First day at sea

Experiencing shipboard life was today’s goal! Began the day with a stretch class in the gym and time on the treadmill and machines. Breakfast in the dining room, art auction, presentation on acupuncture, digital camera lesson, champagne, doing the laundry, champagne, learning about diamonds, champagne, Royal Dutch Afternoon Tea, champagne, dinner with some very nice Canadians from Vancouver, Captain’s welcome, champagne, live show in the Showroom, bed! Busy day!

There was some time to relax and read, good conversation and quiet time. Plenty of walking, too much food – and did I mention the champagne! Tomorrow is going to be a ‘dry day’ as we will be out and about in Copenhagen.

Impressions of the ship at this stage: the crew smile a great deal – an effort to look welcoming and helpful, but service staff in the restaurants are very slow, meals take far too long, and are lacking somewhat in quality – either cold, overcooked – perhaps the meals have to come a long way from the kitchen. Maybe they will improve as we go along!

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Two elderly ladies…

That is probably how the young men on the station thought of us as we struggled to get our heavy bags on the train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam at 9.30 on a quiet Saturday morning at the Central Station. Thankfully the station was only a couple of hundred metres from our hotel, and after a 45 minute trip on the fast train, we stepped out at Rotterdam to a taxi which took us directly to the port. Easy! Rotterdam was quiet – clearly nothing happens on Saturday mornings! And very clean and modern. Quite different from Central Amsterdam. Rotterdam was severely destroyed during the war, and while there are buildings that were rebuilt and repaired, modern skyscrapers dominate, while in Amsterdam, the more modern buildings are on the outskirts rather than in the centre of the city.

Checked in and then wandered back out of the terminal and found a lovely outdoor restaurant on the water to enjoy some food and wine! Wine will feature prominently! The chardonnay in the bar on the ship was Rosemount! As well as Chilean wines. I tried the Chilean one, but my tastes are more towards the Australian chardy.

The ship left at 4.00pm after we had our emergency drill. We spent an hour or so roaming around the ship getting to know all the guest areas.

Sail away from exciting as we headed out through Rotterdam’s massive port. It was quiet as it was Saturday, but one can imagine it as a busy working port through the week.

More wandering, more wine and dinner! I also decided to go to Mass at 5.00 – two retired priests from the U.S. Small group attended – mostly Americans. In fact, there seem to be a lot of Americans on the cruise. They are loud – that’s how you know they are Americans!

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A trip in the countryside



A fine, sunny day! Imagine a Brisbane winter day: bright, sunny, cool in the morning and warm during the day – that’s what it was like today as I headed out on a tour in the countryside to see the canals, the windmills, the clog maker and the cheese factory. Volendam and Marken – both interesting places showing the culture of Holland.

When I returned to the hotel, my friend Chris had arrived so we went out for a coffee and more people watching while we caught up on all our news. We cruised the canals, dodged the bikes, walked the streets around the hotel and had dinner at a tapas restaurant. The canal cruise provided a different perspective of the city, showing how the culture revolves around the waterways. A very pleasant afternoon and evening.

We have purchased our train tickets for Rotterdam and packed ready for the morning. The cruise leaves Rotterdam at 4.00pm. Very exciting.

I’ve enjoyed this sojourn in Amsterdam. A vibrant, diverse city with an amazing history and culture. I’ll post some photos in the next few days.

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Just another day in Amsterdam!

Just another day in Amsterdam!.

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Just another day in Amsterdam!

Today was stunning! This city is vibrant and interesting. I did the usual tourist thing and took the red ‘hop on hop off’ bus to see the sights. The Gassan Diamond factory was brilliant! A pun! But the diamonds were fabulous! And then Anne Frank’s house – sobering, sad. I read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was 14 – not for a minute did I think I would be able to visit the place where she and her family hid from the Nazi invaders. The resilience of people continues to amaze me – and the saddest part of the Anne Frank story is that she died one month before the liberation, separated from her family, in a concentration camp; while her father survived.

The evening here was truly beautiful. After a day of clouds and some rain, and a chill in the air, the long evening was of brilliant sunshine. I sat at my favourite corner and watched the world go by while I had dinner – I talked to the restaurant guy whose job it is to get people into the restaurant – an Italian who speaks five languages and who lived for 12 months in Melbourne. An interesting young man! I had lamb chops! And they were fabulous. And had three glasses of merlot tonight!

Amsterdam is very clean. It is busy but seems relaxed. The queues for the Anne Frank house were very long and I’m glad I bought the ‘fast track’ ticket to get in. Worth the extra money!

The canals, the bridges, the houseboats! This city has maintained a character for centuries. There are no high rise buildings. The architecture reflects the vibrant history of the place, a heritage that is valued and maintained. Modern shops and businesses live behind the historic facades and the old blends seamlessly with the new!

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People watching in Amsterdam

I arrived in Amsterdam around 2.00pm (local time), about 24 hours after leaving Brisbane, and I was very tired. After a brisk walk and then a shower, to get the blood circulating and freshen up, I headed down to the restaurant near the boutique style hotel right near the central station to have a meal and people-watch. It is a very busy, huge intersection adjacent to the station, with buses, tourist coaches, trams and traffic – and bikes! Thousands of bikes whizzing past – no ‘one metre’ rule here! No helmets, no lycra, no rules about mobile phones! Everyone rides a bike – their dogs ride in the basket; children, grandparents and everyone in between. I saw one woman with a dog in the basket on the handlebars, with two kids on their own bikes alongside – in peak hour traffic. And all sorts of bikes. Not ‘top of the range’ racing bikes, but everyday bikes. No doubt there are accidents, but it seemed to be some sort of orderly chaos. Everyone seemed to know what they were doing. And the motor scooters share the same lanes as the push bikes.

The weather is mild and cloudy, with long evenings. A few sprinkles of rain. Tomorrow I’m going to go on the ‘hop on hop off’ bus to explore the city and then go to Anne Franks’ house and the Jewish museum. I might even fit in a canal tour.

It was very pleasant sitting with a nice merlot, soaking up the vibe of the city. It feels casual, and has a vibrancy about it. The ethnic/racial diversity is quite amazing too. Tomorrow I’ll take the camera and capture some of the interesting architecture of the city.

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Planning the next trip!

Well, this time next month I will be in Amsterdam. And about to leave for Rotterdam and board a cruise ship fora 21 night cruise around the Baltic. Really looking forward to it. Our first stop is Copenhagen. I’m hoping that I will be able to share some of my experiences on this blog.

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Part 1 – Tel Dan, Megiddo, Hazor, Bethsaida, Bet-Shean – Towards an Identity

The ancient sites of Tel Dan, Hazor, Megiddo, Bethsaida and Bet-Shean are important as archaeological sites. They demonstrate the ancient settlement patterns in the land that the Israelites ultimately regarded as their own, given to them by their god. These sites attest to the ancient emerging identity of the people amidst their neighbours. At these sites there is evidence of pre-Israelite settlement, with evidence of forms of worship and artefacts from which the Israelite identity emerges[1]. Notable at Tel Dan is the three-arched gate, often referred to as ‘Abraham’s Gate’. This structure is ancient.[2] Hazor, Megiddo and Bethsaida share features with Tel Dan, notably the constructions of walls and city gates as well as cultic features and cultural artefacts that effectively demonstrate the fortunes of the people who eventually would emerge as the People of God. These artefacts assist archaeologists to date sites and establish relationships between them. This has assisted biblical scholars to assess the historicity of the biblical texts and the dating of biblical events. [3]

P1060011As noted, the idea of the covenant emerges as the key ‘shaper’ of Israelite identity. Through the excavations at these sites, the identity becomes ever more distinctive through significant archaeological finds that confirm them in their religious artefacts, temple features and dietary laws. A notable series of artefacts from Tel Dan confirm the use of music and dancing, perhaps liturgically. This corresponds to other civilisations in the Near East and the Levant. [4] Psalm 42, the lament of a Levite in exile may well have been written in Dan[5], as the psalmist laments ‘as a doe longs for running streams, so longs my soul for you my God…When my soul is downcast within me, I think of you; from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, of you, humble mountain!’ (Psalm 42:1-2; 6-7), recalling the sounds of rushing water (Psalm 42:7-8).

Interestingly, these sites demonstrate also the invasions by the Assyrians and other groups, giving testimony to many of the biblical accounts. [6]

There is evidence that the sites were burned, evidence that the people were carried away. These events find a place in the Psalms as the people of Israel lamented their exile and questioned how they could continue to worship their God in a strange land…The God who had temporarily abandoned them revealed his mercy yet again through forgiveness and calling the people back to the covenant. [7]

those he has redeemed from the oppressor’s clutches, by bringing them home from foreign countries,from east and west, from north and south.Some had lost their way in the wilds and the desert, not knowing how to read an inhabited town;they were hungry and desperately thirsty, their courage was running low. Then they called to YHWH in their trouble and he rescued them from their sufferings, guiding them…’Ps 107:2-7.

[1] For example, cultic high place, temple foundations and incense shovels at Dan excavated by Biran.

[2] Though not authentic, this structure is referred to as Abraham’s Gate on the basis that Abraham is reported to have gone to Dan to rescue his nephew Lot. It demonstrates a sophisticated arch structure.

[3] The biblical account was not intended to be an historical account, but biblical scholars and archaeologists have often sought to ‘prove’ the historicity of the texts through archaeology. See Bryan, The Quest for the Historical Israel.

[4] The Dancer of Dan, ritual utensils and ‘high places’, coupled with the lack of pig bones suggest that over time these sites became less Canaanite or Philistine and more Israelite. See Biran.

[5] Judith Gardiner, Tour notes, p33

[6] Avrahim Biran, From Tel Dan is the Hazael inscription, evidence of treaties and Assyrian dominance.

[7] Kasper, Mercy

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Making melody unto the Lord, the God of Mercy – Introduction

I’ve decided to share some of my reflections that I put into my major assignment! I’ve tried to bring together some of my reflections on the tour using the vehicle of the Psalms.

It is the duty of Christians to praise God publicly, by singing the psalms together in the congregation, and also privately in the family. In singing of psalms, the voice is to be tunably and gravely ordered; but the chief must be to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord [1](1645 Directory of Public Worship of God).

This paper presents a reflection on aspects of the impact of the Bible Lands Study Tour, though reference to the theology that emerges from the psalms and is re-worked in modern Christian liturgical song. The Psalms reveal a theology of a God of mercy, in a covenant with His people. ‘The Psalms constitute a singular song of praise for God’s mercy’.[2] Singing has been an integral component of the religious expression of Judaism and later Christianity.[3] Religious expression engages the mind, the spirit and the senses; poetry and song have the capacity to express love, longing, grief, joy, praise, triumph and defeat. The act of singing itself has the capacity to bring us closer to the divine in ways that some other forms of expression cannot. ‘My heart is ready God – I mean to sing and play. Awake, my muse, awake, lyre and harp, I mean to wake the Dawn! YHWH, I mean to thank you among the peoples, to play music to you among the nations’ (Psalm 108:1-3).

The tour of Bible Lands brought the imagery of the Psalms into sharp focus, and provided opportunities to sing the songs proclaiming the steadfastness of God’s love for his people and to sing with understanding, and with grace in the heart, making melody unto the Lord.[4] ‘The ‘Psalms above all provide compelling proof against the continually raised assertion that the God of the Old Testament is a jealous God of vengeance and wrath. Rather, the God of the Old Testament, from the book of Exodus to the book of Psalms is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.[5] The Psalms also speak of the identity of the people of the covenant – in a sense the Psalms both construct and articulate their identity, though their simple honesty and powerful imagery.

This journal explores some of the significant sites visited, both traditional sites of veneration and authentic sites, and links them to the Judaic and Christian tradition of liturgical song, principally the Psalms.[6] At the outset of the tour, I had determined that I was a pilgrim, as well as a student of the theology of this God of mercy, rather than a tourist. There is a saying that ‘the tourist passes through the land, while the pilgrim lets the land pass through them’.[7] This was my aim and my experience – to let the land, along with its literature and tradition of song, get into my soul. I wished to learn more about the identity of this Israelite/Jewish people, their understanding of themselves and their relationship with their God. This journal then is a multi-layered text, using the words of scripture, commentary, photographs and modern texts to convey an integrated response to the tour.

The structure of this journal moves loosely from the Hebrew scriptures to the Christian scriptures, rather than using the chronology of the tour[8]. This will assist with the understanding the theology of the psalms revealed in performative poetry and song. As the tour proceeded, and I took notes of the various sites, annotated with phrases from hymns or psalms; allowing the words of ancient Israel to seep into my consciousness of the land and its ancient peoples. The wider application of this work will be as a contribution to the formation of leaders of Catholic ministries in the Mercy tradition.[9]

‘I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations’ (Ps 89:1 NRSV). The Judaic expression of the people’s relationship with God is captured in the Psalms. The Psalms provide both a reflection and commentary of the history of the people of Israel and a theology, developed over a long period of time. The Psalms cover many themes, but the prevailing image of God that emerges is that of a god willing to continue to protect his people as part of a covenant with them. He will shelter you with his wings; you will find safety under his wings. His faithfulness is like a shield or a protective wall (Psalm 91.4). Through their stubbornness and failure, the God of mercy continues to call them back into relationship. This reflects the theology of much of the Hebrew scriptures, especially the Deuteronomic tradition.[10]

Theologically, the Hebrew Scriptures reflect the nature of the covenant the people had with this merciful God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Psalm 105 enthusiastically proclaims this relationship. God ‘makes a new beginning in Abraham, so to speak – a counter history begins, that is, the actual history of human salvation by God. In Abraham, all generations, all families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen 12:13).[11] According to Kasper, this notion of mercy is related to the understanding of the sovereignty of God and the concept of justice.[12] The history of Israel outlined in the Old Testament is ‘a history of blessing, graciousness, salvation’.[13] ‘Again and again God calms his righteous holy wrath and shows mercy to his errant people, despite their infidelity, in order to give them another chance for repentance and conversion. He is their protector and preserver of the poor and those without rights’.[14]

A further theme that emerges in the Hebrew Scriptures, and reflected in the Psalms is the responsibility of Israel to pass on the relationship to all generations. Along these lines is the idea that God ‘has not abandoned his hereditary people’ (Psalm: 94). Psalm 16 also speaks of this heritage ‘YHWH, my heritage, my cup, you, and you only, hold my lot secure; the measuring line marks out delightful places for me, for me the heritage is superb indeed’ (Ps 16:5-6).

The imagery prominently weaving through this theological history of the people is the topographical features of the land: mountains, water, fruitful plains and desert and wilderness. This imagery is central to the Psalms and images are used as similes and metaphors to describe the people’s experience of their God. The images are made alive and vibrant through a pilgrimage in the land, deepening the experience of the Psalms.

The archaeology of Israel has revealed many examples of the historicity of ancient Hebrew writings, and the Psalms attest to the ways in which the people reflected on and reminisced about the events in their history. Christianity has used the Psalms in much the same way – to link the Old Testament God of mercy to the Christian tradition – as liturgical song to express the nature of God.

The Psalms became a significant vehicle for prayer and liturgical expression for Christianity. The Christian writers, steeped in the Judaic scriptures and the Judaic temple liturgy of the Second Temple period sought to link Jesus to the messianic hopes of their audiences. Luke particularly quotes extensively from the Psalms and by using the genre of the Psalms in songs such as the Magnificat, the Benedictus and the Nunc Dimittis links the birth of Jesus to the fulfilment of the messianic promise of God to his people. Later, Augustine incorporated the Psalms into his theology in what is called the Totus Christus. [15] For the modern Christian, as recipients of the tradition, the Psalms are incorporated into formal prayer and liturgy of the Church and serve as the basis of many hymns. Furthermore, Christians are encouraged in our own day to explore and pray the Psalms. Pope Benedict notes that:

In the Psalms are expressed and interwoven with joy and suffering, the longing for God and the perception of our own unworthiness, happiness and the feeling of abandonment, trust in God and sorrowful loneliness, fullness of life and fear of death. The whole reality of the believer converges in these prayers. The People of Israel first and then the Church adopted them as a privileged mediation in relations with the one God and an appropriate response to God’s self revelation in history.

Since the Psalms are prayers they are expressions of the heart and of faith with which everyone can identify and in which that experience of special closeness to God — to which every human being is called — is communicated. Moreover the whole complexity of human life is distilled in the complexity of the different literary forms of the various Psalms: hymns, laments, individual entreaties and collective supplications, hymns of thanksgiving, penitential psalms, sapiential psalms and the other genres that are to be found in these poetic compositions.[16]

[1] David Gambrell, Singing the Psalms, Liturgy, 27:3, 1-2, Routledge, London, DOI 10.1080/0458063X2012.666454 p 1

[2] Walter Kasper, Mercy, the Essence of the Gospel and the key to Christian Life, Paulist Press, NY, 2014

[3] This of course is not unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition, perhaps being fundamental to all religious expression.

[4] Gambrell, Singing the Psalms, p1

[5] Kasper, Mercy, p 60

[6] Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures provide ‘songs’ at key moments that are like the Psalter, or draw on the Psalter for their provenance. Some of these will be touched on in this journal.

[7] unknown, but sourced from Geraldine Doogue, Compass, 5 April,

[8] It must be remembered however that some sites bear hundreds of generations of settlement and are therefore part of the Old and New Testament stories. Some sites, such as BetShean were still inhabited in Jesus’ time, while others such as Hazor were probably not, but their identity would be known.

[9] Mercy Partners, an apostolic PJP with responsibility for ministries in the tradition of the Sisters of Mercy, undertakes the formation of lay leaders, focussing on understandings of mercy as they emerge from the scriptures.

[10] Marko Marttila, The Deuteronomstic Heritage in the Psalms, in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Vol 37, 1 pp 69071(2012), p 69

[11] Walter Kasper, Mercy, p 45

[12] Kasper, Mercy, p 45

[13] Kasper, Mercy, p 45

[14] Kasper, 60

[15] The Totus Christus is the theology of Augustine that links the Word made flesh (Jesus) to the Church as its head, in interprets the scripture from that perspective: Jesus as the fulfillment of the scriptures.

[16] BENEDICT XVI, GENERAL Audience, St. Peter’s Square, Wednesday, 22 June 2011,

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Assignments Finished!

The study tour, which was part of my Masters in Theology degree, had three assignments as part of the requirements. This week I finished them, and now have some free weekends before the next semester begins.

In July I will be off again overseas on a cruise around Northern Europe. I’m certainly looking forward to it. This will be a real pleasure cruise, visiting Northern European cities like Amsterdam, Talinn, St Petersburg and Stockholm. I’m preparing by trying to keep fit, and reading about these cities. I’m really interested in the history of these places – the art and culture, so there will be a lot to see.

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