Day 1: Valentine's Day, Jesus Style

Nazareth to Ilaniya in First-Century Costume

Valentine’s Day 2011 was a good day. Because they did not celebrate Valentine’s Day in the first century, we did things they might have done on a typical day, like walking, dressing in a head scarf and robe, talking with friends, making a fire, cooking lentils, picking red anemones for one’s hiking partner.

We began the first day of our costumed walk with the mist and sun of a pleasant February morning shining down on our turbaned heads. After a saunter around Nazareth Village, we headed out of town. Because it is springtime, we encountered mud every day, but as we walked along, knocking mud off of our sandals, we occupied ourselves by asking what various objects were which we would not recognize in the first century. What is a pepper? What is a potato? What is plastic? Someone else in the party would try to explain characteristics of the object.

Our first day on the trail was a beautiful day for hiking. All day we enjoyed cool breezes, sunshine, new flowers springing up all along the trail, and splashes of green as far as the eye could see. Towards the end of the day, we were walking through hidden fields of tall green grass and hillsides covered with fir trees and flowers. The last half of the trail, in particular, set the stage for Jesus’ stories. I could imagine Jesus walking through green fields on muddy paths, pointing out the flowers to his followers. If we were kicking mud off of our feet behind him, he might tell us not to worry about what we wear or eat because the beauty all around us in nature shows that God cares for us. Walking and worrying do not seem to be very good partners in general.

As we walked through muddy fields, quiet back orchards, and modern villages, we constantly thought about the people around us. Jesus most likely was almost constantly surrounded by people who listened, people who judged, and people who wondered who in the world he was. I also felt that we met all types on our travels. As we walked the valley between Mash’had and Cana we came upon a Jewish man and his car. He was taking pictures and asked for a picture with us. He asked us if we had heard about the story of Jesus turning water to wine. It happened right here, he said. Although we had just walked through a village, this man was the first to talk to us. Most people either stared, chuckled, or tried to avoid us.

Delightful stop at the Cana Wedding Guesthouse! The hot tea hit the spot, right when we were thinking about the weather getting cooler and the chance of rain increasing before our eyes. It was a welcome break, and her genuine curiosity was refreshing.

Along our hike, we often talked about hospitality. Today, as in the time of Jesus, hospitality is important to give and receive. We were most aware of this as we began the second half of our day. As we passed through Cana, Souad, the owner of the Cana Wedding Guesthouse saw us from her porch and called us in for tea. Her excitement over our journey and the hot tea and sugar she provided were enough to keep us smiling for miles down the road. We were also blessed by a man and his sons who saw us from their house just on the edge of Cana. The offered us water and fruit. The man explained our ancient looking waterskin to his young son. Exiting Cana, we felt filled and ready for the path ahead. Walking along we discussed Jesus’ command to take nothing but a staff on the journey. Perhaps he wanted his followers to interact with those along the way. Asking for food, water, and shelter would certainly have provided many opportunities for Jesus’ disciples to receive hospitality. Barely asking, we also received.

I enjoyed the little playful baby goats at Yarok Az. So fun. Every time I watched them running, jumping, butting heads, exploring I smiled. Similar feeling I get from watching young children doing the same things. Makes me want to recover my own childhood sense of wonder, adventure, care-less joy! Well, maybe those who know me well would say I still have at least a little bit of that hanging on yet. 🙂

With the sun’s setting rays we made our way to Yarok Az, an organic goat farm at Ilaniya. Guesthouse owners along the trail, the Jewish owners welcomed us happily into their cool green garden. After a long day of hiking, the soft piles of fresh grass in their yard felt wonderful to our hot feet. Baby goats jumped around us as we sipped hot cups of sage tea provided by our fellow hiker, Anna. I better understood King David’s delight as he remembers how his shepherd, God, makes him lie down in green pastures and restores his soul (Psalm 23).

As Valentine’s Day evening settled around us, we set up a tent for the night and fiddled with damp wood to start the fire that would cook our red lentil stew. Finally, we watched the stew bubble and steam. Local wine, goat cheese, and bread rounded out our Valentine meal shared with our hiking partners Dave and Anna.

Photo highlights from Day 1, Nazareth to Ilaniya

Reflections and captions by Philip

I enjoyed experimenting with different ways of carrying my food bag and water skin on the first day. It was a fun (and important) learning process. I tried them on either side, then I tried attaching them to my staff on each end and carrying them on my shoulders; this caused some back-and-forth swaying which affected my balance a little. I also found that if I put my staff under my bag and water skin and lifted slightly, taking the pressure off of my shoulders, this gave my body wonderful relief. I would rotate between doing this and letting them hang freely from my shoulders across my chest, against each side of my body. I was very happy that our friends at Nazareth Village gave us an extra wool wrap, because it gave me much-needed extra padding on my shoulders, especially for the abrasive rope holding the water skin. - Philip

Melchizidek, the cute little dog from Mashhad, was a welcome addition to our band mid-way through the first day, with his inquisitiveness and general cuteness. His oversize paws and squarish face were incredibly cute, even prompting me to say something you will rarely hear me say: “If I had a dog....” The ending to this particular sentence: “ would probably be one like this one”. Every once in a while Melchiz would stop right in front of me so that I would almost step on him. I enjoyed even that slight annoyance because it made me laugh at his simple trust in me, a funny-looking stranger. I also did love very much his persistence in staying with us past some big, menacing barking dogs. I was impressed, really not thinking he would continue. - Philip

Passing the elementary school in Cana, we were greeted by dozens of school children. Another group of guys in Cana who drove by us then stopped and, when we caught back up to them, offered us a whole bag of bread . What an awesome gesture! Dave accepted one loaf from them instead. I waved at the driver as he smiled at me in his side-view mirror and drove slowly on. He waved back. As we left town, then, we also received water from a kind father and three sons (they also offered us fruit, which we declined). Water and bread given to pilgrims on hajj. - Philip

We also found some kindred spirits at Yarok Az, a young Christian couple having similar passions as we have—for Simple Way-type Christian community life and real down-to-earth worship of Jesus. They asked if we were familiar with—who else?—the Psalters! They had seen them on a European tour. (I'm listening to the Psalters right now in honor of our new Yarok Az friends from South Africa and the UK.) - Philip