It’s been a few weeks since my trip with The Global Immersion Project to the Middle East. I’ve shared some of my initial thoughts about the Lives of Unwarranted Compassion I witnessed, along with the realization that this peace process Starts With Me. Now I’ve moved on to the hard writing–sharing stories.
If you’ve followed this blog for long, you know I’m pretty comfortable (perhaps bordering on too comfortable) writing about myself–my own spiritual highs and lows and faith journey. I find it much harder to write about controversial topics or actually give an opinion about anything. The thought of sharing stories from Israel and Palestine (West Bank?/Occupied Territory–even the name is controversial!) scares me because I don’t know where people stand–how much they know about the conflict, what their religious/political/idealogical/eschatological bent may be. I haven’t even figured out what I think about all of this. And yet I had the incredible opportunity to actually GO to the Middle East. To meet Jews and Muslims and Christians. To hear about the horrors of the Holocaust from survivors, to meet with present-day Palestinian refugees, to learn from peacemakers who see the peace process as something deeper and more challenging than signing a piece of paper or hammering out a One- or Two-State solution.
We hear so many stories of violence and despair and centuries old conflict in the Middle East that it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Before I joined with The Global Immersion Project, I would have turned off the news and thrown my hands up in futility. What could I do anyways? How could I even begin to understand such a entrenched conflict? It’s all too much.
When I traveled to the Middle East, I met people fully immersed and affected by the conflict. People who don’t get to turn off the news and ignore it–even if they’d like to. But for me, the immense magnitude of the conflict was not the most salient point I carried home with me, but the immense magnitude of the hope and the joy and the space for transformation and reconciliation that this conflicts opens up. Since joining with TGIP, I’ve come to realize that as followers of Christ we’re actually called to enter in to conflict to transform it, to make peace, to bring the Kingdom in all its wholeness and glory into the world we live in today.
As a staunch conflict avoider, this is terrifying for me.
But I feel so honored that I could spend 10 days with peacemakers who are living this out in the most costly and courageous ways, that I can’t help but share their stories.
I will be writing about issues that may or may not push all the wrong (or right) buttons. At this point I don’t even know what’s controversial anymore. Wherever you stand, please know first and foremost, I want to share where I personally saw God moving in the Middle East.
I want to share the stories that most resonated with my heart. That most pointed to the existence of a God of reconciliation. Whose very heart is to reconcile us to Him. To reconcile us to ourselves, each other. The earth.
Well, this was probably way too long of an introduction to my first story that doesn’t even need a disclaimer, but oh well, some later posts will. Without further ado, here is my first story of where I saw God moving in Israel. And I hope to be getting back to posting once a week.
The place: The Western Wall, near the Temple Mount, Old Jerusalem.
Women rock to their rhythmic prayers. I sit insecure. Fiddling with my hands. Not sure which prayer to whisper. To open or close my eyes. It’s not my wall. It’s not my tradition.
I rack my brain for Torah scriptures. For some monumental verse that will immediately put God in the right perspective.
“What are you speaking to me?” I ask. “What do you want me to know about the Jewish tradition and what it means for me as a Christian now?”
A teenage girl sits a few feet over. She’s rocking and murmuring prayers obediently. I feel like an impostor.
The rocks of the wall are huge. Not what I had pictured. There are a few rolled prayers tucked into the crevices. But mostly it’s just sandy Jerusalem stone staring back at us. Super-sized bricks stacked to the sky.
People are rocking, but there’s no wailing.
I touch the cold wall. Brace myself for the mystic power. This wall that is closest to the where the Holy of Holies was. This wall is the last remnant of the Jewish Temple that dates back to King Herod. I feel reverence. Awe. Not really for the stone, but for the people who experience God this way. For the people who show up day after day to pray. Who live the reality that sometimes God speaks. And sometimes it feels like you’re talking to a cold wall.
And still they come. The faithful. Like showing up week after week to church. Together. Standing in worship or bowing our heads in prayer even when we don’t feel the rhythm.
Then I hear God speak.
“I love you. You are all my children.”
I fumble in my bag for my notebook and pen, rushing to capture His words.
The girl next to me casts me a sidelong glance, intrigued or offended by my non-Jewishness, I cannot tell. I finally dig out my notebook and pen. I start to write His words, what I felt/knew I heard. As I take the cap off my pen, turquoise ink spills everywhere. Dying my page, my hands. The girl looks over again. I blush, feeling more irreverent than ever. It’s not even a dignified black ink or even a Jesus-red, but bright blue. My hands are stained, like I’ve come to finger paint at the Wailing Wall. At this spot closest to the Holy of Holies.
The girl is staring now. I give an embarrassed shrug and angle my chair away from her. I bow my head and pray into my turquoise hands. I barely get out a, “God…help.” when I feel a tap on my shoulder. The Jewish girl is asking for my attention. Our eyes lock. She hands me a tissue. I gladly receive the tissue along with her understanding smile. She turns back to her rhythmic prayers. I blot off the ink. Grab a new pen and write the words,
“I love you. You are all my children.”