundane.” I’m always keeping my eyes peeled and my heart open to see God in the most everyday of things. Beautiful photos and reflection, Jean! Blessings!
Jean Wise says
I forgot that was your subtitle. how appropriate. I think God really delights in peeking out from the shadows of the ordinary to surprise us. That makes me smile to think of that in that way. Thanks for stopping by today and may you have a great Advent finding God everywhere