Being in self-isolation here at Magdala due to the current global health crisis, is a bit like being stranded in paradise. The beauty of the Galilean spring, with life waking up in an array of colors and birdsong, contrasts sharply with what all of us here carry to prayer and adoration daily in Duc In Altum. We bring to Christ the painful sickness and fear many face, the frightening economic impact of no visitors, and the many pilgrims forced to cancel their life-changing trips to the Holy Land. From the boat altar, Jesus has challenged me once again to go out into the deep. I have found myself with the time and space to reflect on much these past days, including my experience these past seven months here in the Holy Land.
Magdala is a dusty place, no matter the season. Just as dust clings to the feet of pilgrims who walk the paths of Galilee, love for the Holy Land clung to my heart after my first visit in 2008. My dream was to return.
I feel exceedingly blessed to be assigned here to develop the new Magdalena Inspiration activities, programs, events, and partnerships. Its purpose is to help maximize the personal experience visitors have at Magdala, so that it “clings” to their hearts and impacts their lives when they return home.
How can I possibly summarize the immense grace of “living the dream”, my dream, of serving in the Holy Land? ‘The word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.’ These familiar Gospel words, recalled to mind anew on the feast of the Annunciation, capture my experience here these months.
I live here, in THE place where Jesus lived out most of his public ministry. In the Holy Land, it is common to see the Latin word “hic”, which means “here, in this place”. This simple word describes my new home and apostolate. It is not just engraved on the stone facades of the Churches found at Holy Sites, this word calls out to every visitor who passes through the nature and cities of this land.
Here Mary was visited by the Angel and the Word was made flesh,
here Jesus was born, here He called his apostles, here Mary Magdalene was healed,
here He was transfigured and spoke with Moses and Elijah,
here was the temple where Jesus taught, here the widow’s son was raised,
here Jesus cured the blind man, here Jesus taught the beatitudes,
here the bread was multiplied to feed 5000,
here is the road on which He traveled to Jerusalem, here He was baptized and tempted,
here is where He celebrated the last supper, here He died,
here he rose from the dead, here Jesus appeared to the disciples risen…
Seeing, touching and walking through these places where Jesus himself lived, has facilitated my own awareness of the reality that God became man in a concrete place and time. It’s delightful to think that what I see every day on this lake and in this countryside, is what Jesus himself saw and experienced. Here! He lived here, he saw this, tasted this, smelled this, walked this path… Here. Where I also now live.
Concretely, our community is situated next to our first century synagogue, where Jesus very likely taught, preached and healed; I daily watch the sunrise over the water, with Mount Hermon in the distance that psalm 133 praises, “Like dew of Hermon coming down…There the LORD has decreed a blessing;” I contemplate the boats crossing the Sea of Galilee filled with visitors eager to be on the same waters that the apostles fished and upon which Jesus walked; every morning I pass by the ancient streets and fish salting pools that made Magdala a thriving and wealthy town years ago; the thousands of birds in the sky above, migrating their way through the Jordan Valley from Russia to Africa and back is mesmerizing; I have witnessed the colors change from summer to fall and winter across the Mount of the Beatitudes and Capernaum, situated on the shore in front of our house; the soft golden and pastel colors of the sunset reflecting off the Golan Heights to the south-east of us, and Mount Arbel and the Valley of the Doves to the west, dazzle me every evening as the sun sets over Nazareth; the intriguing two hour trip “up” to Jerusalem along the desert road that Jewish and Christian pilgrims have taken for millennia is my favorite route…
These external things have also brought me to experience more deeply a fundamental internal spiritual reality: I am – we are all – this dwelling place of God where He lives. We are the real physical place where He walks, sees, smells, tastes… where He is mesmerized, dazzled and enchanted by us, just as I am by the Holy Land. I am truly a ‘Holy Site” that Jesus sanctifies with His presence. I am this ‘here’ where He can be encountered.
My personal prayer on the book of the Song of Songs these months has brought this truth home even more strongly. It describes the bride using Holy Land geography, flora and fauna. The Beloved (God) is portrayed as the temple. When I recently walked the massive temple mount, the size of it spoke strongly of its glory, of the impressive presence it once had in this land, and the witness to faith that it was for all peoples. I felt invited to become ever more aware of God’s presence within me – I am His land, and He is at my center. The diverse beauty of Israel and Palestine, combined with the strife and pockets of misery that are also evident, have helped me to embrace more fully these analogous realities in my own life and human condition – my land – so that Christ can love and sanctify me with His presence – the temple within my heart and soul – and make of me a witness of faith.
“Hic” Here. In this place. ‘The word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us.’ He is here. He is within me, sanctifying me, clinging to me more closely and strongly than ever before.