On the first day of our pilgrimage in Israel I remember feeling especially “alive” to the potential of subsequent days. I was truly excited to be on such holy soil. I could hardly wait to get started as we began our ascent to the Cliffs of Arbel. I had rested well the night before. After a long intercontinental flight the strange, smallish bed had served me well.
The cliffs overlook the Sea of Galilee. From this high vantage point one can see the cities of Magdala, Tabgha, ancient Capernaum, north to where the Jordan River empties into the Sea. You are looking across the Valley of the Doves—through which Jesus would have traveled from his hometown of Nazareth to Capernaum, where he would make his home and from which he would conduct much of his Galilean ministry.
So there I stood with other fellow pilgrims surveying this scenic, though simple spot—aware that we were looking at the very place where Jesus walked. I say “simple,” because I was struck by the ordinariness, the smallish location for such a grand narrative—the epic story of Jesus and the kingdom of God. There I stood looking down upon the very ground where Jesus fully lived—a life of love and purpose.
At times I find myself searching for such a vantage point concerning my own life—playing the “what if” game—what if Cindy and I hadn’t stayed in Cross Plains? What if I had followed the model of so many Baptist pastors—serve a few years in one church and then on to the next and the next? What if I had left this small, middle-Tennessee town for places other and bigger, so to speak? I guess it’s human nature, isn’t it, to wonder. What if things had been different…? I’m sure I’m not the only one to do such.
Don’t get me wrong—life lived here has been rewarding. Good for family, good for church, good for me! Looking back brings a great deal of satisfaction along with some regret. I’m sure that’s true for you as well. There is much in life for which to be thankful and much from which, hopefully, we have learned. One thing is certain—there’s no going back, no rewind button! What’s done is done, what’s passed is passed. Life moves forward. There’s no going back.
That’s where any spiritual pilgrimage truly begins. On the Cliffs of Arbel I prayed to be fully awake, especially alive in the days ahead. I continue to pray that prayer, maybe even more so now. That in years ahead I’ll live this one life of mine fully alive, especially so.
One named Jesus, in a single and simple life, in an ordinary, out of the way place, did just that. He lived a life of love and purpose.