What’s Down There?

“On a warm June day in summer 2015, Maha Darawsha stepped down into a 6-foot-deep excavation hole at an archaeological site in Nazareth…”

As I write this one of my colleagues is in Nazareth. He posted a picture to Facebook (above) of the city from his hotel room window. Some of the comments say things like: What an awesome view! and Beautiful! Views from the skyline can be breathtaking – say, from the 36th floor of some New York City hotel. But in this case, all that Nazarean skyline does for me is make me want to look down.

“Kneeling in the pit, she began to remove a final layer of dirt …”Nazareth Maha Darawsha

People of faith are less interested in the view at the top – notice the antennas and satellite dishes on the roofs (right foreground) – and more interested in what lies below and beneath the streets.

“… revealing an incredible sight: an ancient, predominately blue and white tile mosaic floor …” It’s a floor from one of the earliest churches in the history of Christianity. I only know about it because the team of archaeologists on this dig are led by a professor who teaches at a school I did some undergraduate work at. The University of Hartford’s Fall 2015 Observer has an article about it. According to the article (Cover picture  at right), the floor is from the  the fourth century, part of what we call The Church of the Annunciation, where the angel appeared to Mary and announced the pending arrival of the messiah.

The mosaic floor may be associated with Queen Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Helena traveled to the Holy Land, looking to establish sites for Christian pilgrimage. The photo from U of H’s Observer shows something of the beauty of the floor. However, as is the case with so many of our “beautiful stories”, the colorful hues of the mosaic belie other parts of the tale. Assumptions we make about what is in everyone’s best interest can often be sugared off to reveal the ends to which we are willing to go to justify doing what it takes to get what we want.

The archaeological find is exciting, but the fact that the Israel Antiquities Authority has licensed the site doesn’t alter the way in which people of faith use each other as a means for less noble ends. The find is good for the U of H’s current and aspiring archaeologists. It is good for Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. And I wonder if my friend, Rev. John Martin, will be able to see the site while he is in Nazareth. As interesting as the rooftops of Jesus’ home town might be, we know that Christ was never interested primarily in the superficially obvious. He was always more interested in the motives, the intentions of the heart.

Lent is a good time for Christians to be in the Holy Land. To feel the dirt and see the rocks. It is good to touch the waters of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, and to speculate as to how folks would keep track of this Jesus as he made his way around the countryside, to stand on what may have been the Mount of Transfiguration or gaze out over the plains of Armageddon. There are monuments and churches aplenty memorializing this or that event in the lives of the prophets, the kings, the Christ. But whether you are talking about the Temple Mount or the Wailing Wall, you can’t help but talk politics – ancient and contemporary. As one wanders around the Promised Land one can’t help but contemplate the many promises made and broken here.

Lent is a soul-searching, dig-down-deep time for Christians. And I would invite people of other faiths – or no particular faith – to join in the process. Look beneath the veneer of your life. Consider the assumptions that are part of your everyday experience and see if there might be something more than what lies on the surface.

Can anything good come out of Nazareth? That’s what Nathanael said to Philip. Couldn’t the same question be asked with regard to where you come from? Perhaps the answer has something to do with how hard we are willing to look and how deep we are willing to dig – not so much in the soil of hometowns or approved archaeological sites, but in the depths of our own soul.

Mark Demers

Want to talk about sex, politics, spirituality? So do I. I grew up in a religious home in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Our country was reeling from assassinations and the devastation of the Viet Nam War. Looking for something beautiful, I got a degree in music, married the love of my life and had children. Looking for God, I then went to seminary. Looking for something that might transform the world, I became a local church pastor. Now, I’m always looking for people who want to talk about important things. I cherish conversations with emerging leaders, people who are antsy to try an idea they believe would change the world for the better. I’d would love to hear from you.