But for now, there is plenty of sea and salt and mud for all who make their way here. Arriving near the end of the day as the sun was sinking low, the day’s tourists had come and gone. When I arrived at the shoreline, it was me and a group of women from Belarus (Russia) and a group from Ghana.
There is much laughter and giggling and joy as we slather our bodies with the mud. Then we let it dry. After, we wade into the water. The Sea is fairly shallow and once we are thigh deep, we sit down. The Sea is so salty that nothing can sink. So, we all flo had put mud on my face and at one point, dunked my head under the water. This was a great mistake. I knew you couldn’t swallow the water without needing emergency care. I did not know you could not put your head under. I suddenly could not open my eyes without intense burning. So with eyes closed I made my way to the shoreline and two of the women from Belarus helped walk me up the sandy beach to the showers. Once the fresh water rushed down my head and face and body, voila, I was ready, wide-eyed, move down the sand and get back in the water.
The Dead Sea up close is like a blue dream, the blue of the water seems to rise and color the air and hills around like a fine mist. I lay back and floated in this viscous buoyant water staring up at the sky and surrounding mountains. I had arrived feeling hot and exhausted, but a soak in the sea rejuvenated and lifted my spirits.
The next morning, after precious little sleep, I was up early and arrived at Midgar Beach when the gates opened at 9:00 am. As the sun in this part of the world is especially hot and penetrating, I figured my best bet – seeing I am a pale-skinned-freckled-redhead – was to arrive near sun down or not long after the sun rose.
I was the first on the beach. The lifeguard greeted me with a warm smile and told me the best place to get mud and also the best place to enter the water – as certain areas are so muddy you can sink to your knees in the mud and then – well this happened to me once – someone has to lend you a hand to help you get out of it.
It was a gift to be able to have the Sea to myself as I slathered my body with mud and let it dry. The sun was already very hot, so I needed to let the mud bake under the shade of an umbrella. I then made my way into the water. There were large chunks of salt crystals, sparkling like quartz crystal, all along the shoreline that had been deposited there as the tide receded. The water itself felt viscous and oily as it was so salt-enriched. As I lay on my back letting the water hold me, I felt deep peacefulness.
When I lifted my head again, the beach was now swarming with people. Tour buses had arrived and the shoreline was packed with people. I sat under the umbrella enjoying the beach scene, watching everyone who arrived soon become like children playing in the mud. There was joy, laughter and camaraderie amongst people of all nations at the shore of this salt sea.
Back in the sea for one more dip, twice a splash landed on an eye. With the salt-infested eye closed, I made my way to the shore to it rinse it out, and then back again. Where the water had touched my lips, it burned and so having fresh water nearby to drink was good.
Refreshed from my mud, salt and sea treatment, I got dressed, headed to my car and begin the drive to Galilee. Heading north, the road hugging the Dead Sea then moves along the Jordan River until it meets the Galilee. The Jordan River, once a great flowing river is now virtually a muddy stream. I stopped for a few minutes to give respect to the place where John the Baptist had baptized, but it was hard to have any real sense of what the terrain or water or experience was of that time, given how it looks now.
Back on the road, I continued heading through arid, desert country. Not especially beautiful or memorable. The road, while curved, moving with the hills, was more or less a thoroughfare, with light traffic. This gave me time to reflect.
Given that my trip was motivated by my desire to discover more about Mary Magdalene, what had I gotten in my days in Jerusalem? I certainly saw and absorbed many sites and experiences that had me in the places Jesus and Mary Magdalene may have been. I was taking home many treasures and memories, but had I found what I came to find.
In the city there is very little representation of the feminine, of women. I began to purposely seek this out. Depictions of the Madonna and child were prolific in the sites and in the marketplace, but as I said in an earlier blog, I was in search of another kind of feminine, more of the earth.
I felt gratified that Jesus’ Grandmother, Anne had a church dedicated to her and was heartened by the images of her within this church as she wholeheartedly embraced her husband Joachim. The bronze depiction of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, seeming to dance with joy, in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre also lifted my spirits, as was seeing the relief of the Three Marys in the Pater Noster church on the Mount of Olives.
Religion is a serious business in Jerusalem. Over the centuries it has been life and death. The various factions and religions of the city tolerate each other, but the toleration seems to be born of the reality that if there was no toleration, there would be war. The is a tension within the different quarters that seems to arise from the right to exist, to be recognized as central to what makes this city holy. And each faction has their customs, their rituals, their pilgrimages.
I began to notice what gave me joy. The man who played guitar in the square. The jubilant music being played as a young Jewish boy was processing with his family and friends to the Western Wall for his bah mitzvah amid a sea of balloons. A grove of olive trees. The flavors of a Shawarma sandwich. The birds soaring and singing around the Western Wall. A drink of water.
The sacred feminine in various cultures has always been associated with water, as water is life-giving, but it is also refreshing and cool. And like at the dead sea, when people gather together around it, there is laughter and joy.
All these things were signs pointing to the nature and spirit Mary Magdalene - who she was and who she is for us today. The feminine experience of joy, community, flowers, good food, the song of birds or the shade of an olive tree are as essential as the religious experience of a deep ritual. It is a balance.
Moving further north, I began to see green growing on the desert hills. The border of the country of Jordan begins on the opposite bank of the Jordan River and its hills were spread with vegetation and crops.
I approached a Military checkpoint. The guard asked for my passport. Asked if I live in Israel. He then proceeded to tell me that my tire was nearly flat. What? I say. I get out of the car to look. It is true. I had to see it for myself. What should I do? He said there is a gas station in five kilometers and sent me on my way.
Arriving at the Gas Station, the attendant did not understand English but followed me out to see the tire. She called the Rental Car agency, who also did not speak English, and they went back and forth on the phone. The Rental Car Agency said I was on my own and needed to fix this myself. What now I thought? There was a man at the gas station who came over to see what was happening and said he will put on the spare. His wife, who spoke some English, helped me work through what to do next. The answer: keep driving.
As I continued to drive North, the Jordan River ended and the sea of Galilee emerged. My whole trip had been planned so I could be at the Galilee, feeling that at the Galilee I would receive the inspiration I need to write a play about Mary Magdalene. But my thoughts were on my car and my tire and what to do in a strange country where I did not speak the language and driving with a spare tire that would only carry me for a limited amount of miles. I was heartened that a flat tire had not happened on the desert highway, that the military guard noticed before it was flat, and that so far I had the help I needed.
I arrived in Tiberias. Now what? I saw a Hertz Rental Car place. Okay, not my rental car company, which is the #1 Israeli car company, but it was a name I recognized, so I stopped. Thankfully, a woman at Hertz spoke English and took the time to help me even though she had clocked out and was done for the day. She called my rental car company. While the phone was ringing she told me that they should do something and then adding, next time go with Hertz. The rental car company didn’t answer.
(Note: My experience with my rental company from the get go was a hassle – from falling at their front door and needing ice for the bruises, to being told they had no GPS for me even though it was advertised they would, to then having to walk ½ mile with luggage outdoors in the rain to get my car after we had done the paperwork, to then being led down two levels of a parking garage to only being led back up two levels of a parking garage (with luggage in hand), to standing and watching them clean and vacuum my car, to finally not being able to pull my car out of the rental car lot because one of their personnel had driven and parked two cars in the lane I need to drive down to leave, to not having the necessary parking voucher to leave the lot, to not being given adequate directions on how to leave their premises. Two hours of rigmarole to rent a car. In the end, three days ago now, I had the car and was on the road).
The Hertz representative in Tiberias then said it would probably be best if I just fixed the tire myself and gave me directions to a garage. Back on the road, I find the garage only to have the mechanics there tell me they were had just closed. It was now 4:40 pm. They did tell me of a place that was still open. Tiberias is not a huge city, but it is still a crowded city with lots of traffic. I was able to follow their directions of turning at stop lights, going through roundabouts and landed at a garage with a mechanic who said, Sure we can fix it! By 5:05 my tire was fixed, good as new. I paid them. They closed their shop for the day and I went to find the place where I would be staying.
Now, many stories can be created as to why things happen the way they happen. My first thought was that the tire had a slow leak before I had even rented the car. The other thought is that someone was tired of Western tourists and so took out their aggression by putting a whole in my tire. Either way, the tire was mine to fix.
It could be thought that something was preventing me from getting to Galilee, the ultimate destination of my pilgrimage.
The truth is that the moment the guard first alerted me, I stayed focused on what needed to happen next. ‘One step at a time’ has been my motto for some years and I applied it here again. I had no idea how my needs would be met, but simply trusted they would if I paid attention. I didn’t bother to think that this shouldn’t be happening, or why it was happening to me, only that it was happening and I needed to take care of it.
From the moment the military guard alerted me to the situation, I felt blessed. I felt blessed that the tire had not gone flat on the desert highway; that I was alerted right at the moment when I could actually do something about it; that the attendant at the gas station was responsive and cared; that there was a man there immediately who stopped what he was doing to help; that his wife spoke English and helped me sort out my options; that the spare tire made it safely to Tiberias; that the first person I asked led me to a garage and that though they were closed I was directed to a garage that was open; and that I had my tire fixed within moments of all garages being closed for the night. At each step, there was someone to get me to the next step. Boom. Boom. Boom. It was like clockwork. And I was still on schedule!
As I went to bed that night, I felt blessed, guided and protected. I had arrived on the Sea of Galilee with four good tires, a place to rest my head, and a panoramic balcony view of the sea that was nothing less than spectacular.