because he lives

It’s so loud.

It’s too loud to hear God’s voice here.

That’s what I thought as I walked the Via Dolorosa in Jerusalem, trying so hard to concentrate on Jesus’ walk to the cross but finding that a nearly impossible quest in the face of incessant interruptions - people, voices, languages, vehicles - all screaming to be heard and bouncing off ancient stone everything, with nothing to cushion, nothing to quiet. All I wanted was a shred of peace to cling to and an inch of brainspace to care about what my Savior accomplished for me so many years ago.

I found it in a cistern.

We walked into a tiny, unassuming Coptic church a few steps off the beaten path, and stooped down into a tight and steep underground stairway. It opened up into a partly-full underground water cistern deep beneath the clamoring city, cut into the side of the hill we call Calvary. Its location, so near where Jesus died and was raised, makes it a likely sanctuary for the very first Christians who sought to worship together in some degree of safety from the loud, God-hating world.

The inside of the cistern

The inside of the cistern

There, our voices echoed off the water and the rock, enriching our a cappella versions of “The Old Rugged Cross” and “Because He Lives,” remembering the longstanding heritage of our faith - the great cloud of witnesses that has gone before us - and remembering that this call is a hard one. A death sentence, even. Sometimes physically, but always spiritually.

But because He lives, I can face tomorrow.

That’s what my Savior accomplished for me - a future and a hope. Life everlasting.

Because HE lives.

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Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

streams in the desert

Experiencing Israel in February versus May was like going to two different countries. The brilliant emerald green fields bejeweled with wildflowers bore no resemblance to the many shades of gold that characterized the entire landscape for my first visit. That time, whether we were in Galilee or the Negev, the color range was only as broad as warm beige to deep rust. I loved it, but the rainbow of color I got to see this time was simply beyond words.

But the wilderness around the Dead Sea looked just as I remembered: reddish-tinted rock mountains under a hazy-blue sky, reaching down to the crystalline edges of the Dead Sea. After several days in lush Galilee, this was an adjustment. I might even admit that I was underwhelmed.

But then I sat under the trees at Ein Gedi, an oasis in the middle of this wilderness - a place where the water runs crystal clear over a bed of smooth stones, cutting its way through the rough chalk mountains under the watchful eyes of many a cliffside cave. The birds were all but bursting with song over the sound of the humming brook.

And I thought of David, not yet crowned king, hiding there from jealous Saul. He was hated and hunted down for no legitimate reason, waiting for God to come through on His promise, afraid for his life.

So he wrote songs. Songs of pleading, lament, praise, and prayer.

The desert is a harsh place, and yet sometimes, hidden there in the rocks, God gives a lush abundance of Himself.

Galilee was beautiful, rich, familiar. But at the foot of the falls of Ein Gedi, I was reminded that God did transforming and eternal work there, too. I don’t have to restlessly search for the place that seems green and home-like because God is still working in the land that is lonely, monochrome, and difficult.

And the longer I spent in that wilderness, the more evident its loveliness became.


Psalm 57

For the choir director; set to Al-tashheth. A Mikhtam of David, when he fled from Saul in the cave.

Be gracious to me, O God, be gracious to me,
For my soul takes refuge in You;
And in the shadow of Your wings I will take refuge
Until destruction passes by.
I will cry to God Most High,
To God who accomplishes all things for me.
He will send from heaven and save me;
He reproaches him who tramples upon me. Selah.
God will send forth His lovingkindness and His truth.

My soul is among lions;
I must lie among those who breathe forth fire,
Even the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows
And their tongue a sharp sword.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.
They have prepared a net for my steps;
My soul is bowed down;
They dug a pit before me;
They themselves have fallen into the midst of it. Selah.

My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast;
I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!
Awake, my glory!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the peoples;
I will sing praises to You among the nations.
For Your lovingkindness is great to the heavens
And Your truth to the clouds.
Be exalted above the heavens, O God;
Let Your glory be above all the earth.

Comment

Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.

scenes from the holy land

Three days ago, I got back from a once-in-a-lifetime trip that I’ve been lucky enough to do twice.

This was my second time in Israel. The first time, I traveled there as part of my studies at Great Commission Bible Institute, and I fell in love. For reasons I don’t know how to explain, the Holy Land of Israel felt like home to me as soon as I got off the plane - familiar, somehow - and I started planning my return visit before I had even flown back to the United States.

I knew I’d be back one day.

I have a lot of ideas turning over in my head, responses to walking where Jesus walked for a second time. Hopefully some of them will reach a writable form soon, but for now I just want to marinate in the beauty of God’s promised land and the love He has for His chosen people. I don’t know how anyone could go to Israel without being overwhelmed by His faithfulness to a stiff-necked people, and enveloped in the reminder that if His love will never let them go, then it won’t let me go, either.

The first time I visited Israel, I was smitten by Jerusalem. It’s a loud and chaotic city with streets that are too narrow and stray cats hiding in every corner and near-constant interruptions in the form of blaring horns, shouting shopkeepers, and crowding tourists. A tangle of three major languages and a delightfully Middle Eastern disregard for structure fascinated my quiet, small-town, Western mind. And I find that it still does.

But this time I must admit that it was the region of Galilee that really won my heart. We happened to hit Israel’s magical and fleeting season of color before it all dries out - the greenest grass I’ve ever seen, speckled with brilliant red anemones, yellow mustard, and pink phlox, rolling for miles under a deep-blue February sky. Acres of oranges, lemons, and bananas were ripening in the Jezreel Valley while the almond blossoms left the air heavy with the scent of spring. It felt so exotic and so familiar at the same time - like a warm May day on the farm in eastern Washington, but on the other side of the world.

I don’t blame Jesus for spending so much of His ministry in the Galilee region.

Since this was my second tour of Israel, I set out not merely to take pictures of the things I saw (although I did that); what I wanted more was to be able to remember with all five of my senses. I wanted to capture how it feels - which is not easy to do with a purely visual medium. My hope is that the handful of photos below will at least give you a tiny glimpse while I’m mulling over some of the deeper musings of the trip.

And if you ever get a chance to go to Israel and see all this for yourself - go.

8 Comments

Hallie Liening

Hallie grew up on a small farm in rural eastern Washington. At 18, she moved across the country to go to Bible school, and then married the Boy Next Door at 20. Now 22, she is a graduate of Great Commission Bible Institute with a Certificate in Biblical Studies and resides in Olympia with her husband and her two cats. She survives the claustrophobia of living near the city by making frequent trips back home to visit her family and her horse, writing sentimental blog posts about the countryside, and by filling her house with photographs of Mt. Adams sunsets.