Sunday, May 23, 2010
Jordan River, Sea of Galilee and House of Hope
Today was a full day, beginning at 8:00 AM and finishing just a moment ago at 9:45! We started out driving through the Galilee, stopping at the Jordan River at the site where Christian pilgrims come to be baptized. No one knows exactly where in the Jordan River Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist, but the baptismal pilgrim site has long been established and is quite an operation! To say that it is commercial is putting it mildly!! For $25 you can purchase your white baptismal gown which goes over your regular clothing as you are baptized by full immersion in the Jordan River. Today, being the feast day of Pentecost was an interesting time to be at this particular site, however. There was a group of Pentecostal Christians from Brazil who had made a pilgrimage here and they were undergoing the full immersion baptism ritual while we were there. It was fascinating to observe because many of them were speaking in tongues, fainting, going into trances and really exhibiting the “slain in the spirit” behaviors that I’ve only ever seen in movies. It was a little disconcerting, but fascinating to watch, even though all us mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics felt a little ill at ease with what we saw. I’ve included a picture of that ritual with this blog. As I watched this particular ritual, I couldn’t help but think about the fact that Pentecostal Christianity is among the fastest growing versions of Christianity worldwide, particularly popular in the global south, including Latin America, Africa and Asia. It is such a different way of being Christian that it almost feels like you are observing a completely different world religion in action.
We went next to the Mount of the Beatitudes where there is a church and shrine built at the spot where it is believed Jesus delivered the beatitudes. It is very beautiful there and the view out over the hillside is incredible. The shrine includes not only a church but elaborate gardens. It was the kind of place I could imagine spending some retreat time, as it was peaceful, despite the hordes of tourists.
From there we drove along the sea of Galilee and went on a boat ride. That ride was very beautiful and evoked images of all the many stories of Jesus and his disciples on boats on the Sea of Galilee. I kept thinking about one of my favorite hymns (661, 1982 Hymnal!) that starts, “They cast their nets in Galilee, just off the hills of brown, those gentle, simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down.” The hills surrounding the Sea of Galilee are brown and it is quite beautiful there. On the boat ride we had a discussion of Baptism in the Christian tradition, and of its roots in the Jewish tradition of the mikva cleansing ritual. Dr. Shafiq also told us about water purification rituals in Islam and we had fun comparing and contrasting the symbols and significance of these rituals across the Abrahamic faiths.
We decided to do our Pentecost liturgy there by the Sea of Galilee. We found a quiet spot under some trees where we were away from anyone else. I was celebrant for the Eucharist and Gordon Webster preached. It was wonderful to be observing the feast of Pentecost at such a holy place. It was very windy by the water, so I was struggling throughout the liturgy to keep the bread from flying off the log that was serving as makeshift altar. Finally, when the wind was gusting so strongly that I couldn’t hold the bread in place and say the Eucharistic prayer, Dr. Shafiq, who was observing our worship, took over holding the bread in place while I consecrated it. I doubt too many priests have had the experience of celebrating the Eucharist beside the Sea of Galilee with a Muslim Imam serving as acolyte!! This is interfaith at its best. And after the service, our Jewish leader helped consume the leftover consecrated wine!
From there we went to a restaurant just up the road that is right on the beach. It was a beautiful setting to sit and enjoy a veritable feast. We left there quite stuffed! We then went to an Arab village where we met with Elias Jabbour, a peace activist, who told us about the work he has been doing for over 32 years as an Israeli Arab working for peace between Arabs and Jews. After his talk, we were again fed a meal by his family, although most of us were still pretty stuffed from lunch.
Upon our return to the kibbutz, we had another lecture by a reform rabbi from the Galilee region, who is very actively involved in Jewish/Arab dialogue in the Galilee. His perspective on Jewish/Arab relations within Israel was interesting, and refreshingly nuanced. Once again, as I learned during my last trip to Israel in 2008, I became aware of the complexity of the issues here and of how hard some folks at the grassroots level are working to make a difference. One can only hope their commitment, hard work and prayerful purpose will make a difference in the end.
So all in all it was a very full day and definitely a memorable birthday. That service by the sea will go down in my memory as a very special Eucharist.
I am now exhausted and ready to find the internet, post this blog and crash!! More tomorrow.