October 15, 2019
The olive trees that line its streets are filled with ripening olives. The distinctive tan limestone used in the Old City wall and many other buildings produces a certain soft uniformity to the architecture dating back centuries. And the food is amazing. Lots of hummus, baba ganoush, mujadura, za’atar, tabbouleh.
It’s night time, and like any city there are traffic sounds, street lights, and from somewhere the bark of a lonely dog. During the day throngs of pilgrims empty their buses and walk through the Old City to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall. Pilgrims from Kenya, China, Germany, the United States. You name it. They’re here. In great number. Seeking religious history, some spiritual renewal. That which they seek, Jerusalem seems to fulfill. And yet the backdrop to these sites, the city itself, is not devoid of an ongoing perplexing reality.
Tonight’s darkness descends once again upon the glaring complexity of the political situation that besets the people of Jerusalem and those who live on the other disputed land of Israel and Palestine. Being here forces me to confront the vexing reality of the present conditions. Yet any attempt to explain the problem fully and to reach any possible resolution stymies me.
The players of this living theater are the Israelis and Palestinians. And audience neutrality doesn’t seem an option. And so, in such a dilemma, Christians go to where the suffering is. It is the cross that leads the way—a present day Via Dolorosa. And, while suffering is surely universal, the chronic suffering here in this holy place is hidden in plain sight. Poetry may be the only means to convey what I’m starting to see. Darwish (1941–2008) was a Palestinian poet.
“In Jerusalem” by Mahmoud Darwish
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy … ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me … and I forgot, like you, to die.