PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot the Rapids — The Holy Land, Day 12

“Very early in the morning, before the sun had risen, Jesus got up and went to a quiet place to

This verse has ordered my life for years, serving as a reminder for me that Jesus, whose mission it was to save the world, literally, still found it vital to pray and made room for it in his busy days, so who am I to think I don’t need Daily Quiet Times with God.

This morning, I had the perfect Quiet Time.

I awoke about 5:15 and knew I wasn’t going back to sleep, so I quietly dressed, so as not to
disturb my roommate too much, and slipped down to the Sea of Galilee well before the sun had

It was quiet, and reflective and beautiful.
As the dawn sky began to lighten, I prayed and I sang all of my favorite songs about Jesus and water. “You have come down to the Lakeshore” and “Come to the Water” were both sung at my ordination, and I always associated those with the Sea of Galilee.

I was in my element.

It was a magical time of prayer and reflection for me — a reminder of why I need that time with God to stay focused and how it connects me with Jesus, who was as human as he was God,and who needed reflection time too.

For all of the incredible things in Israel, the Sea of Galilee is definitely “my place.”

After breakfast, we headed to the Mount of the Beatitudes for a wonderful Eucharistic experience.

The chapel is at the center, but there are several altars surrounding it that can be reserved, so
we set up for Communion on Altar 1.

The Bishop presided, having four different people read four different versions of the Beatitudes in lieu of a sermon. It was more time for reflections on what it means to be blessed and how the values of Christians are at odd with the world — but that we will be blessed for being faithful.

Sharing the Common Cup and song united us with the disciples over the past two thousand years who have come to this place to hear the voice of God. It truly felt like we were part of the Communion of Saints, in every time and place.

During the service, large acorn like seeds kept falling from on high, which added a sense of danger to the service. After it was completed, I learned who the culprits were — at least five parrots who used the camouflage of the tree well.

We had 45 minutes after worship ended before we needed to board the bus, and I used it well. I
wandered from altar to altar and heard worship services or songs in at least a dozen

My favorite was when I head one group singing to the tune of “The Last Supper,” which I videotaped and posted, tagging everyone who appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar with me in 2015, the musical that made the song famous.

I also found a quiet place to be alone here as well. One song that has always touched my soul is from the Iona community “Take, Oh Take Me as I am, Summon up what I shall be, set your seal upon my heart and live in me.”

It has been a song that has centered me at many crossroads in my life and I sang it over and over again on the Mount of Beatitudes, to serve as a touchstone as I begin a new call in Hartford, but also as I offer myself up to God in service to the people whose cries I’ve heard
here in the Holy Land.

God has called me to care and will summon up what I need to be a bearer of this message from the people of Palestine.

Going from one spiritual high to the next, we drove to Capernaum, the town where Jesus lived and was the center of his ministry.

Whereas Nazareth is now a lively modern city with large churches to mark the places where Mary, Joseph and Jesus lived, Capernaum was an archeological site and for me a place of reflection.

The Synagogue there is the largest ever found and it is quite possibly this is at the same place
and location where Jesus taught.

There is also a space over which there is now a church that is thought to be the homes of Peter and Jesus.

But for me the highlight was seeing the layout of homes in the city. One of my favorites Bible Stories is the one where four friends bring the man who could not walk to Jesus by lowering him through the roof.

I love this story because there have been times in my life when I felt like I couldn’t move and it was others carrying me to Jesus in prayer that got me through.

Recently I shared that image with a friend who was struggling and I know it helped.

Seeing that spot and carrying friends to Jesus in prayer made it real to me. This whole trip makes the story real. They make Jesus more real.

After more time of reflection on the beach where I pictured Simon, Andrew and the sons of Zebedee being called to “fish for people,” it was back on the bus for a fish dinner at Peter’s Place and one more stop in Israel.

Enroute to Beit She’an, we took a route that went through the Golan Heights, which I didn’t expect. The Golan Heights have been a tense area since Israel seized them in 1967 and a tense truce followed with Syria talking 5 percent and Israel the remainder.

When that division was not respected by Israel and they seized more land, the UN declared that it was all Syrian territory but Israel ignores that and controls it all, without regard for international law.

I decided to go along with the UN and added Syria to my country list. But we didn’t get out to walk. Our guide said the Syrians left lots of land minds when they retreated.

We toured Beit She’an, an impressive ruins that traces its origins as far back as the 15th Century BCE and was destroyed by an earthquake in the 8th Century CE.

Beit She’an’s extraordinary Roman ruins gave us a great sense of what it was like to live, work and shop in the Roman Empire. Colonnaded streets, an 8500-seat theater that looks much as it did 1800 years ago with the original public bathrooms are nearby,  two bathhouses and huge
stone columns that lie right where they fell during the 749 earthquake evoke the grandeur, self-confidence and decadence of ancient Roman provincial life.

Nowhere was that decadence more evident than the brothels in the center of town — right down the street from the theater. And looming large around the city was a huge hill with a cross on it — used as the site of the Crucifixion in the movie Jesus​ ​Christ​ ​Superstar​.

For me the most striking story was the one about a skeleton that was found of a man crushed by a pillar in the earthquake — with a pile of gold coins lying next to his hand bones. If ever there was a more poignant story proving “You can’t take it with you” I’d like to hear it.

Following our tour, we headed to the border to bid our driver Ismael and our guide Tareq goodbye as we continued on our Jordanian part of the journey, which I will cover in my next blog.

Israel and Palestine were confusing, overwhelming and filled me with a host of emotions I will explore at a blog when the trip is over, but my experiences today reminded me of the one things I need to do most when it comes to what is happening here.

I need to take the time to pray. And then carry the people of Palestine with my actions on their behalf, when they can’t move forward themselves, knowing that we find blessings in hungering for righteousness and being peacemakers.

In the end, like the man under the pillar, we will all fall victim to death, under the weight of time,but what becomes our legacy is not what we have, but what we do for others. In that, ultimately,
we find our greatest blessing.

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