Thursday April 20th
I had some anxiety leading up to Day 4 as there were two words on the itinerary that, to me personally, can often sound like a threat: boat ride.
Leading up to the trip, my mom bought two large packs of Dramamine, and we took them every morning like multivitamins. For Day 4, we considered taking two to account for the aforementioned boat ride, but decided it might be overkill at seven o’clock in the morning.
Luckily, when we pulled the curtains open in our Tiberias hotel room, we saw the Sea of Galilee, smooth as glass.
Our whole group of 200 got out on the water in two large wooden replica “Jesus boats.” The captains tied the boats together and then Nikko opened the morning with the song “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)”.
If you don’t know the song, the lyrics go:
Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
On our drive over to the dock, our tour guide Ruby recounted the story of Jesus calling Peter out onto the water (Matthew 14:22-33). After taking a few steps on the Sea of Galilee, Peter notices how big the waves are, and he loses faith and begins to sink.
“Peter did start to doubt Jesus,” Ruby said, “but think of the other disciples in the boat as they watched him take those first steps. Imagine the faith he was inspiring in them. That’s why, when I’m feeling low in my faith, I like to think of the eleven other disciples. I like to remind myself of the faith I could inspire in those around me if I choose to turn from my doubts and trust God.”
I thought of this as we sat out on the water, the sun slowing rising above the horizon. I thought of all the doubts, big and small, that weighed on my heart, and I imagined what it would be like to turn away from them. What that would do for me, and for those around me. I took a deep breath of the crisp, clean air, and I felt a little lighter.
From the Sea of Galilee, we drove to the Mount of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5-7).
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount opens with the Beatitudes. You may know them as the series of blessings. Blessed are those who are poor, Blessed are those who mourn, etc.
We got to tour the beautiful grounds, including the Roman church built by Antonio Barluzzi in the 1930’s. Inside, we found a German tour group who were seated on the pews, singing a hymn. The acoustics made it sound beautiful, but the unity and shared faith driving the group to sing together made it more than that. You could feel the song, even if you couldn’t understand the words.
After lunch, where a good portion of our group ordered “St. Peter’s Fish” (which is served on a plate with the head and tail!), we headed to Capernaum.
Dubbed “the town of Jesus” since it was where Jesus did so much of his teaching and healing, Capernaum still has standing ruins that date back to the time of that teaching.
There is a synagogue from the 4th century built right on top of what was known as “Jesus’ synagogue”, and ruins from what is believed to have been Peter’s home, as well as the home where the man was lowered through the roof in order to be healed by Jesus (Mark 2:1-12).
For our last stop of the day, we visited Magdala, a site that has both modern and ancient roots.
My favorite part was Duc en Altum, a beautiful church. Inside there are four rooms alongside the main chapel. Each room contains an exquisite work of mosaic art, depicting famous stories from the Bible.
In the main chapel, a boat sits in front of a glass window, with the Sea of Galilee in the background. It is designed so that, when sitting in one of the pews, the boat looks as if it is sitting on the Sea of Galilee.
Friday April 21st
When I was seven years old, I was baptized at my church.
My main memory of the experience isn’t of being in the water, but of walking along the half-wall outside the church afterward. My hair was wet around my face and my friend was walking along the wall in front of me. I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of goodness, as if it was glowing out of me. It is a feeling I still think about, namely when I feel distant in my faith, or generally downhearted in my life.
I thought of this feeling on Friday morning as I put on my robe and wandered down to the Jordan River alongside many of my fellow group members.
It had been almost 25 years since I’d been baptized, and the first time I’d ever public affirmed my faith as an adult. While I’d never necessarily lost faith in those years, I’d definitely lost that glowing feeling. I’d lost the innocence that came with being a kid, and allowed the darkness in the world to weigh on me and influence me. I’d spent many years only mentioning my faith at church, afraid to burden anyone or make them uncomfortable. And in many ways, I’d only practiced my faith at church, afraid to stand out or make myself vulnerable to criticism or confrontation.
I was not used to the comradery and community that I was experiencing on the trip. The huge numbers of like-minded, supportive people who not only encouraged my faith, but challenged it to deepen and grow.
To add to that, when I waded out into the water, I was stood next to Mr. Kendrick, my elementary school principal. Though I was almost sure he didn’t recognize me (and I didn’t remind him since it’d been 20 years and he’d had thousands of students since) I was brought back to my seven-year-old self, and to have him there, by my side, made me feel safe, at home. It felt like I’d made my way back to the beginning somehow, like I was still that little girl, ready to glow.
After I came out of the water, I smiled. I couldn’t help it. And I was met with applause from our group. My mom and I stepped out of the water and people clapped and high fived us, offering congratulations in bunches. My smile spread wide across my face and my cheeks ached as I waddled back to the dressing room and changed out of my robe.
Our next stop of the day was Tel Dan, an ancient city previously belonging to the tribe of Dan.
Ruins sat among a beautiful, scenic trail.
At one point we stopped at an overlook where we could see the country of Lebanon in the distance, and near the end we saw “Abraham’s Gate”, a bronze gate made of mud bricks estimated to have been built in 1750BC.
From Tel Dan, we made our way to Caesarea Philippi, where we had lunch on the shaded picnic tables before being given time to explore the park.
Like so many of the places we visited, it was shocking to see the craftsmanship that existed in ancient times. We often discussed in our group what would be left standing of our modern society should someone be around to discover it 2000 years from now. Would it communicate the same purposefulness? Would it accurately describe the people we are today and the lives we are living?
I wondered what I hope they’d find 2000 years from now and what I hope they wouldn’t.
I looked down at my feet, aware of where I was standing, what I saw around me, and the hopes I had for my life, and the future, and I wondered about the person and people who stood in this same spot, thousands of years before me—did they wonder the same things?
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