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Thursday, July 18, 2024

Sacred Lebanon- a land touched by miracles

by Derek Isaacs

Lebanon is steeped in culture and has a rich and varied history

It is known as a tourist destination, an agricultural district and a country steeped in cultural, but Lebanon is also a land where miracles can happen

Situated on a crossroads between the East and the West, Lebanon begins with a narrow coastal plain that is lapped by the warm blue waters of the eastern mediterranean sea. It is here that the ancient Phoenician port cities of Tyre and Sidon were founded, as well as Beirut, the commercial and cultural hub of the nation.

Beyond the rocky shoreline, indented with sheltered beaches and punctuated by natural harbours, the steep mountains of Lebanon rise majestically. Here terraced groves of age-old olive trees and orchards producing fragrant oranges, as well as the legendary cedar and cypress forests, can be found. The mountains are dotted with hillside villages that have survived for centuries and when viewed from above, make up an intricate tapestry. The picturesque hills sweep down to the broad and fertile plain of the Bekaa Valley, which is home to agricultural farms and vineyards.

With its busy coastal cities, quiet mountain villages and thriving agricultural industry, the landscape of Lebanon reflects its rich historical heritage. Tyre and Sidon were once the trading posts of the Phoenicians who loaded their sturdy galleys with cargoes of wool, glass and the rare purple dye, so valued by the Ancient Greeks, and sent them to their commercial outposts throughout the Mediterranean. It was also in these glory days that the cedars of Lebanon became renowned throughout the ancient world for their beauty and strength, making them highly valued as building materials.

But this ancient land also has another heritage; one that is not commercial but spiritual. The nation of Lebanon is also a land of miracles. It was here in the village of Qana, in the south of modern day Lebanon, that Jesus performed his first public miracle.

He was attending a wedding at the time and had been accompanied on the journey to Qana by his disciples and his mother, Mary. During the wedding reception the hosts ran out of wine. According to the scriptures, when Jesus was informed of this by his mother, he ordered the servants to fill the empty wine jars with water. These were then presented to the head steward for tasting, who, to everyone’s amazement, asked why they had not stuck to the usual custom of serving the best wine first and had instead reserved it until the end of the meal.

It was here also, in the sacred land of Tyre and Sidon that Jesus performed the second of his miracles. A Phoenician woman, or Canaanite as she is referred to in the scriptures, came to him one day and told him that her daughter was possessed by the devil and was suffering terribly because of it. At first Jesus did not reply to the woman. His disciples urged him to send her away because she was causing a nuisance by crying incessantly and complaining. The woman approached Jesus again and this time he spoke to her, pointing out that it was not right to take bread that had been intended for children and give it to the dogs. The woman replied that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. At which point, Jesus commended her for her great faith. He told her that from that moment on, her daughter would be cured.
The spiritual quality that is so eloquently captured in these scriptural stories is also reflected in the beauty of the natural landscape of Lebanon. From the mountains that are covered in snow during the winter, to the picturesque beaches that are so popular with both tourists and locals during the hot summer months, the natural landscape of the country shines.

This spirituality is also evident in the natural courtesy and hospitality of the Lebanese people who are genuinely welcoming and generous. It can be found too in Lebanese society, which has developed over the centuries since the time of the Phoenician traders and the age of miracles. The history of Lebanon is a story of the meeting of different faiths.

Here mutual respect and tolerance have enriched both personal behaviour and society in general. This diversity of belief has led to social cohesion and strength rather than fragmentation and weakness. From the cosmopolitan areas of downtown Beirut, to the more traditional mountain villages and the fertile farms of the Bekaa valley, Lebanese of all religions are aware that they live in a sacred land. Each lives with daily reminders not only of their own faith and ancestry, but with the beliefs and customs of their neighbouring communities, who, although different, form part of a uniquely Lebanese experience, reflected in its culture.

This cultural pluralism and readiness to accept the challenges that diversity brings are testament to the Lebanese spirit. Perhaps this is a kind of miracle in itself.

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Derek Isaacs