By Emily Meeks
Stone benches line the walls of the Encounter Chapel, part of the lower level of Duc in Altum in Magdala, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Duc in Altum means “launch into the deep” and draws a connection here to Jesus’ instructions to Simon Peter in Luke 5:4. Duc in Altum has become a place of prayer that honors the stories of women in the Bible with mosaic patterns, octagonal design, and Byzantine-type detailing. It sits surrounded by remnants of a synagogue from the Second Temple period.
This is the first time on pilgrimage to the Holy Land where I have felt a deep connection to an inside structure, having found the landscape of Galilee to be more resonant, as I reflect on the ministry of Jesus, than churches built as shrines to the spot where tradition says something occurred.
I sit on the wall bench as we prepare to sing a hymn with our group. Our guide tells us that the stones of the chapel floor are part of a pathway that served as a connection to the market and port of Magdala. Jesus likely walked this crowded road that is now a quiet chapel.
My eyes are drawn to the painting above the simple altar— a woman’s hand outstretched to touch the hem of a cloak but at the perspective from foot level. There’s light that emanates from the point of encounter. This is a depiction of the hemorrhaging woman who seeks healing from Jesus, a story found in all three synoptic gospels.
“Because she thought, ‘If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.’ Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.” (Mark 5:28–29)
My feet again feel the stones beneath me. She sought out Jesus on a busy path after 12 years of suffering. She believed he would be the change she needed for healing. She had the courage to be an interruption. On this busy road, Jesus could have easily gone on his way. He does even more than heal her — he affirms her presence: “Daughter … go in peace.”
On pilgrimage, I am also on a path of encountering and experiencing my own challenges and those of the people I meet. I am reminded of the words by Macrina Wiederkeh:
“To be a pilgrim means to be on the move, slowly,
To notice your luggage becoming lighter
To be seeking for treasures that do not rust
To be comfortable with your heart’s questions
To be moving toward the holy ground of home
With empty hands and bare feet.
There is a road that runs straight through your heart. Walk on it.”
I linger and reflect on this woman’s journey toward healing in the context of place — I am in Magdala, the hometown of Mary Magdalene — I am reminded of the women in my life who have been part of my journey of faith, who have been part of the work of healing and of affirming presence and questions. I am filled with gratitude and awe for these women and for those who have come before me to be an outstretched hand of faith.
In this season of Lent, we contemplate what is needed to move closer toward the ongoing invitation to go in the way of peace without fear. As I leave to rejoin the group, I carry a profound sense of living prayers and stories newly incorporated onto my path of healing and wholeness. I feel it in my body. I pray to go in peace.
Emily Meeks loves finding adventure and connection outside, especially while running, biking, hiking and kayaking. She attends and serves at Saint Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle.