Words written in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories

Day 5: People as a Form of God’s Blessings

Today, I have a fuller understanding of what the house of God looks like, and it is a truly beautiful place with people whose lights are of many colors, but all add to the prism of global humanity. It’s all too easy to forget that we’re all wrapped in our own cultures, seeing the world through the lenses that we are accustomed to and have been taught to use, and that many people perceive some or all of life quite differently from us. But you will find people who are making a difference and living their lives as fully as they can wherever you go, and you will find common threads in both expected and unexpected places.

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We had the privilege of visiting the Basilica of the Annunciation today in Nazareth, where Mary was told by the angel Gabriel that she would birth a very important child, Jesus. What I didn’t know was that there would be mosaics representing Mary from all nations around the world. I nearly cried as I stood in the middle of the plaza outside the church, taking in how stunningly and diversely Mary is depicted in Croatia compared to Spain compared to South Korea compared to Australia compared to my own home, the United States. They have a website where you can see some of them, and it’s worth a visit.

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There’s something peaceful about going to sites that are more likely to be the places we expect them to be. There’s less cognitive dissonance, though I suppose that’s to be expected.

We also had the privilege of seeing some ancient ruins in places like Sepphoris, where Jesus likely hung out, creating a meeting point of the secular Greco-Roman culture and the divine. If you want to do ministry, you actually have to go out of your church (or, at this time, synagogue) and into the world to meet the people around you.

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This was likely the floor of a bathhouse. The bottom center mosaic is Mary, but it’s referred to as a Mona Lisa because of the similarity and the eyes that follow you.

One of my favorite parts of the day was hearing from Elias Chacour, a former archbishop of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church who now works to create integrated schools for Palestinian and Israeli children, write stories of being a Palestinian Christian fighting for peace in the Land, and share his wisdom with Christian pilgrims, among others, about doing the hard work of reconciliation when it would be far easier to capitulate and become cynical. He was an inspiration to all of us – a man who has dedicated himself to some of the toughest work possible, and yet still has immense amounts of hope, peace, and balance. 3 thoughts he left me with, among many, are as follows: 1. If you learn nothing else in seminary, remember this: God is love. God does not kill. 2. Do not be a chameleon Christian. Raise hell for peace. Pray and work for the good of all. Be honest about what you have seen here. 3. Do not become one-sided in this (or in any issue); do not become pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. To take one side against the other is to become an enemy to the other side, and if you’re going to do that, we don’t need your friendship. There are enough enemies already. Be pro-peace and pro-justice instead.

I had never before thought about the danger of taking a side in this way. To me, in many contexts in the past, in order to be the kind of non-chameleon Christian who raises hell for peace, I’ve taken a firm stand on the “side of justice” as I’ve seen it. However, that can fog up my lenses of the world, making me all too quick to defend my side and bash the other. For example, how often do I do that with Democrats and Republicans? He’s left me with much to think about in terms of how I talk about the conflict here and issues back home. I don’t know what it will look like yet to be firm in my convictions, but soft-hearted in how I interact with others and go about trying to make a positive difference. I don’t want enemies. I don’t want to be one-sided. I want to be effective in the same way that he has been, creating spaces for children to learn how to be accepting of the other.

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This Land will turn you upside down, shake you around, and knock any preconceived notions out of you with great gusto. It’s a complicated place to explore everything, including faith. I feel like many people, including Christian pilgrims from the United States who I know and love, go to this land and glaze over the complexities and nuances to just see what they want to see, the sites that we are more certain about (even though they still have questions marks on them to more or lesser extents). The sites that affirm the narratives we hold in tight fists. Open your eyes, ears, heart, and mind; this is no easy place to walk. It is no simple task, no simple site where you see an object and instantly, simply, and without hesitations feel closer to God. It is a harder-fought faith experience here, if you’re truly trying to honor its history, hardships, and the stories of the people who call this land home (and fight like hell to keep it feeling like a home). In this more liminal space of Jesus’ historical context, my present faith, and the Body of Christ and world at large, where the space is messy, confusing, broken, and beautiful all at once, I am grateful for the God who is willing to show up in everything, people included. On any particular day, we may not see God in God form, but we will see God in people, if we are willing to look just a little longer. Today, I saw God in the artists who made the Mary mosaics; a man driving to the top of the mountain at the ruins to propose to his girlfriend; Ghada and her family and friends that she frequently stopped to say hi to as we were walking around Nazareth; a man in a dress shop who proudly showed us the photo he has with Muhammad Ali; and in my classmates.

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Where did you?

In honor of the beauty that I have seen, I present to you the Magnificat (Mary’s Prayer from Luke 1:46-55, after she is told that she will birth a child) in 4 different languages: English, Arabic, Latin, and Spanish, respectively.

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A mosaic from the United States.

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his Name.

He has mercy on those who fear him
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm,
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.

He has cast down the mighty from their thrones,
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has come to the help of his servant Israel
for he remembered his promise of mercy,
the promise he made to our fathers,
to Abraham and his children forever.  

Magnificat anima mea Dominum;
Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo,
Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae; ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen ejus, Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum.
Fecit potentiam brachio suo;
Dispersit superbos mente cordis sui.
Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles.
Esurientes implevit bonis, et divites dimisit inanes.
Sucepit Israel, puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae suae, Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semeni ejus in saecula.

تعظِّم نفسي الرب وتبتهج روحي بالله مخلِّصي.
لأنّه نظر الى تواضع أمَتِهِ فها منذ الآن تطوِّبني جميعُ الأجيال.
لأنّ القديرَ صنعَ بي عظائمَ واسمُه قدّوس.
ورحمَتُه الى أجيال وأجيال للَّذين يتَّقونه.
صنعَ عزًّا بساعِدِه وشتَّتَ المتكبِّرين بأفكار قلوبهم.
حطَّ المقتدرين عن الكراسي ورفعَ المتواضعين.
أشبعَ الجياعَ خيرًا والأغنياء أرسلهم فارغين.
عضدَ إسرائيل عبدَهُ فذكرَ رحمتَه،
كما تكلَّم لآبائنا ابراهيمَ ونسلِهِ الى الأبد.
المجد للآب والابن والروح القدس
كما كان في البدء والآن وكل أوان وإلى دهر الداهرين. آمين

Proclama mi alma la grandeza del Señor, se alegra mi espíritu en Dios mi Salvador, porque ha mirado la humillación de su esclava.

Desde ahora me felicitarán todas las generaciones porque el Poderoso ha hecho obras grandes por mí. Su nombre es Santo y su misericordia llega a sus fieles de generación en generación.

Él hace proezas con su brazo, dispersa a los soberbios de corazón. Derriba del trono a los poderosos y enaltece a los humildes. A los hambrientos los colma de bienes y a los ricos despide vacíos.

Auxilia a Israel su siervo, acordándose de su santa alianza según lo había prometido a nuestros padres en favor de Abrahán y su descendencia por siempre.

Gloria al Padre y al Hijo y al Espíritu Santo como era en principio ahora y siempre por los siglos de los siglos. Amen.

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