Tag Archives: Israel

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.

 

 

 

 

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Today would be a good day to walk the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem

I’ve realised that in my Monday travel reflections, I have actually been avoiding writing about some of my very favourite places to visit, because it is so hard to capture in a few words and images why I love them so much. One such place is Jerusalem. Definitely one of my favourite places in the world, I’ve been there on four different trips and I certainly plan to go back again in the future. In particular, today I’m thinking how lovely it would be to walk through the stone streets of the Old City. I won’t be able to capture all I love about it, but I’d like to at least make a start!

Mt Scopus view over Jerusalem

What do I love about the Old City streets?

I love the beautiful Jerusalem sandstones themselves. If stones could talk … what tales they could tell! And yet, silent as they are, they testify to the creativity and ingenuity of those who have come before, and to the inevitable passage of time.

Tower of David

I love the history. Imagining all those who have walked these streets before me. Allowing stories from ancient and more modern times come to life in the place where they actually happened.

Roman Cardo

I love the layers. The remnants of ruined houses from the Roman era frozen in time beneath the pavement.

Burnt House

Walking through the tunnel built by Hezekiah that lies beneath the foundations of the city itself.

Hezekiah's Tunnel

The archaeological excavations of sites where Jesus visited and spoke.
Pool of Bethesda

The jumble of streets with steps and twists and corners and hidden delights.

Old City street

Walking on the rooftops with their paradoxical mix of satellite dishes and ancient stones.

Rooftop Walk

I love the walls. Walking atop the city wall, circumnavigating the city just as David, Nehemiah and so many others have done before.

Walls

The ancient Israelite wall unearthed below the current street.

Hezekiah's Wall

The Western Wall. The remnants of the glorious Temple of Herod, a place for prayer and contemplation every day …

Western Wall

… and for an amazing celebration to welcome in the Sabbath evening.

Western Wall Sabbath

I love the markets. The hustle and bustle of shopkeepers selling artefacts and trinkets and the foods of a number of different cultures.

Old City shop

And getting up early enough to walk through the streets before the shops open and the tourists descend.

Old City shops opening

And I love seeing people’s faith in practice. Orthodox Jews mingling with Israeli soldiers, seeking ways to respect their shared traditions.

Crowds

Muslims gathered to study in the grounds of the Dome of the Rock.

Dome of the Rock study group

Christian pilgrims walking the Via Dolorosa, following the footsteps of the crucified Lord Jesus.

Via Dolorosa sign

What have I learned from walking the Old City streets?

There is an incredible richness of tradition and history and faith in this city. A sacred place for the three of the world’s major religions, it has been a place of incredible prayer and devotion.

Old City view

Of course it has also been a place of terrible conflict and strife. As an outsider, the complex combination of historical experiences and current politics makes it hard to see how this can ever truly be a city of peace.

Western Wall Israeli soldiers 1

And yet … in the Old City itself, people of different cultures, languages and faiths work and live side by side. Ordinary people seeking to live their lives, even as the currents of world politics and religion swirl around them. They remind me once again of the common humanity we all share.

Old City Market

While as a Christian I believe that the story of Jerusalem (along with all other stories) ultimately finds its fulfilment in Jesus, I acknowledge that I can learn so much from people of other faiths and practices. I remember my own “good Samaritan story” – when I twisted my ankle quite badly one Friday morning on the uneven steps outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Christian pilgrims swarmed past me oblivious, the Israeli police paid me no heed, and the first Muslim shopkeeper I asked for assistance was afraid of compromising his faith by touching me on his holy day. Another Muslim stall-holder came to my aid, providing me with a cane and helping me hobble up the street to where I was staying. He told me why the first man had been reluctant to help, but that he believed helping someone in need was more important than following religious rules. I shared with him that Jesus told a beautiful story that very much said the same thing.

Mosque and Israeli flags

Psalm 122 calls its readers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. Is that because this city more so than any other needs peace? Perhaps. But it is also because this city was for the psalmist the place where the living God had revealed His very presence. The prayer was that His true shalom might be known as it radiated out from Himself and His people. In Jesus, God has revealed Himself once and for all to all people everywhere. No longer do we need to go to Jerusalem to meet with God. But I still pray that this place, so dear to the heart of His people throughout the ages, would continue to be a place where the hope of peace and wholeness that He brings may be experienced more and more.

Psalm 122 sign in three languages

So many words. Who is really listening?

Listening - FDR Memorial

There has been so much going on in the world over the last few weeks. Gaza. Israel. Ukraine. MH 17. Iraq. Syria. Nigeria. Nauru. I’ve found myself in the paradoxical position of feeling lost for words … and yet wanting to say so much.

But when I scroll through my facebook or twitter feeds I see link after link to articles and opinion pieces and blog posts. So much virtual ink being spilled. So many words. So many people speaking.

It makes me wonder.

Who is listening?

Certainly not the people commenting on many of the opinion pieces or blog posts I have read. Mostly they seem to be talking past each other, in a hurry to accuse each other of being on the wrong side, or of saying or thinking the wrong thing.

So many strong opinions. So many assumptions that one comment made implies a whole host of other opinions and positions. So many implications that there are only two sides to an issue and one is completely right and the other completely wrong. So many black and white pronouncements. So many accusations.

Yes, I have informed opinions about what is going on in Gaza. Yes, I have strong feelings about what is happening to the Christians in Iraq and how it is (or isn’t) being portrayed in the mainstream media. Yes, I have thoughts about the shooting down of MH 17 and how our country has responded to it. Yes, I have passions about how the Australian government is talking about and treating refugees arriving by boat. Yes, I am still concerned about the missing kidnapped girls in Nigeria and violence against women everywhere. Yes, I could go on.

I could write post after post about each of those situations. I have tried to educate myself about each of them. I have some experience with the issues involved in some of them. I hope I bring a thoughtful, theological perspective to bear on them.

But before I say another word about them, I have two questions. One is for you and the other is for me.

First, to you. Would you listen? Would you really listen to me? Or would you use what I said to judge me and pigeonhole me and decide whether I am on “your side” of an issue or not? Would I simply confirm what you already think, or lead you to dismiss my thought processes because you have already decided you disagree with my conclusion? Is there any chance that something I say could change how you think about these situations? Because if there isn’t, you cannot hear me.

Second, to me. Have I really listened? Before I speak, have I taken every opportunity to really hear those who are directly affected by the situations the rest of us are opining about? Because I fear that what I see too often is people like me, people in comfortable, wealthy, educated, privileged positions, pontificating about situations in which real people are suffering. How many of them have I listened to? I mean really listened to. How many of them have I greeted by name, sat down with, and genuinely sought to hear?

I was wondering the other day how different the internet would be if there was a rule that you could only write a blog post or an opinion piece about a situation in the world if you were actually on a first name basis with a real person living in that situation and had listened to what they have to say. No doubt that’s an idealistic, unworkable idea, but it’s one that challenges me and keeps me asking questions rather than making statements.

The apostle James spoke these words of wisdom nearly two thousand years ago.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.”

What would it look like for us to listen, really listen, to these words in the way we respond to the crises around our world? Do you think perhaps it could somehow make a difference?