Holy Land: mountains and river



11:25 pm – Israel Time – 3/25/15

I am sitting on a squarish back couch in the floor lobby of our hotel, which seems like a hotel but also nothing like a hotel at all. The front of the building is gray stone, solid and imposing, like an old university building. The hall beyond me has Romanesque arches supporting the ceiling. In our room, the floor is brick and the walls are gray stone, thick enough that the window doubles as a shelf for my suitcase. Yet somehow, with all its imposition, it still feels warm. 
Last night at dinner I was talking to other pilgrims and I asked them, somewhat in jest, “Why can’t we stay here forever!” I was just complaining and whining, dreading the drudgery of everyday life versus the wonder that is this trip. Well let’s just say God heard me. 

First thing this morning we said our goodbyes to the Sea of Galilee and headed out with a final destination of Jerusalem in mind. After a half hour or so, our first stop was the Mount of Transfiguration. To give you an idea of how tall this peak is, it was too tall for our bus to even make it up! We had to switch to buses.
On the peak you could see for miles and miles. In one direction, you could even see Mount Precipice, near Nazareth, where we were a few days ago:

The view off the other side was gorgeous too:



    

In Latin, above the altar where Father celebrated Mass was the phrase: “Lord, it is good that we should stay here.” It was such a wake up call to me. God used that mosaic to speak to me. And he wasn’t saying, “
yes Veronica, you should stay on pilgrimage forever.” 
Through the whole Mass I stared at those words: “Lord, it is good that we should stay here.”

The altar and the Latin writing arcing on the wall behind it:



This place surprised me, but, at this point, God surprising me should no longer be a surprise to me. The views were all so beautiful and I loved being out on a mountain, well the mountain again. Mount Tabor is the place that Jesus decided to go on a hike with his apostles James, John, and Peter. When they were up top, Jesus be ame transfigured. We don’t really know what that means, beyond that, he looked very very different and his clothes were really really white, like a celebrity’s teeth right after a visit to the dentist. And on top of that, Elijah and Moses showed up and the three of them had a nice chat. Then Peter goes up to Jesus and says, “So this is awesome. How about I make you guys some tents and we can stay here forever!?” It was basically comparable to an eight year old on his last day at Disney, who is begging his parents to stay just a little bit longer. He knows he can’t. Deep down he knows that he will have to go back to the real world soon.


I have heard this story for years as well as this explanation, but Fr. Dave unpacked it on a whole other level in his homily today. He said his homily here inside the church:




Going to the mountain is great, being spiritually fed is great, getting closer to Jesus is great, but we can’t spend all our time on mountaintops chillin with Jesus. And not because it is not good, but because it is good, we cannot stay. Fr. Dave told us, we are not here at random and we are not here for ourselves. We were chosen to be here. Not everyone gets a “mountaintop experience.” Be it a retreat, a particular hour of prayer that sticks with you, or, like me, an actual mountaintop experience, we are given these joyous moments of faith, where we truly feel Spirit of God within us to share them. We are given mountaintop experiences so that we can tell other people about where the mountain is. God loves us and he loves other people through us, through our sharing of us with them.
Not everyone can go to the mountain. It is our job as followers of Christ to bring the mountain to them.
The exterior of the Church of the Transfiguration:




After Mass, we continued south to Jerusalem, on the border of Jordan and Israel in a portion of Israel that is actually Palestine? Don’t ask questions of me about that. It is too many layers of complicated politics and culture and religion. I do know what I saw. It was beautiful farm country.

Scenery looking into Jordan. See the border fence?



They are well known for dates, which grow on date palm trees. Who knew!

   

We had lunch in Jericho, the oldest city in the western world. People have lived there for at least 10,000 years. Ten thousand years!!! That is waaaaay older than my grandma! Ever heard of the Valley of the Shadow of Death? Yeah, that’s not just a colloquial phrase. It’s a real place. We ate lunch in it; it’s in Jericho. Also in Jericho is a tree that some say is the one that Zaccheus the tax collector climbed up to see Jesus.
Here is Mountain, our tour guide, pretending to climb it through our bus window:

Next we passed by the mountain where Jesus was tempted by the devil. We can’t go up to see it nowadays because there are military complications, but there are monks who still live up in the caves where Jesus was for his 40 days in the desert. 
We got very close to Jordan but did not go there at the Jordan river. The shore we were on was Israeli and the opposite bank was Jordan. The site we visited is the same site where popes go see the Jordan river when they come to the Holy Land. Oh, and also, Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist here. Yeah, pretty important. Father blessed us and we renewed our baptismal promises. I stuck my feet in of course:



The Jordan river. Those steps you can see are in the country of Jordan and I am standing on the Israeli shore to take the picture. 

      

Desert that John the Baptist would have lived in:



After all that, we drove for a little while longer and finally, we arrived  at our destination: Jerusalem!
Here we are coming up to Jesusalem on the bus:
Here is the security checkpoint we went through to get into Jerusalem:
And now we are full circle. I am still here in the lobby, writing for you, about my mountain top day.
Goodnight.

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