The Other Side

One thing that I am constantly reminded of in Israel/Palestine is that just about everything is smaller and closer together than I had imagined. We can look at a map, even pictures and try to get a sense of things but the scale is not always so clear. The Sea of Galilee was yet another example for me, it’s not small, it’s just smaller than I thought. Unless the haze is too thick you can always see the “other side.” The other side… there is always the other side … often vague but ever present, the other side.

A few times in scripture we hear about Jesus going to the other side, “They came to the other side of the sea, to the country of the Gerasenes.” (Mark 5:1) “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” (Luke 8:22) “And he left them, and getting into the boat again, he went across to the other side.” (Mark 8:13) Even the Priest and the Levite walked on the “other side” of the road. (Luke 10)

The upside, downside, right side, wrong side, inside, outside, even the blind side, there are multitudes of other sides. The many sides of the Sea of Galilee were the backdrop to seeing many sides of Jesus. Around the Sea, he cured the Gerasene Demoniac, he calmed the sea, he feed the multitudes with fish and bread, he preached the Sermon on the Mount, and he lived out his ministry amongst the many sides of the Galilee.

Inside the Tabgha Church (Multiplication of Fishes and Loaves)

Tabgha Church Detail

Church on what is known as the Mount of Beatitudes .

The sign that welcomes you at Capernaum.

Inside the church at Capernaum

The other side … some place all together different … or is it? Crossing from one side of the road or the lake might take time and even have its challenges but when we get there, exactly how “all together different is it? I keep finding people with pretty similar goals: food, water, shelter, family, safety, a future… hmmm.

Yes the world would be rather flat without the multiple sides that give us so much dimension and variety, curiosity and insight. But oh if the multiple sides would lend themselves more to creativity, understanding and mutuality instead of to division, fear and hate…

Jesus, Mary and Joseph

They lived in Nazareth.

… the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. (Luke 1:26-27)

The Basilica of the Annunciation celebrates all things Mary especially the biblical announcement of Jesus Birth. It is the largest Church in the Middle East and built on the traditional site of the home of Mary and Joseph (a cave which appears to have had some structural and cosmetic enhancements through the years…)

Enhanced or not, it is a beautiful focal point for the lower church.

The upper church is massive and houses large representations of the Virgin Mary (with or without the baby Jesus) from 20 different countries.

USA

Mexico

Japan

The Basilica had numerous details depicting biblical stories and genealogies, creative and extravagant art along with cordons and arrows to direct. The representations of Mary were the most interesting, reminding all that care to see that the message of Jesus is heard by many and has the ability to transcend culture, time and place.

The Church of St. Joseph reminds us that Jesus had an earthly Dad. It honors traditional stories of Joseph.

Joseph teaching his son to be a carpenter…

Jesus and Mary comforting Joseph in his death.

The Synagogue Church was my favorite, but apparently not the favorite of many others. As I spent my visit in solitude. Reading:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read,  and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

Of course this wasn’t the actual Synagogue, it was a Crusader room built on the traditional site.

Actual Synagogue or not, it was exceptionally peaceful and contemplative. I found myself at ease and wanting to spend some time there. I wondered if on another trip others might like to join me there doing just that, spending time, reading and contemplating scripture?

There once was a woman…

…she met Jesus at a well…

I saw that well. I touched its stones and its water. I went to the well to see the place where Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman, in “a Samaritan city called Sychar[1], near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water…” (John 4:5-7)

There are holy sites all over the holy land. Some for the Christians, Jews, Muslims and others, some for multiple faiths, some are more disputed and some seem more certain. Jacob’s Well, some say is considered one of the most authentic sites in the Holy Lands and Jews, Samaritans, Christians and Muslims all associate the well with Jacob.

I saw that well. I touched its stones and its water and more than anywhere else I have been in the Holy Lands I was moved. I stood there in awe of being in the place where Jesus spoke about the water that gives life to an unknowing woman who had just been going about her day and happened across a man that would tell her everything she had ever done and change her faith and her future forever…

People still go regularly to drink the water and see the well, I hope they feel and remember Jesus there too. I hope they touch that well and that the well touches them. Seeing the well made the story (John 4:5-42) more real somehow and my faith in the Jesus, who gave and gives the water of life, refreshed.

Over the well a church has been built repeatedly through the years. The most recent one was completed in 2007. It has a beautiful mosaic in front of the entrance and has been built in the basilica style from Crusader times.

To get to the well you have to take some steps down to the crypt. They ask you to not take pictures but the internet is full of them – so check them out.

I traveled there with a group of lovely people from North America and the Middle East. The Priest in residence was quite a sport as well…


[1] At different biblical times the city was also referred to as Shechem. Today the city is called Nablus.

The Star of Christmas

To be a Christian in India means many things. But most distinctly at Christmas time it means to hang a star. All Christian homes hang a star and often a lit star in front of or over their homes. You see stars often large and bright, and some with the greeting, “Happy Christmas!” at churches, Christian schools and even some businesses. It’s a subtle yet quite visible reminder that … “at this house we are Christian.” A simple star that points the way to the center of Christmas, a simple star that says its Christmas time and we remember the coming of God in Jesus.

We remember that God came into the world in human flesh, in the form of a baby, innocent and weak, beautiful and full of love to dwell amongst us in this world to feel the things we feel; joy and pain, love and hatred, friendship and betrayal.  Remember Jesus as the center, the reason and the star of Christmas!

Happy Christmas!

My Surreal Reality

Did you ever have an experience where you woke up every single day and said “this must be a dream?” Then you are starting to appreciate how these past 2 months have felt for me. I so often feel overwhelmed by the surreal reality that is my life right now. Who would have imagined what time spent away could do and where it might place me…

I traveled from Bangalore to Tirupati to see the community of and talk to the congregation of St Luke’s Lutheran Church of the SALC (South Andhra Lutheran Church). The SALC has had connections with the ELCA and her predecessor bodies.

Everywhere I go I am translated by someone, as my fast American accent is a bit confusing to the British English with an Indian accent that is spoken here. Sometimes I really wish I knew the language but then it seems we are able to make ourselves understood even without words. A gentle touch on the back, a strong arm stopping you from danger, one word and a finger pointing you in the right direction, eyes of fear and question and smiles of friendship…

When I spoke at St Luke’s I was honored to be translated by The Rev. M. Vijaya Victor, the first woman to be ordained in the SALC. I think she did well, but there were a couple times she gave me the look which said, “You want me to say what???” (I am sure this is not surprising to hear…) Just like I reminded the congregation of St Luke’s, Jesus goes before us, just like he said he would. (Mark 16:7) Thank you Jesus for the multitude of ways you work through us and the people we meet!

Full Moon

Jesus you are everywhere…I heard one of the best sermons I have ever heard about Jesus while visiting a Swami when we took a stop on our 14 km Hindu pilgrimage walk around the Mountain of Shiva from 8 PM – 1 AM with about 500,000 other pilgrims. Unbelievable! I was blown away…

I was planning and looking forward to this Full Moon walk (which happens during every full moon.) I had heard it was a mass of prayerful people walking, walking, walking barefoot, quietly sometimes singing, orderly but in mass, and that it was something you have to see to believe. My “advisers” were right.

The official map, which you do NOT need, because everyone is going in the same direction (actually you will have a rather difficult time going the opposite because of the volume of people – you just have to keep moving) … anyway the map lists about 40 holy sites along the way, you can stop at any, all or none of them. We made a few stops, not many but clearly the highlight was visiting with Suriyalingam Swami, a Brahmin priest (Hindu.)

He invited us all into his home which was a room of maybe 7 x 10 feet with no furniture; he already had three other men sitting with him. All nine of us, a pastor, a priest, theological students and volunteers, came in and sat on the floor with them.

We’d all barely settled on the floor when the prayer and praise of Jesus began. Suriyalingam Swami claimed that Jesus might be saying to us (the collective us) “I am looking for you, why are you not looking for me?” He retold the story of a crucified Christ beautifully and with passion. He led us in the Lord’s Prayer and asked that we come to visit him again because when we do, we bring Jesus to him.

Jesus you are everywhere.