This morning when we pulled into Nazareth all I could think of was The Band, The Weight. It's a great old song rife with theology but it really doesn't have a thing to do with Nazareth. It did turn out to be a long day, no nap which is weird on a church day, so I do feel about half-past dead tonight.
To get to Nazareth from Tiberias, you have to go through Cana, the site of the first miracle. I don't think there are any holy sites there commemorating it, but if you need a refresher turn to John 2 for the details. Remember that little "water turns to wine" story? That's the one!
Cana's population is about 20,000 and 20% of them are Christians. The highlight of Cana was the sign on the liquor store offering Cana wedding wine at 20% off. Yes, there are almost all Jews and Christians in Cana. There are very few if any Muslims; you can tell by the liquor store.
Nazareth has about 100,000 so it's significantly bigger and Nazareth is about 40% Christian with a number of muslims because there is big mosque there, and probably a few Jews thrown in. So it's not like there's no coexistence going on in Israel. And the muslims in Nazareth are Israeli citizens because Nazareth is located in Israel proper and you are not free to travel unless you have an Israeli passport.
The Greek Orthodox tradition supposes that the angel's annunciation to Mary about the virgin birth of Jesus begins at the water well near the town center of Nazareth. Just like all young girls in Nazareth, Mary would have been responsible for collecting water for the household a couple times a day. So it's fair to say that the angel could have started the conversation with her at the well. Again, according to tradition.
St. Gabriel Greek Orthodox Church was built over this water well. We stopped off in there to see it but Vespers had already begun, Mass was getting ready to start, and we could not linger. We all got a couple pictures but not before we noticed a woman from the congregation at the well tucked back in a corner deeply in prayer. Her eyes were closed, so we hopefully didn't disturb her, but all of us ended up feeling badly about it and slinking out of there just in case. Americans!
We went to church at the Christ Anglican Church in Nazareth that's been there since 1851. I'm not sure they were expecting us, but they did make us feel welcome and gave us hymnals and liturgy in English. So welcoming! One of the congregation was Dr. Nabih Asal, a retired medical school professor. He got such a huge kick out of all these Oklahoma American people in his home church. He had served as head of the Epidemiology Department at the University of Oklahoma Medical School for 10 years. Small world.
After church we stuffed ourselves at The Holy Land restaurant and they spoiled us. It was all classic family-style after church stuff: lentil soup, pasta, roast beef with slow cooked potatoes and carrots. Coconut cookies. Stellar!
We walked off the meal at the Catholic Church of the Annunciation constructed over a grotto that their tradition says was Mary's childhood home. There was an outpouring of artwork from all over the world depicting the annunciation that is now on display throughout the church and in the outer cloister. As everyone knows, Our Lady carries special weight in the Roman Catholic tradition and this is an amazing church! Pics will be up on Facebook.
Next, we stopped by St. Joseph's next door. The shared parking garage between the two churches covers the ruins of old central Nazareth and the historic town center. The old town is well preserved and now that we've seen a number of them, this one too looks like an active archeological dig.
30 minutes or so up the road, Megiddo is the site that tradition says will be the last war--Armageddon. Megiddo has been destroyed 25 times in its long history so the current site, another active archaeological dig, is now a mountain continuously rebuilt on top of its own ruins. There are layers upon layers. Megiddo is an Israeli National Park.
Megiddo was always a valuable ancient strategic city because it sits on a main highway pass between Egypt to the south and Mesopotamia to the north. This was a major ancient trade route, not to mention the exports of produce from the fertile Jezreel Valley below. Megiddo engineers developed a very sophisticated water delivery system. The big spring that fed the town was hidden outside the city walls. The engineers dug through almost solid rock straight down a few hundred feet to the spring/well level and then horizontally out to the edge of the mountain to the actual spring. Pressure from the well drove the water up to the citizens on the top of the mountain. They concealed the spring from their enemies using rocks, sticks, and straw.
Our final stop today was a meeting with Rabbi Dr. Haviva Ner-David, the director of Shmaya, a ritual and educational Mikveh and the Kibbutz Hannaton. Mikveh is an ancient traditional bathing ritual required by Orthodox Jewish Tradition for women following monthly cycles and for men as well. Rabbi Haviva is heavily involved in transforming the old traditional rituals and reframing them for modernity. She has also helped rebuild a once dying Kibbutz community to a healthy and thriving one with over 75 families in residence. She has also been an active ally for Palestinian-Israeli relations and has an active voice in this conflict resolution.
The Rabbi grew up and studied in Manhattan before moving to Israel to start her ministries and family. They have seven children and she continues to pursue progressive interfaith dialogue, having just finishing her latest book.
I may be half-past dead tonight, so sleep sounds good. We move back south into occupied territory tomorrow to Bethlehem. Interesting observation since we've been in Israel proper: no guys with guns.
Grace and peace,