Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Last week, on my day off (Friday) from my duties at St. George's Cathedral and with Jerusalem Peacebuilders, I decided to venture out from the safety of my familiar surroundings and explore the eastern parts of Jerusalem. Usually I spend my day off reading, doing laundry, and relaxing from the week's events, not going anywhere but staying pretty close to home. Friday is a day when most stores and businesses in Jerusalem are closed and the municipal buses and trains do not operate, because that night marks the beginning of Shabbat, the weekly day of rest practiced by the Jewish people, and ending on Saturday night. Thus, staying in one place is not a tall order.
For a while, I had been wanting to explore East Jerusalem and experience its different areas and diverse neighborhoods. With East Jerusalem being quite mountainous and rugged in some spots, a good pair of hiking shoes, a snack, and a bottle of water are advisable for the pilgrim or day traveler. I find a lot of joy in walking and climbing around these places, imagining an ancient landscape and perceiving its changes overtime. Perhaps its my history interest or desire to discover and encounter the new and old; a genuine curiosity to learn propels me in life.
After crossing a couple of neighborhoods en-route to the Mt. of Olives, I came to the Zurim Valley National Park. Its interesting to point out that while traveling somewhere in Jerusalem, there are few direct roads leading to your destination. Consequentially, it becomes faster to cut through different areas and test out uncertain routes through alleyways and unmarked pathways. For if you were always to stay on the roads your travel times would be much lengthier. I like taking these risks because I quickly learn whether my hypothesis works or doesn't work. I reach a dead end or find a route through. I encounter walls and obstructions in the physical world and search for a way around them, through them.
After climbing up the to the top of the Mt. of Olives, I started to descend down the other side. On my way down a street, I found a neighborhood run by a Catholic Charity that included a park and small tract of forest. As I walked through the forest, the noise of the bustling city began to disperse, leaving an air of stillness and quiet which I had not yet had the pleasure of experiencing since I arrived last October. Walking on the green grass with the sun shining overhead I looked ahead and all of a sudden spotted the Separation Barrier 30 yards down below. I admit that I was surprised to find it in this peaceful and tranquil place.
I approached a cliff overlooking the barrier where the trees were not shading the ground and I could sit down in the warm sunshine and reflect. No one was around and all was silent. Indeed, this place felt foreign and weird, but I knew that this moment and my being here was a gift and sign from God. As I sat there, I pondered the wall and its meaning, the people who built it, the people who guard it, and the people separated by it. I considered the opinions, thoughts, beliefs, feelings, history, and suffering that had gave birth to it and have since been caused by it. While looking out at the houses on the other side of the wall, I saw Palestinians doing their laundry, enjoying the sunshine, children playing and practicing dance moves, and men building a new house. I thought about and was troubled by how things had gotten so bad, deteriorated so much that this wall had to be built, that this wall had to be justified into being. Most importantly, I thought about the power of fear and how it grips and leads us into acting in certain ways. I sat there and prayed to God to make me an instrument of his peace, for strength to break down the perceived walls we construct in our minds that limit our ability to love Him and our neighbor as ourselves, for my ministry and service with JPB, and to be a more effective peace-builder and bridge-builder between peoples in conflict throughout my life. Lord hear my prayer.
This experience presents an invaluable lesson for me and for all of us because each and everyday we put up walls, we say no to ourselves and to other people because of our beliefs and assumptions. We retreat from thinking and acting in love and act out of fear, human nature, and self-interest. In the end, these walls weaken our ability to love and receive God's love and live out our faith as Christians and the Children of God.
God of your goodness, give me yourself, for you are enough for me. And I can ask for nothing less that is to your glory. And if I ask for anything less, I shall still be in want, for only in you have I all.
~A prayer of Julian of Norwich