This afternoon, we drove through East Jerusalem – the complicated part where sidewalks end suddenly, Shel Silverstein style. Where rich consults inhabit apartment buildings mere blocks away from the unkempt homes of alienated refugees. The separation wall cuts through it all, a knife decorated with the dizzying art of the voiceless.
Mohammed, our godsend of a bus driver, got us high up in the midst of this settlement and as he did a killer three point turn, one piece of graffiti shouted out. It was no Banksy, just black spray paint in a slanted hand, but its message touched me somewhere deep, somewhere raw. The dirt whispers I’m coming home.
The dirt, the soil of the Holy Land, is alive with courage. It is stirring and I am thankful for its movement. So thankful.
Our trip has been a pilgrimage of sorts and intermingling with peacemakers’ reflections are the sites we’ve toured. The manger, the Mount of Temptation, Capernaum, Joseph’s carpentry shop: these scenes of Biblical profundity actually made me cringe. They have been underwhelming, almost marring my imagination’s ideas of Biblical times.
I am grateful that God is not contained in artificial recreations of the nativity. I am grateful that his voice echoes throughout all creation, not just in solemn shrines where incense burns. I respect the sanctity of the sites but my heart has found joy through encounters with God’s children. I have felt most fulfilled watching God reveal himself through the personal histories of the oppressed. In each cup of Arabic coffee has been the selflessness of Jesus. In every vulnerable insight has been a glimmer of his wisdom.
This Holy Land cast of characters is realer to me than Zacchaeus in his sycamore tree, which now stands at the end of a row of tired souvenir shops. Have we come to idolize the pilgrimage spots, worshipping them out of religious duty instead of walking a faith filled journey inspired by the stories’ heroes?
The only site where I truly saw God unadulterated and pure was the Sea of Galilee. Floating on still waters, observed only by the rambling hills, God was clearly engrained in the land. For one cherished moment, everything was quiet and I felt him. And then music started to play and our Israeli boat crew tugged at my hands and taught us to dance. So we sailed back to the harbor laughing and singing and dancing.
It was a new kind of sacred, a kind formed by community.
Tonight, during our team debrief, Will White commented so astutely:”It says something about humanity that the holiest place on earth is the most messed up.”
Maybe anger boiled within me at the other sites because each gilded chair and bronze statue seemed like a mockery of God. But who can blame the masses for clamoring and becoming intoxicated with the past when the present is tumultuous?
Is really seeing the Holy Land with its bruises and dividing walls too painful? Quite possibly.
I am definitely ready to rest my eyes. I’ll rest them but not close them. The dirt whispers I’m coming home, and I want to be there celebrating when peace rains down again.