Before the memory fades, I wanted to share a few thoughts from the first leg of our trip to Israel:

1. It may sound trite, but it’s quite a thing to walk where Jesus walked. Visiting the actual places where he conducted his ministry, you can’t help but connect with his humanity in a new way. It was almost embarrassing to realize the extent to which I had abstracted and, dare I say, over-spiritualized his identity. So being there does make it all more real and concrete – i.e. “that’s the foundation of Peter’s house, where Jesus slept”, “here’s the temple (in Capernaum), where he spoke the words, ‘I am the bread of life…’”, “here’s the cave where he cast out the Legion demoniac”, “this is the beach where he cooked breakfast for the disciples after the Resurrection”, etc. These places weren’t invented; these events really happened. I’m not saying you lose sight of his divinity – not at all – just that experiencing the physical reality of the place was more helpful than I thought it would be.

[For some reason, the Catholics decided to build a spaceship over Peter’s house in Capernaum.]

On our second morning, after hiking down the Mount of Beatitudes [see below], my brother Simeon noted that we had just been walking on a rocky path. Then he pointed out some weeds and some soil. The “stuff” of Jesus’ illustrations was all around us! It was pretty exciting to see. Jesus drew from his immediate surroundings, and a lot of it is still there. The implications should not be ignored.

3. The wine in Cana is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

4. I was genuinely surprised at how few fellow pilgrims we met at each site. And the ones we did meet were all Russian. I’m sure the precarious political situation had a lot to do with it, as did the time of year. Still, given the significance of these places (and the number of Christians in the world), you’d think more people would’ve been around. When we visited the Vatican in the 90s, for example, it was swarming. I suppose it’s comforting to know that specific places have less importance in Christianity than in the two other world religions you find over there. And perhaps it serves as further evidence of what my father calls the “Universal trumping the Particular.” The Gospel transcends geography, thank God.

5. If you make the trip, feel free to skip Chorazin. It makes sense that Jesus would curse that place.

6. Galilee is hot and extremely humid. The difference in temperature between the shade and sun must have been 20 degrees. That said, I was surprised by how beautiful it is. I had always thought that since it was a “backwater”, it would be unattractive. It’s not. The view from the Mount of Beatitudes is particularly stunning [see above]. You can understand why someone would want to live there. I’m not sure the same applies to Jerusalem. But more on that soon…

[Brother John hands down a decision from the Moses Seat in Chorazin. Guilty party = Simeon.]