One who journeys without being changed is a nomad.
One who changes without going on a journey is a chameleon.
One who journeys and is transformed by that journey is a pilgrim.
The EPF PIN-led delegation to Palestine has completed its time there. All the pilgrims have returned to their homes in the US now, but the pilgrimage continues in each participant. These final reflections are deeply personal, excellent examples of the process of pilgrimage as Nepo defined it. As any holy land pilgrimage ought to be, this one was unsettling but, ultimately, transformative.
It’s been 14 days since I left Palestine to return to the comfort of my own country & my beautiful mountain home. But like grief, my dis-ease lingers in the background only to overwhelm me with tears and heartache as the pain I feel intensifies without warning. I grieve for the Palestinian people I’ve met and wonder how they can go on–a preposition without an object for the foreseeable future. I marvel that they have any hope left, for their condition is older than my 70 years as they were invaded by the world’s guilt a year before I was born. Until my early twenties I used to feel good that the Jews returned to a homeland but slowly and surely the horrors perpetrated upon Hagar’s descendants have seeped into my consciousness. Now after visiting the not so Holy Land, the Inhumanity Land, the concrete nature of the human rights violations has cured into a huge weight upon my head and heart. I see my task on their behalf as replicating the education I have received–a preacher of the Bad News says the cynic within me but perhaps more accurately a preacher of my experience of said inhumanity.
Throughout the 11 days I spent with the Palestinian people I continued to ask myself how can human beings do such things to human beings, how can the Israelis be so blind to the horrors they inflict when 80+ years ago they were the victims of the Final Solution. Throughout their existence they have been reviled, have been “done dirty,” and dismissed as less than human. It reminded me of my mother in law who had to run from the Nazis in 1939 because she was 1/4 Jewish. Fifty years later I was holding her granddaughter as we stood with her in front of an elementary school in Northern Italy. She wept for it was here that she had hidden from the growing Nazi presence in her Viennese homeland. The school had offered stability and comfort, a parental security, in the face of uncertainty and fear as her home had become no home. While in Palestine my anger rose as I continued to ask myself, how can people do evil to fellow people: Nazis to Jews, Jews to Palestinians, white men to Native Americans, federal government to Japanese Americans, whites to blacks (Hispanics, Arabs, Asians)? The names of places are a heart ache as well: Bosnia, Rwanda, El Salvador, Ireland, Wounded Knee, Syria, Gaza.
Then it suddenly struck me that every so often over the years I’ve had an answer to the question of how the Jews can do this to the Palestinians or how any people can inflict human rights violations on the “other.” In the summer of 1989, my wife and I and our 11 month old daughter were driving to Paris. We had just left my mother in law in Vienna. She had shared her pre-World War II memories of the Nazi “occupation” of her Austrian homeland, the Italian elementary school above, and the Anschluss. Given those stories we were intrigued to get a first hand look at the Nazi concentration camp outside of Munich near the village of Dachau.
As we got closer and closer I found myself experiencing not anticipatory grief so much as anticipatory sadness or suffering. It was as if I was working myself up to feel the emotional wrenching that I expected would come. I still remember my first reaction as we entered the Dachau Camp. I was stunned at how vast it was. The immensity of it was astounding as I realized the incredible numbers of prisoners who must have suffered there at any one time. The rows of barracks were so enormous I couldn’t see them all. (Ironically, the length and look of the fencing in Dachau is eerily similar to that of the walkway for Palestinians at the Arez checkpoint into Gaza.) As we strolled through the memorial, seeing the images and reading the accounts of the horrendous history, I started to get depressed. I felt sick to my stomach. But without warning my daughter began acting out. My anger flared as I was instantly irritated. How dare she!! I was preparing to give my heart to one of the worst, most disgraceful acts of inhumanity in human history. I yearned to feel the self-righteous indignation of feeling so good about condemning such atrocity. But my daughter was crawling around on the floor of the museum, wouldn’t be still, and as I remember began to cry in a fit of no attention. I was suddenly raging inside: You want attention!! I’ll give you attention!! Can’t you understand I need this time!! The Light within suddenly burned brighter than my anger. I was standing in one of the darkest places in recent history yet looking into a mirror reflecting one of the darker, more embarrassing corners of my psyche. I have the Nazi inside of me. I am the Jew oppressing the Palestinian. For I am capable of seething anger at a baby for no other reason that it upsets my perceived, emotional needs. While the “darkness will never overcome the Light,” it does not do well to ignore one’s own darkness & cast it upon any you consider “other.” Jung called it the Shadow.
Again, another memory serves me well here. During seminary I did some group therapy with one of the wisest women I’ve met in my life. Anytime one of us in the group would begin condemning someone else’s action or identify someone else’s foibles or begin to offer solutions for someone else’s problems, she would begin singing an old Southern spiritual: “It’s me, it’s a me, it’s me, Oh Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer. T’ain’t my brother, t’ain’t my sister, but it’s me, Oh Lord, standing in the need of prayer.” As the years have gone by I’ve gotten better at seeing my own projection as I did in Dachau and I picked up on it at times in Gaza and Bethlehem and Hebron. I’m not as good at dealing with my own darkness. I want to ignore it or deny it as I’m afraid to deal with the horrors going on in Hebron or the Hebrons here at home.
It helps to talk about it, own up to it. As I finish my reflection here I come back to the counsel of one of our Palestinian guides, which was something to the effect of: “What we need from you is not so much being on the ground here but instead carrying our story out to your world while focusing on correcting the injustices in your own country, state, and village.”
Two thoughts come to mind in that regard
1) Last night as I told a friend about our Palestinian experience, he commented that the Jews have not done well in dealing with the suffering and the violation they experienced during the Final Solution. It reminded me of Richard Rohr’s words: “Pain that is not transformed, is transmitted.” I have some major hope as I experienced many Palestinian folks facing their pain and seeking to transform it without transmitting it. I’m standing in the need of prayer here as I admit my own inner pain which is touched by the suffering we saw in Palestine and the suffering I see in the hospital each week. It is up to me to bring that before God and work on processing it so as not to transmit it to the world. I will work for justice based on my own need for mercy.
2) I saw a cartoon years ago during the Bosnian ethnic cleansing. The first panel read, “Never again in our lifetime!” with a silhouette of a concentration camp; the second panel had an asterisk with the phrase, “Some restrictions do apply!” I do get sad and I do get “whelmed over” as our kids used to say and I do fear at times that nothing can be done. But when I lose hope little things pop up like the words my Jewish colleague has posted over our shared desk:
“Everyone and everything we encounter is a shell or a container for a hidden spark of holiness. It is up to us to help free the hidden holiness in everything and everyone. We restore the holiness of the world through our loving-kindness and compassion … every act of loving-kindness, no matter how great or small, repairs the world.” Rachel Naomi Remen, My Grandfather’s Blessings