Monday, August 29, 2016

Embracing the Galilees and Jerusalems of our lives without exceptions.

Ronald Rolheiser in one of his many keynote addresses made a very pertinent reference to both Galilee and Jerusalem.  He made it clear that though these are geographical places that physically exist, when it is made in relation to our prayer life and our spiritual life, they have a deep and abiding spiritual meaning and significance.  For the sake of my readers, and because I find this most relatable to my own prayer life, I would like to ponder a bit about this.

In the ministry and life of Jesus, these two towns or cities gave very different experiences both of God and of man.  Galilee was a place where so many miracles were performed and recorded.  Jesus begins forming his team of disciples in Galilee.  This was the seedbed of Christianity as we know it.  Jesus walked on the water there and he fed the 5,000 miraculously.  In fact, Peter himself managed to make a few steps on the water too.  Stormy seas were calmed and controlled by Jesus at Galilee.  This was a place of great happenings.  The power of God seemed to be at its zenith.  Galilee was a place of light.

Then there’s Jerusalem.  What Galilee was to Jesus, this was its antithesis.  Beloved city that it was, it was not a place that was welcoming and happy to receive Jesus.  Jerusalem was the place where Jesus would be provoked, with the powers that be orchestrating to disconcert him.  The authorities there would plan and plot to have him done away with, and this would be where, hanging on the Cross of Calvary, Jesus would be dying to save the world.  Jerusalem was a heavy and dense place, and it contrasted against Galilee, it would seem to be a place of darkness.

Yet, in both places, we meet Jesus.  This I believe, is the important teaching point that many miss.  If these two places are indeed places where one did meet Jesus, and for different reasons, then it also means that in our own spiritual journeys, Jesus too is found in places that are dark and dense, just as he can be found in places that are full of light and joy.  Jesus doesn’t just meet us when things are going well, and when there are no trials and afflictions.  Jesus isn’t just there at the Galilees of our lives.  Jesus is also there in the Jerusalems where we are facing trials and when things seem to be falling off the hinges and things don’t seem to be making sense. 

It’s the embracing of Jesus at these two places simultaneously that many people are not comfortable.  A healthy spirituality doesn’t turn our backs on Jerusalem like those two disciples who headed for Emmaus, even though most of the time, it doesn’t make logical sense to go into a place of foreboding with any willingness.

The place that these two locations had in the life of the early church was also very different.  At so many resurrection appearances of Jesus, he tells the disciples to meet him at Galilee.  There is a spiritual and theological reason for this that requires some unpacking.  Because Galilee was a place of grace-filled encounter, there is a need for us to hearken there especially when the trials and tests of life come flying at us at breakneck speed.  It is a reminder to all of us that when the horizon ahead of us isn’t particularly clear with blue skies, it would be good for us to rekindle our faith by recalling when we were called to life anew, like when our baptism gave us a new identity and a great purpose for life.  It’s easy to forget these foundational moments when we start floundering in our faith.  Good retreats must always rekindle within us the joys of our Galilee moments.

But to stay there would be to miss the point.  It is the Jerusalem moments that build our character and give us a reason to pursue virtue.  Just as Jerusalem was a sine qua non for Jesus and the salvation of the world, so too are the Jerusalems for our souls.  Just as Calvary was the prerequisite for the Resurrection, our risings from our little deaths can only come about through the ways that we resolutely enter the Jerusalem moments with faith. 

Our lives are always made richer because of the contours and contrasts brought about by both darkness and light.  Joy is only fully appreciated when one has known sorrow, in the same way that sorrow brings depth the experiences of joy.  So too with the Galilee and Jerusalems.  To only want one without the other may be asking for immature living.

1 comment:

  1. Your post brings back nostalgic memories of our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
    The boat trip crossing Lake Gennesaret better known as the Sea of Galilee was done on a cool sunny morning, so that when the boat’s engine was cut after some distance from shore, there was this feeling of immense tranquillity and silence, broken only by the gentle swishing of the waves against the sides of the boat as it bobbed up and down in the vast stretch of emerald green-blue water. In such an idyllic moment, it was not difficult to hear the stirrings from deep within, the whispers of the heart calling afresh to ‘leave one’s boats behind and follow Him.....once more.’ A time of being present to presence. For as you have said, most of us know that “Galilee was a place where so many miracles were performed ..... forming his team of disciples in Galilee. This was the seedbed of Christianity...............a place of great happenings.”

    And it came as no surprise too, that the group (which comprised many CPG members) burst into spontaneous prayers and songs of worship for their hearts were bursting with joy and re-awakening in this graced moment.

    It was in this ‘up-mood’ that we made for Jerusalem and I remembered how the words of a Psalm kept repeating itself in my mind........ “Let us go to God’s house......and now our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem...” Seeing it for the first time, I sensed awe and grandeur coz it reminds me of the Other Jerusalem ...........but lurking beneath was a feeling of dread or foreboding for it’s also the place of great suffering ..............finally, of death of the one I called Saviour. It seemed a harsh place but actually it has a certain ‘painful’ beauty that tugs at the heart-strings for it carries the marks of the price of Love, especially the Church of Flagellation and Lithostrotos ( the pavement where Jesus had walked), the grotesque-beauty of gnarled olive trees of Mt of Olives, Via Dolorosa, Calvary. So, yes, I do find that going up to Jerusalem was a strenuous and exhausting journey both emotionally and spiritually, but it was like you said - necessary.

    Reflecting further, I found something rather unique and uplifting. Throughout the pain and suffering which was a major part of the Jesus’ journey in Jerusalem, there was sadness mingled with fear but there was never a feeling of down-right despair or hopelessness. I believe it is coz Jesus was resolute to fulfil the Father’s will and He had faith in His Father. I like what you said,
    “Just as Calvary was the prerequisite for the Resurrection, our risings from our little deaths can only come about through the ways that we resolutely enter the Jerusalem moments with faith.”

    God bless u, Fr.