I had looked forward to each of the experiences I planned on having in the Holy Land. I knew that many would be different in reality than they were in my mind, but the sea would be a holy place. I felt as though it had to be a holy place or my faith would fall apart right there into the water and float away. There, I hoped to escape the gilded sanctuaries and gawking crowds the church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Garden of Gethsemane offered. The sea promised a real, tangible connection to the place the one I long to follow lived.
We visited several churches on the way to the lakeshore. Like the other churches, each had its own claim to fame - some tenuous connection to where something in scripture might or might not have happened. Each had ornate doorways, overwhelming architecture, and weeping masses of sensory-overloaded tourists.
By the time we arrived at the last church of the day - the one which we’d been promised offered access to the water - I couldn’t bear to spend any more time in a man-made temple. I wanted to touch God. While my traveling companions lined up to filter into the church, I rushed straight to the water’s edge.
I paused before entering the lake. I prayed in the loudest spirit voice I could muster, “God! I need to see, hear, and touch you. Don’t hide from me.”
The crystal water was chilly on my feet, gently lapping onto my ankles as I perched on a rock jutting out of the very lake it all went down in. This place where storms were calmed, where the faithful doubted, wrestled, questioned, faltered, and walked was still the home of miracles.
The miracles offered by the sea this day were less dramatic - less historic, perhaps - but they provided much needed connection. They connected me to God, to creation, and even to those miracles of so many centuries ago.
The very rock on which I sat was a miracle that had resided on these same gentle shores for untold centuries. Who else had rested on that rock throughout the years? It had seen war, love, joy, sorrow, faith, doubt, anxiety, and countless changes of seasons. Long before the church I’d passed by was built or even conceived in the mind of an architect, that miraculous rock marked this holy place.
An altar of reeds stood out in the distance: a monument reaching to the sky. Not contained by wooden beams or marble floors, this un-gilded ebenezer dwelt in the holiest of temples with the water below it and the unending heavens above. It stretched out toward a spotlight of sun and gave testimony to the wonder of creation. “Here,” it said, “is where God meets those who seek.”
As I looked down from the reeds, I realized that I was not alone. From my stone pew, I sat with my fellow supplicants, deep in the very prayer I’d hoped to find here.
No gape-jawed tour groups shuffled past this rock as they did through the fences and rails that pressed them past other so called holy places as though they were cattle in a slaughterhouse chute. The congregation here at this sacred rock were small, almost unnoticeable. Here, the worshipers were tiny, rock-colored fish. These small algae-eating friends of mine understood the sacredness of the place. They did not need gaudy chandeliers or velvet curtains. There was no need to ask them to remain quiet and respectful of the space. They knew that this was a sanctuary for those who seek to meet with God. Theirs was the purest form of prayer.
It was into this prayer I found myself drawn. I was welcomed into their worship at the reed altar. This was a worship unlike any other I’d known. I had prayed on rocks at floral shrines with feral friends before, but this was more than simple contemplation or act of obligatory prostration. This was not just a human gasp before the beauty of the scene.
Here, I was able to see God, hear God, and touch God by seeing, hearing, and touching this place of wonders.
Here, God taught.
Here, God walked.
Here, God fed.
Here, God loved.
Here, I listened.
Here, I followed.
Here, I was satiated.
Here, I was loved.
When I crept reluctantly out of the water, I did so a new person. This living water had refreshed and renewed. As I entered back into the fray with the name-tag wearing visitors with matching t-shirts, it was with a different spirit. These waters had cleansed my angst, making the chaos of those around me fade into the background. Here, while others looked to find a piece of God, I had learned anew how to rest in the peace of God.
The peace of God does not reside in a church. It does not require a gilded chapel or an incense-filled shrine. The peace of God is not confined to a building or a particular mountain. The peace of God is not even restricted to that very lake in which I met it again after a time of great unrest in my life: a time in which I had felt unmoored and disconnected. The peace of God is within. It waits to be released in the moments when we dare to escape the pressing crowds seeking to find the perfect place. It is when we come in a holy attitude that is paradoxically both seeking and releasing all expectations of finding that we meet with God. This is the holiest of places: the holy of holies.
““Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
John 14:27 ESV”
Charissa Clark Howe
Pastor, author, musician, audiobook narrator