A day around Galilee today. I headed into the day somewhat desperate to experience Jesus in his homeland. After yesterday it was a joy to share communion with my friends on the shores of Galilee. In sharing communion it dawned upon me that of course I would meet God on this pilgrimage not in the rocks of the temples and churches but in His people. Here in this divided land of synagogues, temples, mosques and churches walk a diverse group of Christians united in the desire to meet their God. Perhaps I was looking in all the wrong places. Church of the Loaves and Fishes and, Convent of Beatitudes’ church and garden, commemorating the Sermon on the Mount. We had or fish lunch at the Beatitudes convent and then sailed around the Sea of Galilee.
Once on the Disney trail again we visited a number of places. A period of quite time on the lake brought home the second communion of the day for me. Perhaps naturally hearing the waters lapping at the boat as the owner killed the engine, brought to mind a couple of Gospel passages. Matthew 4:19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” A reminder of all our call to speak of Jesus to those who do not know him. It’s a call that we all have, but I guess for me in particular is something that I was reminded about today. Then as the doubts arose the second Matthew passage came to mind. Matthew 14:29 “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. As we sat there becalmed on the lake looking into the water, I could feel the faith needed by Peter to follow Jesus and get out of the boat. How often do I truly risk my life for something I feel is so important? communion with my God once more, and message received and understood. The day concluded with a bit of fun as Rona, Garry, Mark and I swam in the lake. A chance of a lifetime not to be missed even if the temperature in January is similar to that of England in January. Ok I didn’t walk on the water, but more communion with friends was had, and Jesus was experienced.
Last night I arrived in Israel with a group of curates from Portsmouth diocese. An exciting opportunity to explore the land of the Holy one. I’m not sure if I will be able to blog regularly during this trip or not, but I hope to jot down my unedited thoughts as I go to capture the raw experience as best I can. If it works, it will be for me an interesting experience. If not nothing will be lost.
Day 1 Israel pilgrimage
Thursday 08 January 2015 07:58: Leaving Tel Aviv
1 John 4:7-8 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
Today’s reading in the daily office spoke of love. Seems funny to be heading out into a weeks pilgrimage of the Holy Land so divided where there is such a mix of those with and without love for one another. However we start by +Christopher (+ means bishop for those who are not familiar) recounting a story of love from last nights arrival. One of my fellow curates was interviewed at length upon arrival, mostly due to his cultural background. A mother of four young children who had just arrived on the same plane as us, and was no doubt exhausted as the children had been tired and irritable approached +Christopher. This Rabi, for that is what +Christopher discovered she was, approached offering her help. In the end our friend was allowed into Israel, and had been treated with courtesy and respect, but her offer of love was a timely offer in this divided land.
Thursday 08 January 2015 17:27: Arrived at hotel on Lake of Galilee.
The trip has been re-ordered due to weather conditions impacting what we can visit. So first we head towards Galilee. Enroute visiting places around Nazareth. The Basilica of the Transfiguration with views over the plain of Armageddon, and The Nazareth Village, a recreation of 1st Century Galilee life. In the afternoon we visited St Gabriel’s the Synagogue Church and the Basilica of the Annunciation. On the whole an interesting day, but if I’m honest it felt a little like the Disney tour of The Holy Land. I wonder if it is even possible to view this land through the eyes of a first century Jew, in the twenty first century. Still there is something about travelling with a group of friends and fellow Christians in search of the Holy one. I do hope that over the next few days that moment comes.
What an amazing year this has been for us. 2014 will go down in the Cross household as a defining year, and it is a year that has possibly been best summed up in the word generosity. Generosity from those around us, and generosity from a loving God. This year I have felt only good wishes from those who have discovered that I was moving into ministry and stopping my IT work. I made some good friends at my last contract with Virgin Atlantic, and felt nothing but good wishes from them all during my time there, and as I departed on the new adventure. Friends from our old Church sent us off with generosity and love. We are blessed enough to only be twenty minutes away, so many are still in touch. Generosity from family as we turned a number of homes upside down to accommodate what we hope was the best result in the end. Close friends travelling to celebrate with us in June, as I was ordained. The generosity of an agnostic (my category not his) friend attending three formal services in two days to celebrate with me will forever be etched on my mind. Generosity from the new body of people that we walk with. The people of St. Mary Magdalen, in Sheet could not have been more welcoming and generous. Since arriving we have made some great friends and have felt the love of the people around us. Also a very generous new set of work colleagues to learn from; who seem to be willing to forgive the newbie a great deal. Yes a year full of generosity.
Let us be real, there have been some concerns and issues along the way. Moving is always hard work, not least in the middle of GCEs and A levels. Illness within the wider family, which whilst we are now less concerned about, we still don’t have all the answers to. Family adapting to new surroundings and boundaries, a curate doesn’t earn the same as an IT consultant. Most recently the loss of a friend, and the future years of friendship we eagerly anticipated. Yes there have also been a whole host of things that could put the dampers on life. However that is no different to the stuff you no doubt may have also gone through this year. Life can never be summed up, as wholly good or wholly bad, life is just a little messy that way.
I spoke the other night at our carol service, on how Jesus came into a messy world, full of conflict. Into a messy family, full of scandal. Into a messy barn full of…… Well you know what barns are full of. The point being God chose to step down into our mess and pull us up, rather then wait for us to try and climb to Him. It’s about a God that knows our mess and still brings hope. In my book that is a generous God, and that makes tomorrow worth celebrating. Happy Christmas from me and mine to you and yours.
Loads of love, Max.
P.S The money for the Christmas card you didn’t get has gone to Kids of hope http://kidsofhope.wordpress.com this year. And I hope you enjoyed my efforts above ;-)
If I am to update this blog when something significant happens, then I guess it doesn’t get much more significant then today. I am sitting at my desk on my ordination retreat and listening to the rain pour outside as I type. In six hours time the Bishop of Portsmouth will place his hands upon my head and will ask God to send down His Holy Spirit upon me for the work ahead of me. The ordination service will be one that is out of my comfort zone, let alone the comfort zone of those friends and family who will be there. However with what I have experienced over the last few days, I know it will be an incredible moment. A moment of initiation, of commissioning, a Holy moment.
The journey has reached a significant milestone, a place to pause before moving on. A place to remember those who have helped me through the storms of the last three years. A place to consider those whose journey paused sooner, and pray they discover God’s will for them. A place to mourn what seems, at this moment, the loss of friends as we move on. A place to recognise the sacrifice of family around me on our combined journey. A place where the excitement of what might be, rises within me. A place to sit and wait for the approach of new friends, who now are just bridging the horizon. A place to be thankful. It is an odd place full of sadness, concern, thankfulness, joy, anticipation and reflection. But it is a good place.
The rain has stopped now outside and the sky is beginning to clear. The bird song has returned, the metaphor does not escape me. As I continue walking up to meet those new friends on the horizon, I do feel at peace. I pray that you who have walked with me thus far will continue to walk with me. Even as I do, I am aware that for some that is not possible, and I bid you a fond farewell. It is correct that I continue walking at this point, deep in my soul I am aware that in some fashion this is meant to be. Am I truly walking in Gods will? I cannot know until I stand before Him; but as I have said so often whilst quoting Thomas Merton, I believe my desire to please Him, does in fact please Him.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think that I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road
though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
I am not a great expert in the life or writings of Thomas Merton, but this famous prayer of his has struck a note in me ever since I first heard it. For me it sums up the delicate tip toeing approach I take in trying to understand the will of God in my life. It seems to me that many who choose not to follow Jesus, believe that those of us who do have some sort of direct line to God, on which He directs every detail of our lives. It has never been like that for me, and I don’t believe that there is even one single will God has for me. I have always seen God’s will as being like a motorway way rather than a single track. God’s guidelines being that I might not stray of either side of the motorway, but that I can choose the lane that seems right to me, a route that would please Him. This is probably why Merton’s prayer is one I can say so readily, particularly at this stage of my walk. The next month should by rights be a month that I am dreading. Within the family we have school exams, college exams, a house move, completion of essays and much more besides. All this potential stress because I chose to follow a route that I believe is part of God’s will for my life, and yet I cannot have certainty that it actually is. It’s not a moment of doubt, because actually I am not dreading the next month. I am excited about the possibilities and actually have a huge amount of peace about our future. Perhaps that’s because ‘the desire to please’ God ‘does in fact please’ Him.