A man wearing a “Jesus was Here” t-shirt strolls past me with his less than enthusiastic family in tow. In the opposite direction I see a small mob of elderly Italian tourists silhouetted in the evening sun, hobbling their collective way up through the cobbled streets of the old city. The melody of church bells play over the continuous drone of horns from the impatient tour bus operators waiting nearby. The streets are filled with an electricity that can only be found amongst those who are resolute in their faith.
I turn to a young American stood near to me and make an acknowledging smile. I wanted to share with this stranger that I wasn’t drawn into this touristic interpretation of history and religion. If Jesus did change water into wine here in Cana, then I am sure he would not have appreciated the inflatable replicas of him doing so. I was about to say something dry and snide along these lines when the young American smiles back and says, “You know, when I step on this soil, I feel like I am closer to God than in any church I have ever been into”. Such a genuine sentiment is hard to ignore.
The conflict between the crass and cultural that I experienced in Cana is not unique. I had a comparable experience when visiting Carcassone in the south of France and it can be found in cultural, historical and religious sites around the world.
Cana is where people come to celebrate Jesus’ first miracle, the turning of water into wine at the wedding feast. For the materialists who dominate the town’s tourist trade however this results in novelty t-shirts and bottles of wine with Jesus’ face painted on them.
Cana is also recorded as the site where Jesus healed a royal official’s son. I try asking a few locals if they can show me where Jesus was supposed to have performed this second miracle. I am met with baffled looks and offers of “good price” on wedding wine.
In desperation I turn back to my American friend looking for inspiration. I ask him how long he is staying in Cana for and he tells me that he is just here for one night stopping off on the Jesus Trail. I am interested to find out what brings a 20 something from the deep south of the US to the Galilee region of Israel. “I became desperate to find what sits at the heart of a billion people’s faith. I wanted to feel it with my own hands”. I paused, desperately hoping that he would kneel down and pick up some dirt and let in run through his fingers. Instead he meets my eye, smiles and looks up at the spectacular Franciscan Wedding Church.
Cana didn’t ignite my imagination like I had hoped but I wonder how it looks through the eyes of those who have faith like my new American friend.