An ocean of darkness and an ocean of light

Kathy Bergen and I went to attend a lecture this evening, but it had been cancelled, so we went for a meal instead. Kathy suggested an Italian restaurant where we enjoyed an excellent feta cheese salad and pizza.

Kathy is greeted warmly wherever she goes in Ramallah. This restaurant was no exception. The owner came and chatted for a while. He has some land in a village somewhere with 40 olive trees. Harvesting olives is very labour intensive. During the Quaker Voluntary Action project that I took part in last month we spent a day or two picking olives. The families whom we were able to help were very grateful for our assistance.

The deal used to be that labourers picking olives would take one third of what they harvested. Now they expect to take half of what they pick. This can be hard on the landowner who has to tend the olive trees throughout the year. The restaurant owner told us that he has recently bought a machine which shakes the olive branches vigorously so that the olives fall off onto plastic sheeting below. It is then not necessary to climb ladders and laboriously strip the olives off the branches and twigs.

Kathy returned this evening from a few days in Gallilee, where she stayed with Palestinian friends. She was given a tour of one of the Jewish-only villages which are expanding around Nazareth, a predominantly Palestinian town which is becoming hemmed-in. Palestinians living in Israel, often referred to as “Israeli Arabs”, suffer serious discrimination, especially when it comes to housing.

Right now many Bedouin families in the Negev face the demolition of their unrecognised villages, whilst the Israeli government has decided that Jewish settlements are to be built in the area. I read some very sad news today:

“On Friday, a family from the unrecognized Bedouin village of Sawawin, with a demolition order on their home demolished their home on their own. Many families choose to do this in order to avoid the violence of the police entering their village and in order to avoid the hefty fines that the home owner receives when he receives the “service” of home demolition from the government. A wall that had become unstable with the demolition fell onto two playing children, killing one of them – a 10 year old boy. The second was badly hurt and is in hospital.”

Today I was also distressed to learn that so-called “honour killings” are not infrequent in Palestine. If an unmarried woman becomes pregnant, she risks being killed by her brothers or other members of the family in order to preserve the family’s honour. Is there an anthropologist who can explain to me why becoming pregnant is considered to be more shameful than murdering someone?

I often find that I am singing to myself. During these days in Palestine I often find myself singing: “Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison! Kyrie eleison!”

But the song in my heart this morning was one that I learned in Germany many years ago, either during a workcamp in what was then the German Democratic Republic, or during a Kirchentag (large protestant church gathering). (See English translation below.)

Herr, deine Liebe ist wie Gras und Ufer,
wie Wind und Weite und wie ein Zuhaus.
Frei sind wir, da zu wohnen und zu gehen.
Frei sind wir, ja zu sagen oder nein.

Refrain:
Herr, deine Liebe ist wie Gras und Ufer,
wie Wind und Weite und wie ein Zuhaus.

Wir wollen Freiheit, um uns selbst zu finden,
Freiheit, aus der man etwas machen kann.
Freiheit, die auch noch offen ist für Träume,
wo Baum und Blume Wurzeln schlagen kann.

Und dennoch sind da Mauern zwischen Menschen,
und nur durch Gitter sehen wir uns an.
Unser versklavtes Ich ist ein Gefängnis
und ist gebaut aus Steinen unsrer Angst.

Herr, du bist Richter! Du nur kannst befreien,
wenn du uns freisprichst, dann ist Freiheit da.
Freiheit, sie gilt für Menschen,Völker, Rassen,
so weit, wie deine Liebe uns ergreift.

The Berlin Wall and the “Apartheid Wall” here in Palestine/Israel are outward manifestations of the invisible walls between people, the walls and barriers that we put up to protect ourselves. Fortunately, the love of God is broad like beach and meadow, wide as the wind and an eternal home. The love of God frees us from fear and enables us to take down the walls and barriers that separate us. I’m using a bookmark from the Cornerstone Community in Belfast, which says: “The Walls of Separation do not reach to Heaven.”

George Fox wrote in his journal in 1647:

“I saw also that there was an ocean of darkness and death, but an infinite ocean of light and love, which flowed over the ocean of darkness. And in that also I saw the infinite love of God.”

Translation of hymn:

The love of God is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and an eternal home.

God leaves us free to seek him or reject him,
he gives us room to answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
The love of God is broad like beach and meadow,
wide as the wind, and an eternal home.

We long for freedom where our truest being
is given hope and courage to unfold.
We seek in freedom space and scope for dreaming,
and look for ground where trees and plants may grow.

But there are walls that keep us all divided;
we fence each other in with hate and war.
Fear is the bricks-and-mortar of our prison,
our pride of self the prison coat we wear.

O, judge us, Lord, and in your judgement free us,
and set our feet in freedom’s open space;
take us as far as your compassion wanders
among the children of the human race.

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