Shalom from the heights of Mount Hermon!!! I’m in the midst of three weeks of retreat and pilgrimage of Providence. Eight days of hermitage up on a mountain near Tiberias was such a rest and renewal for me. What a gift to share, twice a day, in the long, loving liturgies of the five Sisters of Bethlehem in their cave-chapel.
I felt such a spiritual momentum coming down the mountains to spend a few days with Melkite (Arab-speaking Byzantine) priests and little parish communities! I was surprised to see how much they wanted to talk about faith, how they are opening themselves to renewal. I was especially touched in Jish, the birthplace of St. Paul, up against the Lebanese border. I was with the Melkites, but I also witnessed the energy of the Maronite parish, with its kids’ camp in full swing. I found out that the large number of Maronites (Lebanese) in the town has recently gotten the Israeli state schools to begin teaching kids Aramaic.
I went north along the ridge that separates northern Galilee from Israel, then dipped down into the Hula Valley that is a sort of continuation of the Jordan Valley, way north of the Sea of Galilee. The valley ends where Israel touches the Lebanese border at Tel Dan, the tip of the Promised Land. There I found a tiny clearing to bathe and camp on the bamboo-covered shore few km below the main source of the Jordan. Dan gushes out one of the largest springs of the Middle East. Northeast, Israeli territory continues past Caesarea Philippi, up the steep slopes of 7,000-foot Mt Hermon.
I entered this small group of mountains the next day on one of the toughest trails I’ve ever attempted—up an endless ravine of huge rocks, measuring each step, jumping, crawling, my pack heavy with books, laptop, water and vegetables. Sort of regret not bringing shoes. But beautiful and solitary—didn’t see a soul.
Second day was less rocky, but steeper, with grass and thistles grabbing at me the whole time. Still solitary except for passing through the Druze village where I begged for some pita and hummus. It’s the village in the movie the Syrian Bride—a must see Israeli film! I found a place to hang the hammock and settled in for the night. This morning, with a panorama from my hammock, prayed for Syria watching the sun rise over its rolling hills. A plumb tree offered me breakfast, then I began the climb.
It was nice to have another solitary hike—I didn’t realize that hiking Hermon wasn’t a “thing” for Israelis. In fact, everyone takes the easy way up—the drive and then the ski lift! The views were huge down upon the Hula Valley and upon Lebanon. Unfortunately. The highest peaks of the summit which are reserved for the military block the view of Syria, and the little that was visible was hazy.
It’s definitely a “high mountain”, perhaps the one where Christ was transfigured and his garments became “white as snow.” I really felt the urge to come up here, and to do it all on foot, as I am coming to grips with the fact that, if you put two and two together in the Gospels, Tabor doesn’t seem like the likely site for Christ’s revelation with Moses and Elijah. Jesus went up six days after Peter confessed he was the Messiah near Caesarea Philippi, rather far from the not so high Tabor, which was inhabited and had a fortress at the time of Jesus. Rather,
Mt. Hermon is the highest point in the Holy Land, and the source of the Jordan, while the lowest place on earth, at the end of the Jordan (Jordan means “descend”), just before it enters the Dead Sea, is where Moses “died”, where Elijah ascended, and where John the Baptist plunged Jesus into the Jordan.
At the Transfiguration and the Baptism (two feasts we Catholics hardly notice, but which Eastern Christians adore), the Father said, “This is my Beloved Son.” On the hike, I felt that holiness, that blessing it is to be a son in the Son. Up at the top, amid the military barracks and the ski lodge full of kids licking ice cream, the atmosphere is less contemplative. At least it is a nice place to sit down and write some memoirs for you. What’s next? We’ll see where the Spirit blows!