Holy Sites and the Sacred

A belated post from Thursday:

Today we drove up to the Galilee and spent the day seeing holy sites–the Sea of Galilee, Tiberias, the Mount of Beatitudes where Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, Tabgah where Jesus fed the 5,000, Capernaum, Nazareth. Many of these places have churches built around them, and most are devotional sites as opposed to historical sites–in other words, we know these events may not have happened in these exact places, but we use them to come and remember what happened there as people of faith.

We have been talking on this trip about the notion of living stones. The purpose of this trip is not just to see the dead stones of the area–the places where things happened long ago–but to listen to the stories of people living here in this land that is often called holy, this place where conflict, violence, and division are a daily reality.

In light of the stories and lives of the Israeli and Palestinian living stones we have met, seeing these dead stones and thinking about what happened here has been powerful. At these sites, we have talked about who Jesus was, and the things he lived out and called his followers to live out as well–justice, reconciliation, love (especially of the stranger, the other). When we go to these sites just to see them, yes, they are dead. But when we go to these sites to remember the deep and hard work of love and peace to which we are called through our faith, we can hold the messages of these stones in our hearts and let them live there and inform our work for peace.

When we reflected later that night about what holiness and sacredness mean to us, I started thinking about what is sacred and holy to me–words, phrases, songs, places, space to breathe and feel God in my breath and body. And I thought about how deeply and dearly I hold those things–how profoundly they touch me. And then I thought about every single person sitting in that room, and how deeply things touch them, and that those things could be very different from my holy places and spaces, even though we all share our Lutheran faith. And then I looked out the window over Jerusalem, and thought about everyone here, and everyone in this region and beyond, and the fact that each person’s convictions about faith and truth and what is holy are just as deeply rooted and profoundly felt as mine are.

As I learn more and more about the conflict here and listen to the stories of living, breathing stones–human beings with profound experiences of the places and practices and things that are sacred to them–I breathe into the knowledge that God is in this place, making all things new, and we are called to live and work for peace in a world that is simultaneously filled with so much brokenness and so much beauty and joy.


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