Allow me to share the answer to my three questions -
1. Who did I meet?
I am meeting and getting to know our guide and our driver. They are so kind and a wealth of knowledge. Those conversations are becoming deeper with every encounter. We have discussed politics, religion, history, archeology, family, life in our respective countries and more. Then there are these tiny little encounters that don't count as full on meetings to me, but instead, are people I'd like to know or have time to know or simply noticed. This list includes the owners of the spice shop, the children at the school in Cana, the nun at the Latin church in Cana, the grumpy worker at the church of the Annunciation who was annoyed with us going "in the out" direction, the owner of Abu-Ashraf where we had lunch and finally, our own group. While I knew some of the folks from serving in their respective churches, I am learning so much more and am developing a growing affection for each.
2. What did I learn?
Oh my I learned much because I have forgotten but the thing that sticks out for me is a refresher on the architecture of the churches. I know the names and locations of the narthex, the nave, the apse, etc. But I did not realize that they actually represented (somewhat literally and figuratively) the journey of the faith. Those gathering in the courtyard were just hanging around to see what was going on and perhaps the were pagan and unsure whether they wanted to participate at all, but they were allowed to gather there, to be with the people, and in some cases to trade wares and shop. Then if they were at a point where they were seriously considering joining or being baptized as a follower of Jesus, then they would go to the narthex (fancy word for lobby or entryway of the church). Then finally, they would make a full decision to enter and become a believer, and at that point, they would enter the nave by the aisle way. I know this may seem obvious, but honestly, I had not stopped to think of the architecture as a sort of virtual way to describe the journey or pilgrimage to becoming a Christian.
3. How was I touched or transformed in my soul?
At the Latin Church of the Annunciation, I was reminded again of how much I am drawn to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. We had a fun and funny conversation about the artwork that was donated by the United States and how much some of us (me being one) dislike the depiction and how others admired the modern artwork. Upon further reflection, I realize that I like modern and contemporary aesthetics, but there are a few things about which I am very much a traditionalist. In icons and some art that depicts Scripture in visual form, I prefer an ancient or traditional approach. I am somewhat surprised by this. Yesterday I was not interested in photographs, but today my eye and heart were drawn once again to Mary and the many different ways that cultures around the world have portrayed her.
Of course, the other obligatory spiritual practice is to go to the shisha bar to smoke a bit of hookah. You know, when in Nazareth, do as the Nazarenes do, or something like that!