Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Nazareth & The Sea of Galilee

Street vendor stall in Nazareth
When I visited Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee last December, I thought it would be easy to share it with others through this blog. I usually allow a little time to pass, so I can revisit the experience through my photos, and then I set out to share the impressions that have lasted the longest or made the biggest impact. 
At first I blamed writer’s block and other obligations for my delay in writing about it. I have recently considered, though, that visiting these places, along with a few others on my trip last fall, was like a personal pilgrimage. No matter what I share, it has to be personally experienced to be appreciated. Even when I share the photos and a few remarkable facts, I could never fully describe the trip because these were not typical “vacation”spots to share. They affected me on a much deeper level.

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
Regardless of one’s religious upbringing and current spiritual practice, it would be difficult not to have expectations of the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth. It is similar to reading a book and formulating preconceived images in my mind, and then going to watch the movie. Often times, some parts I found important in the book were either left on the editor’s floor or never even included in the adaptation. It is not the same experience, and even when it exceeds expectations (like Peter Jackson’s Hobbit/Lord of the Rings interpretation), it can still be challenging to share all of that emotion in a way that another person would fully appreciate. Certain places must be experienced personally, without external influence.

The Church of the Beatitudes
So, last December, at the octaganol Church of the Beatitudes (one side for each beatitude),
This is the spot for the Sermon on the Mount
I stood in a beautiful meditation garden while overlooking the heart-shaped Sea of Galilee. The sunlight glistened on the water’s waves. It was peaceful. The farmer's field beneath the “mount” where Jesus delivered his famous speech remained bucolic, with a few cows, abandoned farm equipment, and grass. Something monumental happened here. And yet, life was normal. Sure, thousands of people from all over the world come to this site, this church, with their own expectations—seeking peace, redemption, answers, perhaps forgiveness, or perhaps nothing but the experience. And telling someone to go without expectations is like telling a child not to think about Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. You must go for yourself and show up as you are.

Church of the Beatitudes

The elegant Church of the Beatitudes, built here in commemoration of the Mount, was built in 1938 for a Franciscan order of nuns. As noted, each of the sides represents one of the Eight Beatitudes recited in that sermon, and around the church’s central altar inside, sits a mosaic of symbols representing the seven virtues (justice, charity, prudence, faith, fortitude, hope and temperance). 
Altar at Church of Beatitudes

The Sea of Galilee

The Sea

It is interesting to note that the Sea of Galilee is one of the lowest-lying bodies of water on earth (some 210 metres below sea level), and is actually fresh water, fed mostly by the Jordan River.  This is the place where Jesus calmed the storm, walked on water, and made a few sermons.

The Beatitudes

One of those popular sermons is The Sermon on the Mount, believed to be near where the Church of the Beatitudes now sits. 

The term beatitude comes from a latin word meaning happiness. The visit to this site, and the view, invoked a feeling of peace and serenity. Perhaps, this is what allows more happiness to come in!

City of Nazareth
At the risk of sounding irreverent, I admit my brain automatically started singing the opening lines of  The Band’s "The Weight" as soon as our tour bus stalled in traffic entering the city of Nazareth:
“I pulled into Nazareth, I was feelin’ ‘bout half-past dead….”
It had been a long day already, and internally, I had many expectations for what this famous city would look like. It is crowded. Narrow stone streets, with vendors selling rosaries and crosses could have been the same so many years ago. But giant buses full of tourists and honking cars likely were not.

The Cupola
The Church of the Annunciation, an architectural masterpiece, cannot be oversold: The art; the stained glass; the acoustics; the symbols; the energy; the music. All of it was sensory overload then, and remains so for me all these months later as I try to describe it.

On the day we visited a priest was delivering a sermon in Spanish to a group in the main chapel. The towering cupola almost hypnotizes with its lily-pattern. The stained glass throughout the church has the brightest, most vivid colors I have ever seen.

The church is built on a site believed to be the home of the Virgin Mary, where she was told at age 14 that she would become the mother of the son of God. There is a grotto enshrined in the lower level of the church to commemorate this site and event. 

Despite the long day and traffic, the visit to Nazareth revived me. So much hope, love, and peace radiate from this space. It is a great metaphor for how, despite what is going on in the external world, I can seek refuge to peace and calm within. 

Inside Church of the Annunciation
May you all be so blessed.

The Grotto

**All Photos by Nicole D. Mignone. 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Church of the Annunciation