Our group has been breaking up for the last day. Some have left to go on a side trip to visit Petra in Jordan. Others have left for the airport. As always, saying "Goodbye," brings feelings of loss as a community comes to an end. The fifteen of us became a supportive and friendly group in just a few days. It has been good. We represent England, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, New Guinea, and America. Of the 15, 9 are Roman Catholic, 2 are Presbyterian, 1 United Reformed (England), 1 United Methodist, 1 Anglican, and me the 1 Lutheran. It has been a good mix. We all took turns leading evening prayer. This gave us opportunities to experience each others traditions.
Moving on to the overall plan from Tantur, I have appreciated the pattern and flow of the month. Week one was an immersion in Jerusalem. We visited many churches including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We drove to the top of the Moun of Olives and walked our way down. I confess to getting "churched out" after awhile. I was relieved to learn that I was in the company of many.
Week two is when we went north to the Galilee area. We stayed two nights in Nazareth and two nights in Tiberias which is on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was good to explore that area. We looked at archaeological sites, a number of churches, and the natural surroundings. It was soon obvious that the north country receives more rain and is much more fertile. In addition, it gets more water from mountain runoff. We were glad to go be in the area where Jesus lived most of his life. One special place was to go to the seaside village of Capernaum and see some first century ruins. It is possible that Jesus had spent time in those homes.
Week three, we went south and east into the desert. We visited Masada and Qumran. We saw Beer sheba and an outpost of the desert tribe known at the Nabateans. We walked into a canyon and listened to Scripture and the silence of the desert.
Week four was back in Jerusalem but the schedule was lighter. I think this was meant to give us more time to reflect on our experiencs. A particularly strong experience was going onto the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif and entering both the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque.
Throughout we had a number of lectures and presentations. We learned about the geography of the area. We looked at the Gospel of Matthew through the shame/honor lens. We looked at the stories of other ancient peoples and how they may have influenced the Bible. We learned more about the background of the Jewish festival/liturgical calendar. We heard from the leader of the Machsom Watch which is a group of Israeli women who monitor check points among other work.
In addition we went to museums such as the Israel Museum, the Tower of David, and Nazareth Village.
It has been a rich time of community and exploration in a variety of ways. I hope that it will make the stories more vivid as I read the Bible. (That being said, there were a number of places which we did not have the time to go to. As usual, there is always more.)
Yesterday, Friday, for our last day together, we went into the western side of the Jerusalem area. We visited two churches which are close to one another. The first was the Church of the Visitation which celebrates the time Mary went to visit Elizabeth. In Luke, that is when Mary sings the Magnificat.
This statue is in the courtyard of the Church of the Visitation. I found it to be a wonderful portrayal of the meeting between young Mary and old Elizabeth, both of whom had been especially blessed.
The next church we went to was to the Church of the Nativity of John the Baptist. This congregation celebrates the birth of John who came to make the way ready for Jesus.
After that, we drove into the hills to get a view of the western Judean wilderness. The west is significantly different than the east due to the fact that it gets more rain. The following clip shows a bit of this area.
After this, we drove to a nice restaurant for our "last lunch". As always, there was plenty to eat and eat we did!
This is our group less the three who had already left to go to Petra.
With this, I will bring the Israel section of the sabbatical blog to a close. As I said, I fly out tomorrow for Rome and plan to meet Gay at the Da Vinci airport on Monday. (We hope to connect without the help of cell phones!) This is the longest we have been apart in 35 years of marriage.
I will close with a photo I took a couple of days ago. Several of us went on a walk into a valley just to the east of Tantur. It has a fairly large hillside with an olive orchard running throughout. When we had gone down a bit, one of our group spotted a shepherd with his sheep just below the crest of the hill. The sun was setting and we climbed up to get a closer look.
May the Good Shepherd be with us all to give us hope, life, love, and the call to follow.