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One of the hazards of living 24/7 surrounded by biblical history, as I do in Nazareth, is its unexpected impact on spirituality — the reverse of the famed "Jerusalem effect," in which fervent Christian pilgrims are overwhelmed by the city's intense spiritual atmosphere.

In Nazareth, my office at the Baptist school is 200 yards away from "Mary's well." According to tradition, the Virgin Mary, together with her fellow women of first-century Nazareth, would go there daily to fetch water for the family and touch base on the latest news of the day. My office is also half a mile away from the sites, recognized by ancient tradition, of the holy family's Nazareth home and Joseph's carpentry/masonry shop. My favorite restaurant is in between them.

Most of the world's two billion Christians would count it a once-in-a-lifetime blessing to visit these holy sites. But for those of us who live and have lived for generations in this part of the world, these places become very familiar — perhaps even too familiar — which can work against healthy Christian spirituality. In our daily lives as Christian inhabitants of Nazareth, living close to the sites that witnessed so many meaningful events goes unnoticed. They become ancient, taken-for-granted monuments.

But there is another complicating factor here. Starting around November and lasting through Easter and Holy Week in the spring, Christian pilgrims by the multitudes are escorted through the top sites from the life of Christ and the early church.

These pilgrims have nary a personal encounter with the contemporary church of living stones — everyday saints who maintain the Christian witness in Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and other communities. This further feeds the perception, ...

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January 2008

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