People Near to Me
I grew up in a culture disengaged with the larger world. The sports page in the Sunday paper explored the outermost parts of my earth. The liturgies I grew into never included prayers of peace for civil unrest, or laments in light of systemic injustice. I am not sure if the news was too depressing, or if I drank in too much “this world isn’t our home” theology, or if I was trained to be too busy to care. Either way, I was impartial toward the wider world around me. On a local level I worked for peace and justice, restoration and beauty throughout my time in college, but I never did kick the habit of not knowing what was really happening nationally or internationally.
Going across the world changes a person. Yes, the places we saw were life changing, but it was just as much the people as the places.
On the 12th of January, Istanbul was attacked by ISIS. The same day a Palestinian was killed by Israeli forces. I could have been in a riot in Bethlehem, the kind that people watch on TV; the kind they hear about when they read BBC. The world grew incredibly small in just two weeks because I witnessed people. I rode a tram with them. We ate falafel together. We sat in the same airport as we complained in different languages about our flight delay. We drank whiskey and smoked hookah together. Together we turned to the Western Wall asking God to bring His Kingdom here on earth. We planted trees and dreamed of peace together. But, we are so different. I had a choice to turn away from their world. They have never had that choice.
People Far Away
Sometimes in the wash of school you forget to look up. We are trained to look down; down into our books, our papers, our sermons. But it is the ups that make the downs worthwhile.
Often times it takes leaving home to truly recognize the people who surround us.
As Kyle and I climbed into the mouth of a cave that almost swallowed us, I wasn’t looking down. Instead I was looking up at a friend, who, although just as scared and stupid as I, desired to live life boldly and wasn’t willing to leave me behind. Worn and tired at the end of our trip, I sat in a coffee shop in the Old City listening to a friend struggle with a painful situation. I looked up at a friend whose cry of lament had faded and has become a reality he now accepts. Even two weeks in the holy land couldn’t conjure up any spiritual vigor. At the Jordan River, I witnessed a friend cry as he remembered not just his baptism but his past. Arms full of love and compassion were laid on his shoulders and words of comfort came whispering into his ears. I believe I heard a familiar voice saying to him, “You are my son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” The voice didn’t come from a tearing in the sky, but from another student who looked up to see a friend in need.
On the morning of the 12th we travelled up to the Mount of Olives looking out over Jerusalem. Silence accompanied us as we prepared for our journey toward God’s dwelling. We looked on the city not like the Psalmist, rejoicing as he went to the house of the LORD. Instead our hearts and minds carried the mourning of Jesus: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who push out the stranger and reject God’s peace, how little we know of each other, and O how much we are alike. Jerusalem, Jerusalem, my sister who has, like me, rejected the way of our Lord.
Silence surrounds the city; all that can be heard is the crow of a distant bird.
In Gethsemane, the silence is broken.
Hurried and busy, the city moves into the dance of everydayness. Without awareness, Jesus’s voice fades away. Work, play, bills and sleep become what is real. Here in the garden we again nod off into nothingness. This time the rooster’s crow cannot get over the noise of traffic.
By an act of grace, we hear the sweetness of melody not far off. As if a call and response, something draws us into a church filled with saints. When our eyes finally adjust to the light we realize we are caught up in the reenactment. Swirling between heaven and earth, together we proclaim, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” In unity we are brought into the drama of new covenant renewal. Hands are lifted, hearts rejoice. Bread, wine, and blessings confirm grace given thousands of years ago.
We left trying to understand what just happened. One professor said it best: “It was a reclaiming of space.” What happened in Gethsemane doesn’t stay in Gethsemane. God’s grace moves forward reclaiming all that is His.
Kneeling down, like many before me, I slowly lead my hand into a hole. Farther and farther until I am shoulder deep. And then I touch it. A rock.* I try to muster up an extra good prayer but people are behind me in line to go shoulder deep as well. I get up and realize it is over. That was it. Somewhere between the gold and incense I am reminded how earthy this whole thing is. Holy mystery comes to join the dust.
*Brendan is describing his experience at the Dome of the Rock.