As the train came to a halt, we caught our first glimpse of Tabor. After following the coast past Tel Aviv and Caesarea, we changed trains at the port city of Haifa and began our inland route to the heart of Galilee. Here we found ourselves in the Jezreel Valley near Tel Megiddo, where Solomon kept his spacious horse stalls, popularly know as Armageddon, where the eschatological battle is due to take place. Alighting the air-conditioned train, we stepped into the heat, in view both of Tabor and the outskirts of Nazareth that creep out of a range of hills. We caught a public bus to spend our first nights in Galilee up in Nazareth before heading to Cana, the Sea of Galilee, and beyond. For the moment, we’ll fast forward to the final nights of our time in Galilee: Mt. Tabor.
The mystical mountain looms there alone in the flats of the valley. So steep, and almost oddly round, like half of an eggshell on its side. The Transfiguration is the apex, the glory, and the end of Christ’s life and ministry in Galilee. Walking with Jesus, listening to Him teach, witnessing his miracles and compassion—we might almost forget the eternal divinity from which He came and where He is headed. the glorious goal, to be raised up in beauty at the right hand of the Father. Walking along our trail of friendship and encounters, we might forget the interior life, love, and beauty to which He calls us—the life that will last for eternity.
The days leading up to our climb up Tabor got hotter and hotter, breaking 110 F. Through two nights of camping, reflection, quiet, and down time on the Galilee shore, the Lord had readied our spirits, and simplified our hearts. Taking his hand and leaning on each other made perseverance easy.
We gathered provisions in D’voria, the Arab village at the foot of the mount with a small bakery, a grocer, and a butcher. We had a light supper, and then stuffed food for two days into our packs and started our ascent, as the sun began to set. Winding up the switchback, we stopped to pray vespers, gazing out at the orange glow of the West. Just before the Magnificat, the muezzin call to prayer sounded down in D’voria, as if echoing the victory calls for the town’s namesake, Deborah, who here defeated the chariots of Sisera.
We continued climbing through the warm evening. We were walking up after hours, missing the tourists shuttles and rental cars that frequent the route by day. Now, the only traffic an occasional Israeli hiker or a car of picnicking Muslims. We passed through the Crusader gate, finally reaching the long, flat front drive, lined with walls and tall pines. A football field away, through the twilight, we could see the illuminated facade of the Catholic church. Just before reaching the locked gate leading into the Franciscan monastery and Holy Site, we turned and went through a gap in the Crusader wall, down a short, narrow trail to a terrace in the forest.
As Peter offered to pitch a tent, I took him up on the deal and pitched mine. The youth, preferring the open air and not fearing the mosquitos, rolled out their mats or put up their hammocks. We gathered around in the dark to discuss “hi-lows” and have our night reflection and blessing. Each night, in fact, we take this time to look back on the day, to call to mind our sins, but moreover, to recognize where the Lord has been present during our day. And so we began a time of silence that would prolong through the next day, a little retreat day here towards the end of our week in Galilee, but also as a spiritual conclusion for our stay in the Holy Land.
The next day and night up on the mountain were simple and personal. Most of us who awoke early, at the light of dawn, and bird calls that began before 5am. We found ourselves enveloped in mist, like the cloud that descended upon Peter, James, and John. It made them sleepy, and most of us were able to catch a bit more rest before our morning Mass and a reading of story of the Transfiguration. After breakfast in silence, we exposed the Blessed Sacrament on one of the large Crusader stones. We were each free to alternate times of adoration, spiritual direction, and wandering around the church, gardens, and ruins of the Holy Site.
“Adoring the Eucharist in the midst of thorny bushes which has caused us pain throughout the pilgrimage, I could better understand why Christ showed his disciples that He must suffer and die before raised on the third day. (Matthew 16:21). For we cannot fully understand Christ’s glory apart from His suffering, nor His suffering without His glory.” -Peitong
Upon the mountain, Christ conversed with Moses and Elijah. These were two figures who had come up again and again during our trip, both in our encounter with Judaism and in our Christian reading of the Biblical tradition. These two witnessed God’s revelation on the mountain top, and here they conversed with Christ about the ultimate revelation of the Father’s love that Christ would show us in his final ascent to Jerusalem.
After a month in this Land, Christ’s mission and his glorified beauty meant something new to each of us. At dinner, rather than share hi-lows of the day, we witnessed to each other the highlights and spiritual moments that each of us had experienced during our previous weeks of pilgrimage, formation, and service. The morning descent, however, was not just the beginning of the end; it was a descent on mission, as the next day we would visit sites of the Acts of the Apostles…but that can wait for another blogpost!