A reflection from Holy Land pilgrim Ted Ellett: On the sixth day of our pilgrimage we traveled to Galilee, the place where Jesus spent his boyhood, and where most of his teaching, preaching, and performing of miracles took place. On our pilgrimage we have been doing heavy walking with our eyes, focusing on quiet listening and watching, and letting the Holy Land flow through us and speak to us as we move about.

For me, Galilee has been the area of our pilgrimage where it has been easiest to feel close to God, because Jesus lived, walked, and worked right here in these same hills and valleys where we are walking.  The last stop on our first day in Galilee was a visit to the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, which is built over the place where Jesus’s mother Mary lived, and where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she would bear the Son of God (Luke 1: 26-38).

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At the Church of the Nativity it was pointed out to us that the church structure consists of many levels, each from a different historical period. At the lowest level is the stone cave that dates from the time of Christ and is widely thought to have been Mary’s family’s home. At the same level is a mosaic floor from a 4th Century church, and an arch and altar incorporated into the cave in the 5th Century. Above that is a wall from the Crusades period on the entrance level. Above that there is the foundation of a Franciscan church built in the 18th Century. The Franciscans later tore down that church, but used its foundation as the base of the top level, the current modern Franciscan church, which was built in 1969. This upper level contains a large round opening in the middle of the floor from which one can look down to the cave level. From below, one can look up to the modern church above, and ultimately up to the top of the inside of the soaring church spire, which is crowned by a star at the apex. I recalled that at virtually all of the holy and historic sites we have visited on this pilgrimage, we have been focusing on layers. Not just physical layers of rock and stone, but also layers of religion, political control, and even culture, lying one on top of the other: Roman, Roman Christian, Muslim, Crusades, Muslim yet again, Ottoman, British Mandate, and Modern Israel.

It occurs to me that this aspect of our pilgrimage is not unlike the spiritual journey all faithful people pursue over the course of their lives: introspection to gain awareness of the externalities of everyday life that have so coated and restricted our inner spirituality; the stripping away of these external layers through discernment about the true meaning of our faith (including a healthy comparison and evaluation of the principles and lessons of different religions); and ultimately (hopefully), finding a true and comfortable place for our souls. While the Holy Land is a wonderful place for archaeologists exploring the layers of physical structures, and their timeframe and significance (like our Palestine of Jesus Co-Course Director Dr. Tina Blomquist, an accomplished Holy Land archaeologist), it is just as thrilling a place for archaeologists of the soul.  In that regard, I know I am just scratching the surface on this trip, and already hope to be able to return to continue my personal archaeological dig.