Sitting in Hope
I wrote this almost exactly a month ago.
After serving a six-week stint as a human rights defender, I’ve been away from Palestine about two weeks. I hesitate to say I’m home yet, because my spirit always drags behind my body, taking much longer to arrive than its physical shell that crosses thousands of miles in less than 24 hours. Given the short span of history in which humans have been able to move so fast, it’s no wonder that we experience jet lag and the bumpy descent of re-entry.
A few hours ago I arrived in Nerinx, KY where I’ll spend 48 hours in a hermitage cabin in the woods. Coming here has been my practice after each stint in Hebron, Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. Here I have time and space to explore, to wonder as I wander. To slow down and notice the muted colors of winter, the texture and structure of trees, the scrambling to and fro of squirrels, the calls of blue jays and cardinals, the graceful arcs of leaping deer.
Here I turn inward to the whirling and swirling that I have tried to soothe or avoid since I’ve been back. So many well-meaning friends have asked, “How was your trip?” Not knowing where or how to begin, I’ve often answered, “It was what it was.”
I know that many who ask want a quick answer. If I start to explain how it was, I have nothing quick or simple to offer.
It was hard. On many school days I saw young Israeli soldiers shoot teargas and stun grenades at much younger Palestinian children as they walked to school…and sometimes again when they walked home after school. It was hard because I could do nothing to stop it from happening.
It was hard because on Thanksgiving Day, during clashes between stone-throwing Palestinian children and heavily armed Israeli soldiers, two soldiers ambushed boys, one 12-years-old, the other 18-years-old, right in front of me. Even though it happened within feet of where I stood, I have no memory of them grabbing the boys; I only recall two soldiers running out from hiding and then a few seconds later as they walked towards the checkpoint, each with a hand locked on the collar of a boy. Could I have been looking down at my camera at that moment, thinking I’d need to document what was happening? Is that why I don’t remember the actual ambush?
It was hard because my teammate’s and my shock prevented us from trying to immediately intervene on the boys’ behalf, though we did help coordinate intervention a few minutes later.
It was hard because on that same day Israeli forces shot not only teargas, but also skunk water, a putrid-smelling liquid, whose odor lingers for days or even weeks. The skunk water truck sprayed in the street towards people and also at buildings.
It was hard because during my six weeks, I saw new checkpoints where Israeli soldiers patted down every Palestinian man who passed. Those same men could walk another 30 seconds and get stopped and patted down again, and another 30 seconds and face the same, and another 30 seconds and face the same, depending on their route. Israeli settlers walked by the checkpoints, sometimes with guns slung over their shoulders, but the soldiers didn’t even give them a second glance.
It was hard because I saw signs everywhere of Israel’s tightening stranglehold (which feels like the most appropriate word I can use) on Palestinians.
It was hard because I saw the depletion of my Palestinian friends’ hope. They were and are living what I only observed. I cannot imagine just how hard it is for them.
My cabin here is called Hope. I need right now to dwell in this space, to soak in hope.
“If we stand in the middle of the mess assuming that the spiritual life will be orderly and pristine, linear and logical, without complexity or contradiction, we will pray not for a blessing, but for an extreme makeover. Of course, the ultimate extreme makeover is an embalmed and well-accessorized corpse, which is what we become in life when we try to defy the wideness and wildness of God.” - Parker Palmer
My time in Hebron was hard. It was messy and complex and full of contradictions.
Because it was also beautiful.
It was beautiful because nearly every day, there was a brilliant clear blue sky and I often went up to the roof, turned my face to the sun and closed my eyes. In those moments, the sun warming my face, I could forget where I was.
It was beautiful because of the impromptu invitations to tea and lunch from Palestinian friends and acquaintances I encountered in the street. As we drank tea, one friend who lives right next to an Israeli settlement laughed as he told us how settlers had once thrown a bucket of hummus on him. Their act had not dampened his spirit for long.
It was beautiful because of the passion, strength, and depth of experience of my teammates; they were my teachers.
It was beautiful because I witnessed the dedication, perseverance, and love of children embodied in the Palestinian teachers whose job in the context of military occupation extends far beyond the classroom.
It was beautiful because, despite the difficulties and insecurities of living under military occupation, Palestinian children still laughed and played. Soccer in the street in front of one checkpoint. Bike-riding by another. Palestinian adults still went about their daily business as best they could.
A few times, just briefly, I even glimpsed beauty in Israeli soldiers as they let down their guard and lived into their divine nature, that part of their being that recognizes interconnection and the call to care for one another.
It was beautiful because my own connection to that place and those people deepened and grew stronger.
It was beautiful because every day, I opened a card from my colleagues and felt the connection to the ministry and the people who support me in this work, even though it takes me away from the work we do together.
“From international relations to what goes on in the workplace to raising a teenager, we find ourselves living between reality and possibility, between what is and what could and should be…if we are willing to stand between the poles, refusing to fall out, we have a chance to play a life-giving role in the development of a child, a workplace, or a world that needs to grow into ‘the better angels of its nature.’” – Parker Palmer
I arrived in the U.S. just before Christmas. Getting back into a regular sleep pattern took several days. Our office is closed between Christmas and the New Year, so I had some time to see friends and family and tend to some unexpected glitches in my home. I hoped it would also be a time to process what I couldn’t fully process in Hebron.
I saw people. I took care of the glitches. I didn’t do much processing. Thankfully, I had already scheduled time to come to this little cabin in the woods, as I knew I’d need a place where I could focus more fully on the interior world, to attune myself to the “wideness and wildness of God.”
It feels perfect to inhabit Hope. Not Namaste or Joy, Simplicity, or Grace, but Hope.
Today the sky is clear blue like the Hebron sky. The day is crisp, much like the weather I left.
But here there are no soldiers. Here I do not fear for my well-being or that of my friends or anyone I encounter. Here I can take a step back to examine both reality and possibility from a distance, so that I may return to standing between the poles and trying to “play a life-giving role…to a world that needs to grow into ‘the better angels of its nature.’” Here I know that the pain I may face is the soreness that comes from pushing oneself, growing pains. The kind that says and I have stretched and though I hurt now, I am just a little stronger as a result. The pain will diminish and I will know that I am more able to put my body and spirit into the work that needs to be done wherever I am called to be.
Here I will saturate myself in Hope, immerse myself in care, bask in the beauty that surrounds me.
Then I’ll return to my house, knowing that hope and care and beauty are inexhaustible and that sharing them will not deplete me, but fill me even more. Sharing them will, in fact, increase their abundance.
Hard and beautiful. Though I wish I lived in a world where it were not necessary to do the work I’ve done, I am glad I am able to do it.
Sitting in Hope, I pray that my time in Palestine alleviated a grain or two of violence, anxiety, hopelessness. I pray that after spending time in Hope, I may better be able to offer this gift to the world.