The Holy Land around and within us

 

 Please enjoy this wonderful reflection from pilgrim Martha Hennessy:

Our small group of 24, traveling through the Holy Land for the past eight days, has followed the footsteps of Jesus and His disciples on a journey of astounding beauty in this often stark landscape, and of a tortuous human history haunted by God. The timeline is mind boggling in its stretch into the distant past, times of antiquity and the beginnings of human culture. Jericho claims itself to be the oldest city at 10,000, when people began to settle down to cultivate the rich volcanic soil, provided with abundant spring waters.

We have seen where Jesus was conceived and born, where he walked, worked, gathered, encouraged, healed, suffered, died and was resurrected. I can now see and feel more clearly the Jewish world and the geography of mountains, rivers and sea (lake) that combined in His time to create the setting into which the Word was made flesh.

Our Mass at the Holy Sepulcher early on in the trip left me weeping in sorrow and gratitude. The reading described Mary Magdalene’s joy going to the tomb to tend the body of her beloved teacher. Her encounter with Him as he spoke the words, “Do not cling to me for I must go to my Father who is Your Father,” gave me incredible comfort and yet utter desolation. He was among us, we loved Him, he tried to teach us, we killed Him, yet He rose again.

            We visited the South Wall, the steps to the Temple Mount, where Jesus, His family and friends entered for prayer and offerings. As I walked up, the call to prayer began and we could still hear the celebration of the Bar Mitzvahs by the Western Wall. Horns and drums, droning recitations of prayers, the mixing of Hebrew and Arabic, “God is great,” all become a heady brew of religious fervor and celebration. I had to ground myself by focusing on the tiny sound of the doves cooing in a recessed arch above the bricked-up entrance to the Temple. So much history, so many players, the beauty and the horror overwhelm me.

I was able to swim in the Sea of Galilee as the group made its way to the Boat Museum near Caparnaum.  With six of us in wheelchairs, the on and off loading after our arrival on the boat took some time. I felt guilty taking the opportunity when the others could not, but what a lovely experience. The water was soft and warm with gentle waves that are known to rise up quickly without warning, causing fear and caution among fishermen of old and today. In Jesus’ time this was a very formidable body of water. “Oh you of little faith” came to my mind as I dodged the waves. As my eyes fell upon the cliffs called Arbel I couldn’t help but think how this was the beloved and familiar landscape of Jesus and His disciples. Their eyes looked upon these views! I recited the prayer “Star of the Sea” while swimming. “Mother, the Star of the Sea, pray for the wanderer, pray for me.”

            I can’t write about this trip to Israel without expressing my reflections on the State and the energy that I feel here. Empire continues to haunt us, taking large bites out of the earth for highways, new buildings, displaced peoples, creating huge cement walls that snake across the hilltops. The anxiety is felt everywhere, from ancient exiles, to the siege of Masada to the siege of Gaza, in the halls of the Holocaust Museum. We are a traumatized people on all sides, perpetrators and victims; an endless march of strong men and their armies, taking and storing up the gifts of the land. My refuge comes with the sharing of this experience with others, in the study of the Gospel teachings, in the love I feel that God has for all of His beloved people. Oh Jerusalem, He wept for your beauty and your ignorance!

 And more wonderful thoughts from pilgrim Marie Smith:

Capernaum Israel

August heat rises off dark stone ruins in this former fishing village near the Sea of Galilee. To the left are the remnants of an ancient synagog. To the right is the Church of the House of St. Peter, an octagonal building suspended over the crumbled house where Simon Peter lived.

            After looking at the stone walls for a while, I shut my eyes and listened intently as the centuries fell away. In the distance fisherman hauled their nets in for the night. They spoke to one another about their catches and the one that got away. A dark haired child laughed as he toddled to meet his father who scooped him up in one arm. Sandals scuffed along well worn trails. Cooking fires burned outside the houses and the smell of baking bread and cooking fish filled the air.

            Simon looked up from repairing his cousin’s net as he noticed a familiar figure leave the synagog. The man walked toward him with a gentle amused look on his face that always captivated Simon. The Teacher greeted Simon’s neighbor Leah with a wave, and clapped Joseph on the shoulder. A kitten wandered past his feet, followed by a swift moving child who wasn’t watching where she was going. Rachel tripped on a rock and almost tumbled into a tree. Instead she landed in the Teacher’s arms. The Teacher laughed as he lifted her up. Though he couldn’t hear it, Simon could tell The Teacher asked if she was all right. Rachel nodded. The Teacher tapped her nose and she laughed. He reached in his satchel, found something and nodded. What was it? Oh, a date. The Teacher handed the sweet fruit to Rachel. While the little girl nibbled the date, he carried her back to her mother and set her down. Spying Simon, he grinned and quickened his pace.

            After a warm greeting, The Teacher sat beside Simon and helped him repair the net. When he first met The Teacher, he said Simon would be a fisher of men. And he had been. Simon thought about this while he tied a small stone weight on the net. He had seen such wonders since his travels with Jesus. His mother-in-law looked over from the bread she was baking and saw The Teacher. She smiled at him and invited him to supper. The Teacher accepted her offer. He also accepted her scolding that he needed to eat more. He gave Simon a look that made them all laugh.

            Simon’s cousin came by, carrying his newborn son. David retrieved his net, grateful for the repairs. The Teacher stood and blessed the baby before following Simon inside the house. They sat together and enjoyed their evening meal. Together they shared smoked fish and wine, bread and dates, and a calm peace that centuries cannot erase from the tiny house in Capernaum.

Disability and the Dead Sea 

My disability, myasthenia gravis, is a rare neuromuscular disease. I could give you a long winded medical explanation, but I will spare us both. The end result is what matters. The words myasthenia gravis mean “grave muscle weakness” in Greek and Latin. It is an apt description for a disease that has weakened every skeletal muscle in my body, from the muscles that control my eyelids, to the muscles that control my toes. I can feel my body. I cannot always make my body move. All 244 skeletal muscles do not work as they should. The disease is thankfully painless. The medications to treat it cause uncontrollable muscle spasms leaving me in chronic pain. When I move I feel as if invisible weights are tied to my body. The longer I move, the heavier the invisible weights get, until I simply cannot move. 

            On this trip I have alternated between walking and using a wheelchair. Walking wears out muscles involved in walking. Sitting weakens muscles involved in sitting upright. When you have myasthenia gravis you learn quickly you’re fighting a battle you cannot win.         Hauling around a weak, floppy, cramping myasthenic body makes me feel like I come from a planet with three times the gravity of earth — a planet where a fork feels like a cast iron frying pan and a toothbrush feels like a bowling ball. I have felt this way for years.

            Then I came to the Dead Sea. Having heard warnings about not splashing and not getting the water in my eyes, I was a little nervous as I waded into the warm water. The mosquito bites on my legs burned for a moment as I sloshed forward. Then I tripped in a hole on the sea floor and fell. Only instead of falling, I was suspended. I was caught by the water and lifted off my feet. Suddenly I was weightless. It was like being an astronaut on a space walk. My feet rose up and I leaned back, stretching out fully for the first time in my life. My arms were held up, my spine lifted. For a moment, nothing hurt, nothing struggled to stretch. The water simply held me in a warm salty embrace.

            As I drifted on my back, I was amazed by how effortlessly I floated. I stretched out my arms and rested in the water. All the strenuous effort to move my body evaporated. Freed from my body for a few blessed moments, I rejoiced under the blazing Israeli sun. It is said there is no life in the Dead Sea. This is not true. There is much life in the Dead Sea because as I floated in the water I never felt more completely alive.

 

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