On Hope and Healing

A Montanan on a Mission, Volume 6

The Blessing of Family

In a past blog post, I shared about some of my struggles I have faced while living in Palestine. I developed some sort of chronic sinusitis and facial pain in December, and have been on quite the journey trying to solve it. Coupled with my tendency to overanalyze and obsess, this has led to a lot of time spent in worry and frustration. A welcome distraction to this was planning for my mother and sister’s ten-day visit in early April. They arrived the day before Western Easter, and I met them at the Lutheran World Federation’s (LWF) lovely little guest house on the Mount of Olives. I booked this place because the following morning, we had to wake up at 5AM for the LWF’s annual Easter service.

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Finding Hope in Emptiness

As we overlooked the Judean Hills and the foothills of Jordan from our vantage point on the Mount of Olives, Pastor Carrie Smith shared an Easter message of hope. Christ’s disciples are understandably devastated after his crucifixion. The Roman occupiers had subjected Jesus to their most humiliating punishment and mocked him as the “King of the Jews.” How could the Jesus movement continue without its namesake? That Friday was a time of despair. Three days later, the three women find the tomb empty. An empty tomb seems like an unlikely source of hope, yet it is in this iconic image that we find the everlasting nature of Jesus’ message.

Pastor Carrie writes,

“So yes, the tomb is empty--

It is empty of death.

It is empty of despair.

But it is full of something else: It is full of hope!”

Jesus’ message transcends his earthly expression. And as I sat there on the Mount of Olives with my mom and sister, I felt some hope for the first time in a while. Hope for myself, and hope for reconciliation in Israel/Palestine.

A Practical Pilgrimage

Afterwards, we headed to the Mount of the Ascension, and from there we walked down the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane. From there we hiked back up to the Lion's Gate and walked the Stations of the Cross, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Afterwards, we wandered through the Old City's bustling shops and ancient sites. If you're looking for a great cure for jet-lag, I highly recommend the Holy Week + Old City in One Day tour, offered by JWB YAGM Inc. To round off the day at an even 10 miles of walking, you can even add an optional dip in the American Colony's luxury swimming pool, if you are not above sneaking into hotels.

Over the next 9 days, I reveled in showing my mom and sister all that I have learned about this enchanting place. We met many interesting characters (and cats), shared pieces of hard-earned wisdom, and basked in the incredible hospitality of the Palestinian people. Traveling with my mom and sister, I saw many places with new eyes, and felt inspired to venture out further and explore new places like Mar Saba. I also received a much-needed dose of love and hope. At the time they arrived to Palestine, I had grown really frustrated with my sinus issues and did not have a lot of energy to keep looking for a solution. But, by the time they left, I felt a new sense of energy in me, and I felt ready to accept the new energy of the spring.

Movement is a Right!

On March 23rd, I ran in the Palestine Marathon, my second half-marathon. My time was not as fast as my last one due to a few challenges: a relative lack of training, a more difficult course, and hot weather. Despite these obstacles, or perhaps because of them, this was my favorite race I have participated in so far. The original idea for the marathon came from a group of runners in Bethlehem who realized they could not find a stretch of 26 miles in the West Bank fully under Palestinian control. For this reason, the half marathon is basically there-and-back, and the marathon is 2 laps of this same route.

There are many confusing aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and perhaps one of the more obscured facts is that Israel retains ultimate security control of the West Bank. This means that Palestinians can be stopped anytime by the IDF when traveling between most Palestinian cities. This practice has spawned a complex system of permits to control Palestinian movement both within the West Bank and into Jerusalem (although under international law East Jerusalem is Palestinian territory). As an American passport holder, I have more freedom of movement than many of the people indigenous to this land.

Flummoxed by Faith

I have written before about some of my struggles with faith. The more learning and reflection I do, I have realized the diversity of perspectives on faith, and my own tendency to over-intellectualize things which I shouldn't. Militant atheists like to attack faith because they say it is irrational to believe something without evidence. However, I believe that most people have faith in certain things, without evidence, because living by faith is a better way to live life. An attitude as simple as saying, "Today will be a good day," in the morning constitutes an act of faith, in my opinion. On the topic of trying to think about faith outside of traditional constructs, I've copied a short passage from The Shack, a book I just finished reading. I recommend it to anyone who struggles to understand certain aspects of Christian theology like the Trinity. In it, Sarayu, the personification of the Holy Spirit, speaks about her nature:

"And as my very essence is a verb," she continued, "I am more attuned to verbs than nouns. Verbs such as confessing, repenting, loving, responding, growing, reaping, changing, sowing, running, dancing, singing and on and on. Humans, on the other hand, have a knack for taking a verb that is alive and full of grace and and turning it into a dead noun or principle that reeks of rules--then something growing and alive dies. Nouns exist because there is a created universe and physical reality, but if the universe is only a mass of nouns, it is dead. Unless 'I am,' there are no verbs, and verbs are what makes the universe alive."

Increasingly, I see faith as less of a dogma and more of an orientation towards life that brings one into closer relationship with God. It is in the present moment and in relationship--an active, ongoing process--that we experience the love of God.

Finding Hope Here

However, we must make space for love in the first place, and this requires trust. Conflicts are situations characterized by a destructive lack of love across some boundary, usually stemming from an inability or unwillingness to trust the other side. In these situations, how can reconciliation happen? I recently went to talk at Tantur Ecumenical Institute by Revd. Canon Dr Sarah Hills exploring this very question. She has been Canon for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral since 2014 and came to present about her work as director of the Community of the Cross of Nails. She pointed out that the goal of reconciliation is not necessary to have people agree, but rather creating a space where people can disagree in a way that is not destructive. I found the presentation interesting, but the discussion afterward really piqued my interest. People commented on the problem of defining ultimate justice, the necessary steps before reconciliation can take place, and how to deal with a loss of hope. One man said that he resists the difficult situation here by refusing to lose hope, which struck me.

In the last 100 years, this land has seen so many peace proposals fail. Indeed, Pastor Smith noted that on the same day we observed Good Friday by singing hymns in the Old City and walking the Stations of the Cross, the IDF gunned down 23 Palestinians participating in Land Day protests in Gaza. Can we find any hope in this emptiness and death? I think so. We can find hope in the coalescence of Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) in Gaza. We can find hope in the reaction of celebrities like Natalie Portman, who recently refused to accept a prize on the same stage as Netanyahu. The American Civil Rights Movement endured lots of violence, but once its nucleus solidified, it became a powerful force.

Though I'm disappointed I have spent a lot of time here frustrated by health issues, this experience has taught me a lot about the importance of having grace with yourself. I spent a lot of time blaming myself and catastrophizing instead of taking it one day at a time. I may have finally found the cause of the facial pain, but I will have to be patient and wait and see. Until then, I will focus on the many people who love me both here and at home, and take stock in the fact that I am loved unconditionally by God.