Category Archives: Monday Travel Posts

Today would be a good day to be on the Sea of Galilee

We’ve just started to plan our next study tour to Israel and Jordan in 2018, which of course has got me thinking about some of my favourite places in that part of the world. I love the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem and the beautiful history of Caesarea, but for a tranquil place to contemplate and reflect, a favourite place of mine in Israel is the Sea of Galilee. I’d love to be able to spend the day there today.

What do I love about the Sea of Galilee?

Many of the places in Israel feel like a tour through church history, seeing how previous generations have chosen to remember places that have biblical significance. So the first time I visited the Sea of Galilee, there was a sense of relief at its untouched natural beauty – “they can’t build a church on this!”

The Sea is somehow both bigger and smaller than I had imagined it to be.

Visiting it brought many stories to life. Reading through the gospels, the Sea is almost a character in the narratives as Jesus and his disciples transverse back and forth across it …

fish from it …

experience storms upon it …

and even walk on it.

When I returned to spend time in this part of the world by myself, I stayed in one of the most beautiful and tranquil guesthouses I have ever visited and had the privilege of this view out my window:

It was a wonderful, peaceful place for reflection and contemplation, whether at dawn …

as the sun rose …

… or after dark.

What did I learn from the Sea of Galilee?

There is something beautiful and pristine about many bodies of water. But this one is special to me because of its connection to the story and history of One Man.

As a follower of Jesus, I walk in his footsteps metaphorically every day. Being able to connect that tangibly to real places is a wonderful privilege. It brings a concreteness and a specificity to my faith.

But the bigger truth it teaches me is not so much that I have walked where he has walked, but that I have a God who has walked where I walk. Who entered into human history and everyday life and experienced beauty and sorrow, tiredness and energy, rest and bustle, food and water and sunlight and dirt and noise and taste and smell and everything else that makes up the ordinariness of my life. And somehow the fact that he has done so transforms it all and makes it all new, inviting me into a new experience every day of walking with him.





Today would be a good day to be in Lisbon

My blogging frequency has slowed a bit recently, but after a couple of prompts to get back into it, I’m heading into another Monday morning with a place I’d love to be able to visit for the day. After discovering some authentic Portuguese custard tarts in Adelaide this weekend,  I’d love to go back to the place where I discovered these delectable treats … and just enjoyed the vibe of a really cool city for a few days.

What did I love about Lisbon?

While Lisbon might not have some of the “big ticket” tourist items of other places in Europe, it was one of my favourite stops on my recent trip. It’s just a lovely city to wander and get lost in.

Apparently the world’s third hilliest city (after La Paz and San Francisco), Lisbon’s geography makes for good exercise as well as great panoramic views.

Navigating the hills has led to some innovative methods of public transport including the beautiful Santa Justa elevator …

… and the cool Gloria funicular.

The city’s coloured buildings and tiled facades add to the funky vibe.

The city’s architecture testifies to the passage of time, like the intricate details on the facades of the gothic Jerónimos monastery.

While walking the walls of the São Jorge Castle is like stepping back into medieval times.

Contrasting this is the brand new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology built on the bank of the Tagus River with a roof made for walking, gathering and people watching.

And of course, discovering the Pastel de Nata was a true joy …

… and has made me disavow the custard tarts of my homeland as unworthy to share the same name!

What did I learn from Lisbon?

Lisbon is also a ‘city of churches’, with plenty of old, beautiful, and quirky places of worship to visit.

The Sé, Lisbon’s Cathedral, is nearly 900 years old and I found myself sitting in its pews just trying to imagine all those who had preceded me in taking time out in this same space to pray and worship.

Excavations in the church’s cloisters point back even further, to Roman times. If only walls could speak …

Lisbon is a city that speaks to me of everyday lives. Of people who have made their way and made their mark. Of fun and family and fortitude and fortune and food and faith – all the things that make up a life and together make up history.

And as I sat in Lisbon’s main square on the final night of my visit, I marvelled at the combination of the setting sun and the statue of the Risen Son, watching over the city. And I remember that wherever I go, as I make my way through the everyday things of life, as the passage of time happens to me too, this is what keeps me centred. The dawning of each new day bringing God’s mercies anew, and the reality of an Easter Sunday dawning that is making all things new.


Today would be a good day to be at La Sagrada Família

If you haven’t visited Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, you might have difficulty believing all of these photos are of the exact same building. I’ve been back from my latest holiday just on a month, and the place I have spent more time trying to describe to people than any other would have to be this remarkable church. I’d love to have a few more hours to spend there today.


With an ambitious design by Antoni Gaudí, construction on this spectacular church began in 1882. Current estimates are that it will be completed by 2026, although that still seems to be a massive task. Barcelona is a beautiful city for many other reasons, but I think it would be worth visiting just for this one building alone.


What did I love about Sagrada Família?

On the outside, the church tells biblical stories. The Nativity façade, the only side Gaudí saw completed in his lifetime, uses lifelike figures to present all aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah – the familiar and the unfamiliar, the triumphant and the tragic.


The details are incredible.


On the other side, the Passion façade follows Gaudí’s plans but with the style of a completely different sculptor.


The story of the betrayal, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus the Saviour unfolds through figures with square-cut faces and yet amazing depths of emotion.


The third façade, supposedly the “largest and the most striking” has not even been begun yet, but will tell the story of the risen and triumphant Jesus the King.


The building is fascinating and complex and intricate on the outside.


There are extra, unexpected details and symbols everywhere you can see.




And then you walk inside …


The interior took my breath away.


The light.


The colours.


The sense of space. This is a place for prayer and reflection, to marvel at the God of creation in all His magnitude.


A place to slow down, to wonder, to worship.


What did I learn from Sagrada Família?

I teach a subject called “Understanding the Biblical Narrative” and in my PhD I looked at ideas of orality and embodiment in understanding the Bible. For me, this church brings some of that to life. The biblical story can be seen, felt, even interacted with, in a completely different way to reading words on a page.


The world has changed an awful lot since 1882, and I wonder if the architects and funders of this project had known how accessible the Bible would become whether they would have embarked on this project. But I’m so glad they did.


“Reading” the story in this way takes time, and oral storytelling to go along with it, and imagination, and engagement. Despite the overwhelming accessibility of the printed and digital text, things we can so often lose.


The contrast between the outside and inside of the church, for me, took me to a whole other place. It is one thing to know the stories, to ponder their meaning, to enter into their emotions.


It is yet another to be brought to a place of stillness, silence, speechlessness.


This is not a church of my tradition, and in some ways it is more a tourist attraction than a house of prayer. And yet … sitting in the pews, taking time to tune out the voices bustling around (listening to this podcast helped me focus), for me this became a place of prayer and worship.


To be sure, I have experienced the same wonder and worship in nature, in community, alone in my room.  I don’t need a place like this to spend time with God, but it sure is a genuine delight to be provided with one every now and then.