When I visited Israel I took a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee. It was the setting for the gospel story of Jesus calming the storm.
Jesus and his disciples set off in a boat after a very busy day of preaching, healing and teaching. They needed time away from the crowds. Jesus immediately fell asleep but was awakened by his disciples who were afraid. Unlike his friends Jesus was able to rest despite the turbulent weather and his hectic, stressful day.
The morning I was out on the Sea of Galilee, our group leader asked us to deliberately turn our minds away from all our concerns and distractions and take some time to reflect and meditate. This wasn’t easy. Although I tried to block it out, I could still hear the sounds of traffic on the highway near the sea. I could hear someone’s i-pod music and the chatty voices of tourists in neighboring boats. I thought about the drama that had occurred on the trip where I was helping to chaperone twenty-five teenagers.
I had to concentrate so I could fill my mind with more peaceful things like the sound of the waves lapping up on the sides of the boat, the sight of a bird skimming the water, the beat of my own heart and the blessings of my trip so far.
St. Francis of Assisi once said “Before you can proclaim peace with your lips you must be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.
Dead Sea Beauty Treatment
Looking For God in the Wrong Places
Filed under israel, Religion
On my trip to the Middle East, I didn’t find God in the places I expected. Frankly, most of the stops on the traditional ‘Jesus’ tours are just tourist traps.
Huge ornate cathedrals have been built over the places where Jesus ‘might’ have been born, ‘could’ have preached, ‘maybe’ was crucified and ‘perhaps’ was buried. These places are gaudy, ornate shrines packed with hordes of sightseers often surrounded by noisy, crowded souvenir shops. I figured Jesus would probably start to cry or else get angry if he could see the way greedy entrepreneurs are taking advantage of him to make a ‘quick buck.’
You have to get off the beaten tourist path if you want to have ‘holy’ moments in the Holy Land. I had one in the Negev desert. We took a camel trek out to a Bedouin camp to spend the night in a tent there and I woke up just before dawn. I went to the edge of the camp to watch the sun come up over the desert. It was totally quiet and I waited in almost breathless silence as the sun slithered in a golden slice over the hills and then bathed the barren brown landscape around us in a shining orange light.
The church in Cana where Jesus turned the water into wine could have been just another tourist trap but they were actually having a wedding there. We arrived just as the newlyweds were exiting the building surrounded by smiling relatives and friends. Everyone was laughing and clapping. One of the wedding guests happily chatted with me and told me all about the bridal couple, their families, their jobs and their honeymoon plans.
I had another ‘holy’ moment in a Palestinian refugee camp as I watched three dark haired little girls playing a version of hopscotch. The children were surrounded by walls topped with barbed wire and riddled with bullets but they were having fun- laughing and skipping together.
Perhaps all too often we look for the ‘holy’ in the wrong places. God might not be in a fancy cathedral or at an historic site. God might be waiting for us in the quiet moments just before dawn, in the smile of a bride or the innocent play of children.
God if I can’t find you maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.
Other posts about Israel……
Gender Inequity at the Wailing Wall
The Pool of Bethesda- Personal Connections
Dead Sea Beauty Treatment
Filed under israel, Religion
I had the ultimate beauty treatment in the Dead Sea. I smeared myself in Dead Sea mud and stood in the baking heat while it hardened on my skin. Then I gingerly walked across rocks and into the world’s saltiest body of water. I floated on my back for a while, bobbing like a cork, hoping the water would just wash away all the mud I had slathered on myself from head to toe.
Floating on the Dead Sea is great fun but it didn’t do much to clean off the mud. Finally I stood shoulder deep in the water and scrubbed myself with vigor. Eventually a fresh water shower on the shore finished the job, although my bathing suit will probably never return to its original color.
I went to Israel for seven days with a group of 22 students from the high school in Hong Kong where I was an English teacher. One day we visited the Dead Sea. It’s called the Dead Sea because nothing lives in it-no animals, no fish and no plants. It’s just way too salty- ten times saltier than the ocean in fact. The Dead Sea is deadly to all living creatures save we hardy humans who can somehow survive in it. However if you enter the Dead Sea with any cuts or scrapes beware and be prepared for pain. That salty water stings! A tiny hangnail caused me untold grief as I stuck my hand in the water.
The mud of the Dead Sea is supposed to have magical restorative power because of all the minerals it contains. The people who try to sell you packages of the stuff assure you it will clear up your acne or eczema, erase your wrinkles, improve your blood circulation and moisturize your skin. I had hoped my Dead Sea beauty treatment would miraculously make me look so youthful my husband might not even recognize me when I returned home. The mud wasn’t that miraculous; although a man in a pottery shop in Jerusalem a few days after my Dead Sea swim refused to believe I was nearly 60. Maybe the mud did work!
The one great thing about our travel group slathering ourselves with mud is that it allowed us to swim in the Dead Sea incognito. Most of the students I traveled with were Asian. A large group of Korean, Chinese and Singaporean teens can cause quite a stir on the streets of an Israeli city. People stopped to stare at them, point at them or even give a polite Oriental bow. My students were gracious about receiving the attention even though it did become tiring after a few days. However for an hour or so at the Dead Sea no one knew they were Asian because they were covered in mud.
The Dead Sea is at the lowest elevation on earth and it is shrinking like crazy. In the last hundred years its water level has dropped by almost 80 feet and the sea itself has shrunk to less than a third of its former size. The Jordan River which feeds the Dead Sea is having its water diverted for drinking and irrigation and that’s why the Dead Sea is getting smaller and smaller. Our guide pointed out dangerous sinkholes that had been created by the shrinking sea. If it continues to decrease in size as anticipated, it may disappear altogether. I’m glad I got to swim in the Dead Sea when I did. That experience may not be possible in the future because, the Dead Sea may indeed be dead!
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I Never Got Used to the Guns in Israel
Gender Inequity at the Wailing Wall
Armed soldier on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem
I never got used to the guns. The one image in Israel that continued to startle me throughout my time there was the sight of so many people carrying weapons. Whether walking through the shopping district of old Jerusalem, standing on the Mount of Olives or attending a rock concert on the waterfront in Tiberius I was sure to see people armed with large guns. In a crowded restaurant where we ate lunch one day the only seat left for me was at a table with ten young people who each had a gun propped up beside them. “Could you please move your gun?” I had to ask one man so I could slide into the vacant seat.
Armed school field trip guide in the Golan Heights
One of my first days in Israel, my high school students and I hiked up to a waterfall in the Golan Heights. Just ahead of us was a group of Israeli schoolchildren. Two men and two women each carrying an M16 rifle walked with the Israeli kids flanking them in front, at the back and on the sides. I asked our guide about this and he said perhaps the children’s teachers were army reserve members. If so they would be encouraged to carry guns even when they were off duty. Our guide also suggested the armed men and women might be special officers hired by the school to guard the children on their field trip. The school was a private religious institution and the Golan Heights has been an area of conflict in the past. The school probably has a policy of hiring armed security officers for all excursions. I did a little research and learned that in 1974 three Palestinian gunmen attacked a group of Israeli school students and killed sixteen teenagers. Since then Israeli teachers have been allowed to carry guns in order to protect their students.
Soldiers at Wailing Wall
I saw the largest number of armed officers at the Wailing Wall. We happened to visit this world-famous landmark on May 21st which is a holiday called Jerusalem Day. It celebrates the reunification of Jerusalem after a battle during the six-day war in 1967. Perhaps worried that the Wailing Wall, traditionally swarming with visitors on Jerusalem Day, might make a good target for terrorist actions, the Israeli military was out in full force. Armed guards searched our bags before we approached the wall and we had to walk through a metal detector. Cadres of officers with rifles were posted at various positions in the courtyard approaching the Wailing Wall. So much weaponry seemed sadly out-of-place at a sacred spot where people gather from around the world to pray.
Armed guard having a nap
An article in the London Times titled Guns: The Must-Have Israel Accessory says there is a “familiarity with guns in Israel that is rare” in most democratic countries. Since Israeli young people must serve a term in the military after high school, virtually all adults in the country have been trained to handle weapons. Apparently, gun-carrying citizens have been credited with saving the lives of Israelis under attack on numerous occasions. This has led people to believe only an armed Israeli citizenry can effectively defend itself against Palestinian terrorism.
Weapons check-in at Jerusalem museum
My first few days in Israel I took photographs of all the people I saw with guns because it was so startling to me. I soon realized the sight was commonplace and I couldn’t possibly take pictures of everyone I saw with guns. One tourist who visited Israel says on his blog that seeing so many people carrying guns in Israel made him feel safe. I didn’t feel that way. I found it frightening.
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The Slaughter of the Innocents
Gender Inequality at the Wailing Wall