Sunrise on the Sea of Galilee
“Many mornings I would wake up early and watch the sunrise over the Sea of Galilee, just as Jesus and his disciples must have experienced it years ago,” says Gonzaga’s Lauren Hackman-Brooks. She shares some of her fondest memories of her travels to the Holy Land and the great impact it has had on her spiritual life. “I’ll never read Scripture the same way again.”
Hackman-Brooks, M.Div., is associate director of Mission and Ministry, and while she is new to Gonzaga, she is a veteran of Jesuit learning. Her first encounter with Ignatian spirituality was through a post-graduate volunteer program at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. After a decade of ministry in Jesuit education in Chicago, she and her family relocated to Spokane in 2019.
During her studies through Catholic Theological Union, Hackman-Brooks first visited the Holy Land during a 10-week biblical travel study program. In 2019, she was invited to return on a pilgrimage led by America Media, producer of “America” magazine, edited by Father James Martin, S.J. (Fr. Martin was the esteemed commencement speaker at Gonzaga in 2016.) She was one of a handful of Ignatian educators to receive the invitation to help guide participants, an opportunity paid for by benefactors who wish to support those working in Jesuit schools. Hackman-Brooks, who had gone on the pilgrimage to the Ignatian sites in Spain in 2018, says she was delighted to have the invitation to fill one of those complementary seats twice since then.
Hackman-Brooks of Gonzaga (second from right), is pictured with Father James Martin, S.J. (second from left) and Ignatian colleagues from Cristo Rey Jesuit High in Chicago, Canisius College in Buffalo and Loyola High in Detroit, 2019
In her 2020 journey to the Holy Land, just prior to the spread of COVID-19 and related travel restrictions, Hackman-Brooks provided support for about 100 pilgrims, helping with hospitality, and spiritual and pastoral care. She loved walking through meaningful Biblical places once more, and enjoyed the special company and community that was formed in the group.
“Sharing with the same people, praying, eating meals, and staying up late debriefing the day really draws you close to each other,” she says. “One of the greatest gifts is getting to be in the places that mean so much to the Church, but also falling in love in a new and different way with the people that make up the Church today.”
The group had some incredible experiences like renewing their baptismal vows on the Jordan river – the very place where Jesus was baptized – staying at the Mount of Beatitudes and visiting Lazarus’ tomb and the Holy Sepulchre Church where Jesus was crucified, died, buried and rose from the dead. One of her favorite places is the Sea of Galilee which sets the scene for many important Bible stories. Jesus preached along these shores and this is where he invited the disciples to be “fishers of men.”
On these waters, several miracles took place as well, such as the calming of the stormy sea, Jesus walking on water, and the miracle of the five loaves and the two fish that fed a crowd of 5,000. Hackman-Brooks and the other pilgrims took an unforgettable boat ride to reflect on and pray through a scripture reading in the middle of the sea. “I just loved the experience of being quiet and reflecting together,” she said.
At Capernaum – believed to be the town where Jesus lived and preached during his public ministry – Hackman-Brooks recalled the Bible story of Jesus eating dinner with tax collectors and coming across the words, “Jesus was at home.” She began to think what it would be like to go to Jesus’ house and have dinner, what would it be like to casually be in Jesus’ home. This scene has become an especially powerful prayerful experience for her during this time of quarantine when we can’t visit the homes of friends and family. She imaginatively prays with the experience of inviting Jesus to her home, having dinner there, and imagining the potential conversations that could unfold.
Since returning from her trip, Hackman-Brooks has tried to bring the essence of the Holy Land to Gonzaga through mini-retreats with students, faculty, and staff. Even during the COVID-19 quarantine, these times of prayer and reflection, based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, take place weekly via Zoom.