There was nothing more striking than as we entered Bethlehem, needing to pass through a huge, grey wall separating the city where Jesus was born from the city of Jerusalem. There is a stark difference in what you see as you pass into the City of David. That wall stands as a stark reminder for we pilgrims of the separation and divisions that have taken place over the years and centuries, more often than not in the name of religion. If Jesus were to be born today in this city, he would not be able to move freely out of Palestinian territory into the places he healed, cured, cared for, and fed. How unfortunate, and maybe even paradoxical, that what hangs on are the very temptations of Jesus in power, control, money, leaving damaged and hurt egos, holding onto what has been for centuries. What is needed is the living presence of God, in the flesh. Yet, at the same time, all we know of Jesus only claims more credibility as you pass through the streets of Bethlehem and see the poverty, the stainless, the simplicity. Ironically, probably the most ornate area was in the spot where he was born!
But the divisions and separation are hard to miss around you as you travel throughout and the Palestinian territory. Even with the “walls”of Israel and the settlements that have been established show, in plain sight, the divisions that exist. It appears, and is simply my perception, that the only way to deal with what I didn’t like is to build walls around myself from anything on the outside that I perceive as a threat; do all I can to “cut off” and attempt to destroy anything that stands in my way or anything that is going to challenge the way I live my life or think what is right. It’s a way to try to protect myself from perceived harm. You would think with salvation history flowing through this region, there would be greater understanding.
I’ve learned in my own life that the quickest road to my own destructive behaviors and deep isolation is doing just that. It requires a great deal of effort to divide, to hold on, to lack trust, to think you always are right and the rest of the world is wrong. It’s destructive behavior and behavior that leads to grudges, resentments that last for ages, walls being built, when what is needed most is the living presence of God, in the flesh, through the very act of loving and forgiving.
As we passed through that wall I thought of our own experience of my time on Indian Reservations, where they have lived with the perception that they too were forced to live in settlements, thinking in time the extinction of a people. Cry out! I think of the current immigration issues that are upon us and our response, build walls. Cry out! There are bigger and deeper issues when we respond to the plight of humanity in this way…thinking we can destroy the problem, eliminate what gets in our way of looking at life differently and growing beyond our own fears. I think of the gentrification that takes place in urban settings. If I don’t have to see the problem, then . I don’t need to do anything; we can simply wall people out or in places we’d rather not go and all I can say is cry out!
As I pass through the walls and settlements we can only pray and continue to pray for the injustices of our world. We can only pray for those who have been marginalized and shunned. We pray for those who have had to flee lives of fear and destruction. We pray for those who are trapped in cycles that perpetuate problems, even for centuries. We pray for those in isolation and lost in their own darkness or in darkness imposed upon them. We pray, most especially, that we may go to these places, give voice to their plight, and cry out for and with them, for it is the story of all of us. It is the story of the birth of Christ, in the city of Bethlehem, God in the flesh before and within us. Cry out, O City of David!