Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Maybe probably

There is some seriously old stuff in Israel.  When I traveled there with my family in 1987, the visits to churches and historical or biblical sites seemed boring and endless - rocks, rocks, more rocks, too many people in large buses,  My excuse for this irreverent remembrance is that I was seventeen and much more interested in the present and the future - and frankly, myself - than in anything that happened forever ago.

Before I left on my trip, Dan and I had lunch at a Jordanian restaurant uptown, a joint that serves good falafel and shwarma.  The owner strolled up to us towards the end of our meal and said he'd just made some tea flavored with cardamom and sage, and would we care for a cup? We pushed aside our plastic baskets with the remains of our falafel and fries to make room for china tea cups and a small tray holding sugar and spoons.  We told our host where I was headed, and his response was to exclaim, "Why God does this? Why does everything have to happen in such a small place? Everything important in one place? Why not Mohammed in Argentina, Jesus in Alaska? It makes things so difficult.  So difficult and so beautiful."

It does make things so difficult. And it is also what makes "the holy lands" so interesting.  Our extremely knowledgeable driver, George, liked to point out all the ways in which the Jews, Muslims and Christians are "cousins" - the ritual bathing, the prayers, the holy sites themselves, the ancient stories.  He also prompted our personal tour guide, Bonnie, about all the places where "maybe probably" stories from the Bible occurred.  "Here is where maybe probably Jesus spoke to the fishermen."  We saw places where Jesus maybeprobably walked, preached, lived...What astounded me was not so much that it might have been Jesus maybeprobably doing those things, but that we could visit places where people of a time much farther ago than the first century BC walked, sat and lived their lives. Not maybeprobably, but definitely. Israel is a dry country of stone, and though stone can be covered by sand and dirt, it does not deteriorate very quickly, and so much of what was still is!


In Jericho we visited Tell es-Sultan - where one city has been built upon another city has been built upon another city - and the earliest area to be excavated had walls of what is thought to be a neolithic home.  Walls. I could imagine someone sitting and resting against those walls, in out of the blazing sun, 10,000 years ago. Living their human lives in the oldest city in the world.

When we traveled to the north end of the Sea of Galilee we visited a place where a new hotel was to be built.  Before any construction begins, the site must be preliminarily excavated to a certain extent to make sure nothing awesome is being destroyed in the process, and by awesome I mean Really Old. In this instance, the would-be hoteliers discovered a first-century synagogue, and a market place, and a ritual bath called a mikvah that is believed to be the ancient city of Magdala, on the shores of Galilee.  Magdala, as in Mary of Magdalene.

We had an impromptu tour of the site by one of the volunteers working on the site (you too can travel there and take part in the excavation!) who explained the particular significance of the carvings uncovered in the synagogue, but what caught my imagination were the baths.  When they were discovered and excavated, there was a moment when stones were removed that held back the mountain spring that originally filled the bath.  With the stones gone, the water flowed again, filling the baths.  Seeing the steps descending into the water, I was moved to imagine the mothers and grandmothers using those steps, performing their cleansing.  Living their lives.

The Sea of Galilee is replete with maybeprobablies.  At Tabgha there is the church of the multiplication, where the famous story of the loaves and the fishes is to have taken place.  There is a church called Peter's Primacy where Jesus called Peter to lead the church.  There is a beautiful church and convent on the Mount of the Beatitudes...

Tabgha - mosaic on the floor of the church
Peter's Primacy
 At the church of Peter's Primacy we were able to step into the lake, which was cool on our hottest day so far.  We waded past a large group of rambunctious teenagers, and paused to watch a feisty  Franciscan monk shoo a young woman in a bikini from the water.  She somehow missed all of the signs about modesty in a holy place...

We got to talking to this group of young people, and found out that they were Palestinians from the Diyar school in Bethlehem, "out" from behind the wall on a day pass for the holy week!  One sixteen year old we spoke with said that it was the first time she was out of the West Bank in 10 years.

   "It does not make sense that I should need permission, a pass, to come to my home, but I have the attitude of have joy with your day, live for today."

What a total pleasure it was to watch these kids be kids, splashing each other and enjoying their moment of freedom.

We ended this day up on the Mount of Beatitudes, which gave us a beautiful if hazy view of the lake.

Galilee, with view of Tabgha and Capernaum on the lakeshore

By this time I was more interested in the lizards playing in the garden and the brilliant metallic-blue hummingbirds in the trees than I was in fighting my way into another church full of pilgrims.

fellow weary travellers

The peaceful garden was the perfect balance to the pace of the day.

And I was clearly more interested in the human ironies of our surroundings than I was in the artifacts. But one more maybeprobably to share today.  This night we spent on the shore of the lake at Nof Ginosar kibbutz, which houses a museum that has a first century wooden boat!  The boat surfaced from the muddy bottom of the lake during a drought year, and was carefully preserved.  It is made of 16 different kinds of wood, probably salvaged from many other boats, and is from a time when Jesus maybeprobably was looking for fishers of men...

My pictures of this are all so very fuzzy, but, like those steps in Madgala, this ancient boat caught my imagination, and the maybeprobablies became a little more real.

I have posted several reflections on our trip to Palestine and Israel.  You can see them on the page titled Stories of Palestine.

I am posting every day in November.  Enjoy!

1 comment:

merry said...

Hmmmm, yup, I'm maybeprobably back there right now! That day along the Galilee was a long, hot, difficult day, in and out of the bus, more stimulation than I could contain. But in the end, as I told Bonnie recently, when I feel stressed and overwhelmed,I close my eyes and I'm on the Mount of the Beatitudes. The water is trickling down the aquaduct, the wind is blowing through the olive trees and I can tune out all the tourists and be peaceful in that beautiful spot. Thanks, honey.