PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — The Holy Land, Day 11

I am writing this blog with my headphones on and classical music ringing in my ears.

We are staying at a Youth Hostel on the Sea of Galilee, where a lot of families come, and near as I can tell, let their children run wild. Last night, there were shouts in the hallway echoing loudly in my room until midnight and they started up again early this morning. I suspect it is going to be another long night.

Different cultures, different standards. Part of the travel experience. Not all experiences are positive, but we learn from them, putting the pieces together.

Putting the pieces together could easily be the theme for today as we visited Zippori National Park.

Sepphoris was once the capital of Galilee, a place where throughout history there have been repeated rebellions. Whether it was the Jews rebelling against occupation in 55 B.C., rising up against Herod, or when the Crusaders had their last stand before being defeated by the Saladin and the Muslims, or when the Jews returned in 1948 during Ramadan and forced the Palestinians to leave, the history of this place, like all of Palestine and Israel and Judea, is one of rise, rebellion, and ouster … pieces torn apart and put together again.

During the last battle, in 1948, most of the people who had been living here for thousands of years were forced to seek refuge in Lebanon and Syria.

I learned something new today about what happened during the war. After the war in 1948, most of the Palestinians were forced to leave, but there was a brief time when they were told that they could come back and live here again.

Mosiac at Zippori National Park.
Mosiac at Zippori National Park.

Unfortunately, the announcement of that was often only posted in papers in Hebrew, with short notice, so most didn’t know and ultimately lost their house forever because of the law of absenteeism: If you aren’t in your home, it can be taken. That explained a lot.

But we weren’t focused on modern history today but rather ancient history as we looked at the amazing mosaics that were at this location. The intricacy of the design and the quality really was quite astounding.

Mona Lisa of Galilee.
Mona Lisa of Galilee.

Besides the mosaics, I took pleasure in a rather simple action. This city was the center of Galilee when Jesus grew up in the small town of Nazareth nearby, so there is no question he would have been here.

As we walked around, our guide pointed out a road whose stones were original. You could trace it back thousands of years, and you could see the groves in the stone from the wheels of chariots that went over it.

So I took off my shoes and walked down the smooth stones. I walked where Jesus walked. Literally.

From Zippori National Park, we headed to Nazareth. Prior to 1948, Nazareth was largely a Christian community, but in the aftermath of the war, it shifted to 70 percent Muslim and 30 percent Christian, as refugees came to here to rebuild their lives.

It has grown from the sleepy small town in the time of Jesus to a community of 75,000.

There we saw three different churches, dedicated to Gabriel, Mary and Joseph.

St. Gabriel Catholic Church.
St. Gabriel Catholic Church.

The first was St. Gabriel Catholic Church. A stream runs under the church, which is the place that it is said that Mary first received the angel Gabriel.

I have to admit, I was baffled as I heard this story. I kept running through Luke in my head, wondering if I missed something. I am happy to report that I did not (having read that text hundreds of times).

The spot where according to the Koran and Christian tradition it is said that Mary first received the angel Gabriel.
The spot where according to the Koran and Christian tradition it is said that Mary first received the angel Gabriel.

This story is attributed to both Catholic tradition and the Koran — so I did not sleep through something in seminary I should have been paying attention to … at least not with regards to Mary and a stream.

The second place we visited was my favorite of all of the major churches we have visited (there were a few smaller places, like where  Jesus wept over Jerusalem and the Shepherd’s Chapel that I really loved).

The Basilica of the Annunciation and the altar near where Mary is said to have encountered the angel Gabriel.
The Basilica of the Annunciation and the altar near where Mary is said to have encountered the angel Gabriel.

The Basilica of the Annunciation was completed in 1969, and one of the unique things about it is that there are incredible works of art from many nations that circle the outside and the inside of the Basilica. They each portray a depiction of the annunciation.

What I loved about it was how in many of them, Mary was seen as representative of the nation — so she was Asian in Japan’s Annunciation and Middle Eastern in the one from Iraq and South American in Peru’s.

I love that Jesus and Mary aren’t just viewed here through a certain lens, but rather all-encompassing — as the pieces come together to reveal a greater whole — a God bearer who represents all people and places.

Would that we could see God that way — and each other as images of God. So much of the history of hate might be able to transform.

Sculpture at the Basilica of the Annunciation.
Sculpture at the Basilica of the Annunciation.

There was a space in the Basilica —  a grotto — where they believe it is historically quite possible the spot where Mary was living when Gabriel visited her. It felt holy and sacred and reminded me of how human our story is. And how it relies on our being open to God coming into our presence in the present.

I think that openness to God being present — Emanuel, God with us, in the pieces of life is my greatest take away from today. Our lives are made up of different parts and our world is made up of different people.

That was drilled home this evening as our group bid farewell to our bus driver and guide. Both Muslim men. One an Israeli citizen, the other a resident of the West Bank. We saw both go through questions and indignities in their time with us.

Gracious men profiled by race and religion, they will not be coming to Jordan with us.

And later, I shared a drink and more conversation with Carol, my Israeli friend.

Each has a story. For them a true story. And as the stories are told the pieces come together to reveal the full picture, which is complicated, long and hard to comprehend.

But it is only with God and our openness to the peace that God brings that there will be any peace in this area.

Because God alone can put the pieces together to reveal beauty of a mosaic of people from every race and people living in harmony.

And it is that promise in which I hope.

One thought on “PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — The Holy Land, Day 11”

  • Karen Bane November 23, 2017 at 9:51 am

    Paula, I have enjoyed reading your blogs but want to see them all compiled in a book so I can reread them all. Thank you and bless you for sharing.


Leave a Reply