I have been following Pope Francis’ travels to the Holy Lands. He prayed at the security wall separating Bethlehem from Israel. He prayed at the “wailing wall” which is the western wall of the 2nd temple in Jerusalem destroyed in 66 C.E. On top of the wall is the Muslim Dome of the Rock and the al Aqsa mosque.
Two friends from Argentina joined Pope Francis: Rabbi Abraham Skorka and Imam Omar Abbuod; Christian, Jew and Muslim together at the wall.
They embraced and prayed together. The Vatican spokesperson said: “I think this was the real answer to such problems that come from very long and profound difficulties….What can we do? We can pray. We can ask God to help us. We can love mutually and then embrace.”
In the face of protracted problems – issues that seem to have no resolution; Peace plan after peace plan – seemingly insurmountable problems – status of Jerusalem, right of return of the Palestinians, identifiable and secure borders, settlements, anti-Semitism, holocaust, occupation, Zionism, the Hamas charter; We can pray, love mutually and then embrace?
Well, not much else has worked. And I like that the pope, the imam and rabbi witnessed to another profound reality: instead of seeing religion as an intractable problem, perhaps religion can be a practical solution?
And at each moment of peace talks, as we inch forward or crawl backwards – always the question remains: is THIS the time of restoration? Is it going to work THIS time – or is THIS time the time when it all blows up?
Who knows when the time will come and in what form. I doubt whatever happens will meet the expectations of anyone: from preachers, to politicians, to pundits. And yet, as people of faith we have to hold out hope, don’t we? Because we trust that Jesus is coming again. Jesus doesn’t just leave – he leaves us with a promise.
We have to hope that at some point in time, real time – may it be in our time – that Palestinian and Israeli will sit down together under the olive tree and live in peace and safety. If we don’t hold on to hope, what is the alternative? We get strangled by despair.
Pray, love mutually and then embrace.
In some way, this is exactly what the angel told his disciples to do after Jesus departed from them, ascended into heaven to sit on the right hand of God, from which “he will come again to judge the quick and the dead” – as our creeds profess.
The disciples after spending these days with him asked him: They ask Jesus: “Is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus says: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority… But you will receive power… you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.”
And as Jesus departs from them and they are gazing in to the heavens – the angels tell them: don’t stand here – you have to prepare for the work that you will do: get back into the city.
And so the disciples go back to the upper room and there they “constantly devoted themselves to prayer…” We know from other passages in Acts that they shared everything in common – they loved each other mutually, and together, in common cause, they embraced and waited.
And Pentecost came and the disciples had things to do – to witness to the world the love of Jesus Christ, to keep hope alive that in the midst of the everyday – when things get so muddled, so confused – that something else was happening and that in time, in God’s time all would be revealed.
How much of your life do you spend waiting? Wondering if THIS is the time that it will all work out? Will I get that job?” Will she say “yes?”
Will I ever get resolution? Will we ever be restored? Will I ever get an answer? Will I ever know what I am supposed to do?
Are we forever destined to be in an endless circle of dysfunction? Can we ever get beyond race? Will the poor always be among us?
When Lord, when?
I find it that the words of the Vatican Spokesperson, and the witness of the disciples in Acts very rich.
There seems to be one of two tendencies to unresolved issues: either we try to force solutions; to make others see it our way. Or to simply give in, be passive – play the usual games that have gotten you through before – but never leave you satisfied.
You are told to pray: and by prayer, I mean so much more than “please Lord make it happen the way I want it to happen.” By prayer I mean naming in complete honestly what is at stake in you. If you are not honest – no prayer will ever work. Just as in any relationship – if you are not honest there is nothing.
By prayer, I mean lifting ALL up to the light and trying to create space for God’s spirit to actually work on it. You have to be willing to give up your expectation and accept the new reality. We pray this way because we trust, you see, that God in time will reveal – so pray for eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to be moved. Pray to be in constant wonder. Pray to have your imaginations stretched. And what you pray for be ready to work for.
We pray this way because Jesus prayed this way.
You are told to love mutually – hold one another up to the light of God as a beloved child. So often we clutter up our energy – blaming, judging, trying to figure out a win, trying to get God on our side – when loving mutually means that God is on THEIR side too. Until we let go of our tightly held presumptions there will be no space for mutuality. How can Israeli and Palestinian, how can arguing spouses, how can parents and children, liberal and conservative – ever come together if there is not a recognition that the other guy has a point – and it is not so much in holding onto our ground as it is in recognizing that there is a space in between; seek common ground – holy ground.
We love this way because God loves this way.
You are called to embrace – yes, “reach out and touch someone.” This is the hardest part however – because it is easier to intellectually come to a decision – ah, I have got it all figured out…. But then you have DO something with it. You have STAND with the poor. You have to SPEAK your truth in love. You have to RISK NOT walking across the street when you see a kid in a hoodie. You might make a mistake! But, as Anaïs Nin wrote: “… the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” God wants you to blossom – move beyond. To embrace is to put your life out there … to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Embrace is the bold move.
We embrace this way because God embraces this way.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.” And when I think of crucifixion and Jesus hanging there with arms extended – is not this the universal embrace of God?
While we are waiting for the power to do and it will come: we pray, we love, we embrace. And by doing these three things, we might even answer our own deepest yearnings – we may actually bring about that which we most deeply pray for, love and embrace.
And we will be ready to witness to Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth! We will have something to witness to!