Leaving the main highway to begin our ascent to the Mt Carmel, we plunge into a dense forest of palm. Almost immediately we are aware of the geometric pattern that beckons invitingly along endlessly crisscrossing paths. It really does feel like a very large garden; but there is no time for a stroll, at least not in the mind of our driver Rashid, who is focused on our destination. In no time the palms thin and give way to orchards of olive as we now follow the contours of mountain slopes upward at astonishing speed. A masterful feat of driving!! Rashid is acclaimed the premier driver of our Tour. In no time we are at the gates, which stand open and welcoming, and enter the home of the Monastic Community of Carmelites, who have been offering hospitality to pilgrims and passers-by since the 12th century. The Church is the first to catch our attention, its simple Romanesque cum Baroque structure & pleasant façade convey peace: I feel welcome, truly glad to be in this place! We choose the path to the left that leads through a modest sized garden to the monastery rooftop above. Such a small garden, and yet there is something very attractive about it; I step aside to have a closer look. My suspicions are confirmed: it is a garden of herbs and there are a surprising number and variety of them. I chew on some rosemary, tarragon, comfrey, a few mints, while noting other specimens, planted, no doubt, for their medicinal and healing properties. Monks Hood stands conspicuously apart and brooding (fatal if improperly administered), and Bone Knit (the recommended procedure I seem to recall, applying the broad leaves about the injured limb as one would a caste) are two I recognize. As I sit & muse, I sense an invitation to enter more deeply into the life this little alcove symbolizes; the rest that brings renewed health to the soul.

The view from the roof is stunning. It is amazing how a few hundred feet of elevation can change your perspective, and open out to you the chapters of Israel’s history, highlighted in the landscape beyond. The hill of Moreh where Gideon and the 300 defeated the Midianites (Judges 8, 9) is clearly visible. And a glint of reflected sunlight betrays the presence of the white limestone of Nazareth, home of Jesus’ childhood, set high up along the ridge of mountains that skirt the far edge of the plain of Yizreel. But our focus, now, is Mount Carmel and the story of Elijah in the time of Israel’s disobedience (1 Kings 17, 18). Carmel means “God’s Vineyard”, a garden of Paradise. But it has become a wasteland, incapable of sustaining any vegetarian life. (Hans is in fine preaching form.) The time of reckoning is come. King Ahab and the Prophets of Baal are summoned to the Mount and all Israel is spectator. There is to be a contest to see whose god will bring an end to the drought and famine in the land. When the religious frenzy of the priests of Baal profits nothing, Elijah steps up and begins to rebuild the altar of the Lord. The altar has been divided, the 12 stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, rent asunder (remember Jeroboam’s altar at Dan!). What is significant here, Hans says, is the manner of the building. The Hebrew word is not Banah but Rapha, which means to heal. It is a prophetic act. God is “healing” the altar; he is restoring true worship to Israel. And the bull that Elijah slays points to the sacrifice of Jesus and His blood which alone can heal the divisions in His Body. Led by the Break Forth Worship team, we join in a chorus of prayer with the petition of Jesus on our lips: “That they (we) may be one (i.e., restored to biblical faith) so that the world may believe!(John 17) Under the stirring influence of the Holy Spirit, our prayer for Israel, and for the nations intensifies: “Gather the stones that are united by Your blood & make them a living testament (gk. Martyria)!” “Come with Your fire to inspire us to build altars of prayer in our homes and work places, and houses of government, that healing and revival may break forth, and the world You have made, become a fruitful Vineyard!”

In minutes we are back in the bus and marveling in silence at how our recent worship was actually a part of the altar that God Himself is building.