I went to Magdala today.
I’ve been before, several times, but only got as far as the large supermarket that sits next to the archaeological site.
But today I went to Magdala to see Magdala.
I don’t know what I expected. But what I found wasn’t it. I was there to meet someone who was just finishing leading a tour, so I followed the group to a large circular spirituality centre. Duc in Altum, it said above the door, Launch into the Deep.
Inside, it was light, airy, spacious, with incredible acoustics. The main chapel sat facing the Sea of Galilee, with four smaller side chapels off from the central space.
But I hardly noticed any of them at first. At first I looked up. I saw large hands painted on the dome in gentle colours, clearly those of a woman. I looked around at the columns. On seven of the eight were etched the names of women in Jesus’ life. The eighth was empty, to represent all women today.
I wanted to sink to the floor and weep. A worship space devoted to women.
The woman I was meeting took me and another woman downstairs to the crypt. An ancient stone floor spread out in front of us and led to a space designed like a synagogue. It was bare except for an enormous painting. A painting of feet. Men’s feet. Sandalled feet. Feet with dirt in the creases. Feet with broken toenails. Feet weary with walking and working.
But then. Then there’s a hand. A single hand reaching out across all the feet to touch the fringes of a prayer shawl. It’s a strong hand, worn and weathered, but with the slightness which makes it undeniably female. I nearly gasped when I recognised it.
I could hardly take my eyes away from it.
In this land, there is so much blood shed. And I realised this evening how easy it is for mine to mingle with the rest. For life and energy and creativity to flow from me until I am drained, empty. There are generations of trauma here. There are oceans of tears. There are age old narratives of persecution and empire and war and fear and suffering and victimhood which grow thicker with time.
And it is hard. It is hard not to be consumed by all that. To not enter the darkness where other people dwell, either by choice or by circumstance. To not drown in the emotion. To not think and think and think some more about each word that I speak, each sentence I preach, each hymn I choose and wonder who will mishear, who will be hurt, who will be angry. It is hard.
There are certain meetings I have had that I long to write about because the stories need to be told, but when I walk away from them, I realise that I have bled out. My words, my spirit, my passion are no longer there, and I am crawling on the ground from the pain of being so empty, desperate to be healed.
The danger in this country is not in the missiles. Not in the guns. Not in the walls or the stones or the tear gas or the knives.
The danger in this country is in the way it is far too easy to cling on to pain and seek life and purpose and meaning from the very thing which drains life.
Just one touch. Healing. Wholeness. Forgiveness.
I hadn’t realised I felt that way until I saw the solidness, the stability of Jesus’ staff and wondered, when he felt the power go from him, was there a moment when he leant on it for strength?
I can’t explain what happened to me at Magdala. All I can say is this: I felt my strength return. And for that — and for those who were with me, who offered prayers, and healing touch, and immeasurable wisdom, and even forgiveness — thank you.