Friday, February 27, 2015
GRACE BY THE SEA
Grace, Tabgha, Israel
As you might imagine, any visit to spiritual sites is generally crowded with other pilgrims. Two of these sites that I was most interested in experiencing are located on the northwestern shores of the Sea of Galilee. A Spanish pilgrim, Egeria, wrote about them in 380:
“Not far away from there (Capernaum) are some stone steps where the Lord stood. And in the same place by the sea is a grassy field with plenty of hay and many palm trees. By them are seven springs, each flowing strongly. And this is the field where the Lord fed the people with the five loaves and two fishes. In fact the stone on which the Lord placed the bread has now been made into an altar. Past the walls of this church goes the public highway on which the Apostle Matthew had his place of custom. Near there on a mountain is a cave to which the Savior climbed and spoke the Beatitudes.”
Most all of the historical sites where Jesus lived and performed miracles have been preserved by building churches over them. The good news is that they now preserve approximate locations for pilgrims to gain an intimate sense of the momentous events that occurred over 2,000 years ago around the Son of God. The bad news is that in many cases, the unspoiled natural area has generally been obscured. Since so few people recognized His true nature until after the fact, hardly anyone immediately commemorated the sites and the sands of time obscured many of them. But then, there seems to have been a master plan to leave only His Word, which is all we really need anyway. So you must come to these places with an open mind to simply reflect and meditate on the significance of the event in this Holy Land.
We waited outside the Roman Catholic Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish while other groups were gathered inside the small sanctuary. Some groups were gathered outside on the outer veranda overlooking the Sea of Galilee and singing impromptu hymns. Since childhood I listened to Sunday school teachers tell of how Jesus performed the miracle of receiving five loaves of bread and two fish from a small boy who was willing to share all he had to eat with the crowd of five thousand. And it’s quite feasible that the one who was involved in the creation of the universe simply multiplied them so that the large gathering was fed. After all, he had also initiated his three year ministry by turning the sacramental water in large clay jars into the finest wine the wedding steward had ever tasted. But I also believe that it may be even more difficult to turn the hearts of men to generous sharing with those who are in need. The many pilgrims in the crowd may have quite possibly been moved to open their hearts and baskets in response to the generosity that Jesus demonstrated to them.
Our group was finally able to enter the church and experience the simple stone alter over a large rock outcropping that tradition says Jesus stood on to bless the offering before sharing it with the multitude. We all took a few photographs, paused awhile in this spiritual place and then began to disperse outside to make room for others. Because visiting this location was one of my primary reasons for making this long journey, I lingered behind to fully take in the experience and study the ancient mosaic of two fish and four loaves in front of the alter. We’re told that we are still receiving the fifth loaf.
When I turned to leave, I became aware of a nun quietly lighting candles just behind me. I hadn’t heard her approaching and she didn’t speak to disturb me. I didn’t realize it at the time, but somehow we were the only two beings present in the church. I silently took a photograph of her lighting the candles to commemorate the moment. She turned and gestured without speaking to take my photograph by the candles. So I gave her my camera and she returned the favor. It hadn’t occurred to me to document my presence in this place that I had been studying for quite some time. I thanked her and left the empty sanctuary refreshed to catch up with my friends as another group arrived.
I believe that the lines between angelic beings and people being angelic become blurred at times. I believe that God is still a very living presence among us and His grace is still dispensed through those willing to be vessels for others. It seems plausible that angelic beings also walk among us dispensing that grace. Our sixth sense may even detect their presence at times.