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Galilee And The Lake - Memories Of The Lake

( Originally Published 1908 )



A HUNDRED little points of illumination flash into memory as I look back over the hours that we spent beside the Sea of Galilee. How should I write of them all without being tedious ? How, indeed, should I hope to make them visible or significant in the bare words of description ?

Never have I passed richer, fuller hours; but most of their wealth was in very little things: the personal look of a flower growing by the wayside; the intimate message of a bird's song falling through the sunny air; the expression of confidence and appeal on the face of a wounded man in the hospital, when the good physician stood beside his cot; the shadows of the mountains lengthening across the valleys at sunset; the laughter of a little child playing with a broken water pitcher; the bronzed pro-files and bold, free ways of our sunburned rowers; the sad eyes of an old Hebrew lifted from the book that he was reading; the ruffling breezes and sudden squalls that changed the surface of the lake; the single palm-tree that waved over the mud hovels of Magdala; the millions of tiny shells that strewed the beach of Capernaum and Bethsaida; the fertile sweep of the Plain of Gennesaret rising from the lake; and the dark precipices of the "Robbers' Gorge" running back into the western mountains.

The written record of these hours is worth little; but in experience and in memory they have a mystical meaning and beauty, because they belong to the country where Jesus walked with His fishermen-disciples, and took the little children in His arms, and healed the sick, and opened blind eyes to behold ineffable things.

Every touch that brings that country nearer to us in our humanity and makes it more real, more simple, more vivid, is precious. For the one irreparable loss that could befall us in religion,—a loss that is often threatened by our abstract and theoretical ways of thinking and speaking about Him,—would be to lose Jesus out of the lowly and familiar ways of our mortal life. He entered these lowly ways as the Son of Man in order to make us sure that we are the children of God.

Therefore I am glad of every hour spent by the Lake of Galilee.

I remember, when we came across in our boat to Tell Hûm, where the ancient city of Capernaum stood, the sun was shining with a fervent heat and the air of the lake, six hundred and eighty feet below the level of the sea, was soft and languid. The gray-bearded German monk who came to meet us at the landing and admitted us to the inclosure of his little monastery where he was conducting the excavation of the ruins, wore a cork helmet and spectacles. He had been heated, even above the ninety degrees Fahrenheit which the thermometer marked, by the rudeness of a couple of tourists who had just tried to steal a photograph of his work. He had foiled them by opening their camera and blotting the film with sunlight, and had then sent them away with fervent words. But as he walked with us among his roses and Pride of India trees, his spirit cooled within him, and he showed himself a learned and accomplished man.

He told us how he had been working there for two or three years, keeping records and drawings and photographs of everything that was found; going back to the Franciscan convent at Jerusalem for his short vacation in the heat of mid-summer; putting his notes in order, reading and studying, making ready to write his book on Capernaum. He showed us the portable miniature railway which he had made; and the little iron cars to carry away the great piles of rubbish and earth; and the rich columns, carved lintels, marble steps and shell-niches of the splendid building which his workmen had uncovered. The outline was clear and perfect. We could see how the edifice of fine, white limestone had been erected upon an older foundation of basalt, and how an earthquake had twisted it and shaken down its pillars. It was undoubtedly a synagogue, perhaps the very same which the rich Roman centurion built for the Jews in Capernaum (Luke vii: 5), and where Jesus healed the man who had an unclean spirit. (Luke iv: 31-37.) Of all the splendours of that proud city of the lake, once spreading along a mile of the shore; nothing remained but these tumbled ruins in a lonely, fragrant garden, where the patient father was digging with his Arab workmen and getting ready to write his book.

"Weh dir, Capernaum " I quoted. The padre nodded his head gravely. "Ja, ja," said he, "es ist buchstablich erfullt !"

I remember the cool, bath in the lake, at a point between Bethsaida and Capernaum, where a tangle of briony and honeysuckle made a shelter around a shell-strewn beach, and the rosy oleanders bloomed beside an inflowing stream. I swam out a little way and floated, looking up into the deep sky, while the waves plashed gently and caressingly around my face.

I remember the old Arab fisherman, who was camped with his family in a black tent on a meadow where several lively brooks came in (one of them large enough to turn a mill). I persuaded him by gestures to wade out into the shallow part of the lake and cast his bell-net for fish. He gathered the net in his hand, and whirled it around his head. The leaden weights around the bottom spread out in a wide circle and splashed into the water. He drew the net toward him by the cord, the ring of sinkers sweeping the bottom, and lifted it slowly, carefully—but no fish!

Then I rigged up my pocket fly-rod with a gossamer leader and two tiny trout-flies, a Royal Coach-man and a Queen of the Water, and began to cast along the crystal pools and rapids of the larger stream. How merrily the fish rose there, and in the ripples where the brooks ran out into the lake. There were half a dozen different kinds of fish, but I did not know the name of any of them. There was one that looked like a black bass, and others like white perch and sunfish; and one kind was very much like a grayling. But they were not really of the salmo family, I knew, for none of them had the soft fin in front of the tail. How surprised the old fisherman was when he saw the fish jumping at those tiny hooks with feathers; and how round the eyes of his children were as they looked on; and how pleased they were with the bakhshish which they received, in cluding a couple of baithooks for the eldest boy!

I remember the place where we ate our lunch in a small grove of eucalyptus-trees, with sweet-smelling yellow acacias blossoming around us. It was near the site which some identify with the ancient Bethsaida, but others say that it was farther to the east, and others again say that Capernaum was really located here. The whole problem of these lake cities, where they stood, how they supported such large populations (not less than fifteen thou-sand people in each), is difficult and may never be solved. But it did not trouble us deeply. We were content to be beside the same waters, among the same hills, that Jesus knew and loved.

It was here, along this shore, that He found Simon and his brother Andrew casting their net, and James and his brother John mending theirs, and called them to come with Him. These fishermen, with their frank and free hearts unspoiled by the sophistries of the Pharisees, with their minds unhampered by social and political ambitions, followers of a vocation which kept them out of doors and reminded them daily of their dependence on the bounty of God,—these children of nature, and others like them, were the men whom He chose for His disciples, the listeners who had ears to hear His marvellous gospel.

It was here, on these pale, green waves, that He sat in a little boat, near the shore, and spoke to the multitude who had gathered to hear Him.

He spoke of the deep and tranquil confidence that man may learn from nature, from the birds and the flowers.

He spoke of the infinite peace of the heart that knows the true meaning of love, which is giving and blessing, and the true secret of courage, which is loyalty to the truth.

He spoke of the God whom we can trust as a child trusts its father, and of the Heaven which waits for all who do good to their fellowmen.

He spoke of the wisdom whose fruit is not pride but humility, of the honour whose crown is not authority but service, of the purity which is not outward but inward, and of the joy which lasts forever.

He spoke of forgiveness for the guilty, of compassion for the weak, of hope for the desperate.

He told these poor and lowly folk that their souls were unspeakably precious, and that He had come to save them and make them inheritors of an eternal kingdom. He told them that He had brought this message from God, their Father and His Father.

He spoke with the simplicity of one who knows, with the assurance of one who has seen, with the certainty and clearness of one for whom doubt does not exist.

He offered Himself, in His stainless purity, in His supreme love, as the proof and evidence of His gospel, the bread of Heaven, the water of life, the Saviour of sinners, the light of the world. "Come unto Me," He said, "and I will give you rest."

This was the heavenly music that came into the world by the Lake of Galilee. And its voice has spread through the centuries, comforting the sorrowful, restoring the penitent, cheering the despondent, and telling all who will believe it, that our human life is worth living, because it gives each one of us the opportunity to share in the Love which is sovereign and immortal.



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