Sunrise, Sea of Galilee

Sunrise, Sea of Galilee

One morning midway through my recent trip to Israel, I got up early, just before sunrise. Our tour group was staying at a resort on the Sea of Galilee, and I decided to go down to the dock and start the day in quiet reflection. I took a seat, and soon was captivated by the motion of the water. Medium-sized waves slanted toward the shore at regular intervals. Nothing unusual about that. But there were also smaller waves heading straight out from the shore, and a light wind rumpled another set of waves–ripples really–atop the other two wave patterns. I was entranced. I couldn’t recall ever having seen water acting quite this way.

Wadi Qelt

Wadi Qelt

Water had been a significant theme for our trip up to that point. Every day as we got on the bus, we found the aisle stocked with dozens of two-liter bottles of water. We were encouraged–even hectored–to top off the water reservoirs in our backpacks whenever we had the opportunity and to drink regularly throughout the day. This injunction was typically followed by a warning–“If you start to feel thirsty, you’re already getting dehydrated.” During a long hike down Wadi Qelt in sweltering conditions on our second day, a couple members of our group got overheated and nearly collapsed. I joined with a few others in helping one of these people down off the hillside to a stream in the valley. She was so weak it took over a half-hour for us to help her walk about a hundred yards. I was fearful for her, concerned that she couldn’t make it back to the bus or that she would have to be hospitalized. After she reached the stream and sat in the cool water for five minutes, though, she revived remarkably well, and was able to hike without difficulty another half-mile to our pickup point. Another encounter with water was a swim in the Dead Sea, salt content over 30%. The sea was so buoyant that it was hard to get my feet underneath me when I wanted to stand up. One person got water in an eye, and it took a great deal of effort to get that eye clear again.

During the first part of our trip, the most meaningful encounter with water for me was at En Gedi. We went there the day after the long, dusty wilderness hike I mentioned above. En Gedi is located alongside the Dead Sea in the desert, so I expected another day of dirt, rocks, and sun. I was surprised when, upon exiting the bus, we walked along a tree-lined path to a welcoming pool of water feed by a clamoring waterfall. Tim, our tour leader, told us we were in Wadi David, named after the eponymous former shepherd boy and future king who hid here from King Saul. The wilderness offered protection, and, as at this wadi, water in the desert provided refreshment.

Waterfall at En Geti

Waterfall at En Gedi

Tim talked about the importance of water in this arid wilderness. He cited a number of passages in the Psalter in which the psalmist wrote about being thirsty or desiring water. Among such passages is Psalm 63, described by the compilers of psalms as written by David when he was in the Judean wilderness. It begins:

“O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water”

The image is vivid: just like parched land longs for water, so the psalmist longed for God. The land is characterized as not only dry but also as weary. According to the Dictionary of Biblical Languages, the term here means “faint, i.e. pertaining to being a weakened physical condition, requiring food, drink, and rest in order to recuperate.” Lacking a recent sense of God’s presence, David is weakened, in need of God in order to recover. Fortunately, he has a prior experience with God to draw on:

“So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory. (v.2)”

That gives him resources that, like food and water, revive him:

“My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy. (v. 5-7)”

Why did this site and this psalm resonate so much with me?  Later I realized that for the last six months, I had been, if not in a desert, at least in a parched place. In January my church disbanded. I tried to remain part of a Bible Study while looking for another church, but that study has been suspended for the summer. I don’t exactly feel distant from God, but I do feel distant from his people, and that leaves me thirsty. I’m glad I was able to go on this trip with a church group–not my church, mind you, but still a group that served as church for me for a time. I appreciate the refreshment I received.

As for the waves in the Sea of Galilee, I decided to turn them into a metaphor. Here’s what I came up with:

  • the big waves slanting toward shore represent God’s unceasing initiative to make all things new,
  • the small waves going out are our yearning for the newness and wholeness that God is bringing about,
  • but our temptation is to focus not on God but the ripples of daily frustrations and annoyances.

May I do better at ignoring the ripples and responding wholeheartedly to the never-ending waves of love that constantly wash from God towards us.