May 19, 2021
Today, in God’s Lavish Mercy, we pray with Psalm 68, some different verses for this second day:
Show forth, O God, your power,
the power, O God, with which you took our part;
For your temple in Jerusalem
let the kings bring you gifts.
You kingdoms of the earth, sing to God,
chant praise to the Lord
who rides on the heights of the ancient heavens.
Behold, God’s voice resounds, the voice of power:
“Confess the power of God!”
Psalm 68 is a prayer that gives full voice to Israel’s gratitude for being God’s chosen people. And in that way, it is a challenging psalm to pray with today as modern Israel and Palestine descend into all out war which disproportionately affects the poor, elderly, women and children.
The contradiction of our psalm, placed against this war scenario, is deeply unsettling. Does God really want the nation of Israel to dominate a geography to the annihilation of other peoples?
What I remind myself of this morning is this: biblical Israel is not the same as the political state of Israel. After WWII, the political state was initiated as part of a partition plan in which both Palestine and Israel would be independent states. The plan didn’t work out, creating multiple ensuing conflicts. The current one is just the latest edition.
Biblical Israel, on the other hand, is not a physical territory but instead a relationship – the foundational heritage of all Abrahamic faiths. For Christians it is a heritage that led to our faith in Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Although once rooted in a geography, that faith is now rooted in a universal love which reverences life for all people, particularly the poor, the orphaned, and the disenfranchised.
As I pray Psalm 68 today, I pray it with a woman named Arlette in my mind and heart. My friend Eileen McGovern introduced me to her friend, who wishes not to be named, with the following story. As we pray today, let this woman and all who suffer in war be with us.
I write for a friend who is voiceless. She lives in Bethlehem, Palestine.
I met her during a pilgrimage in October 2019, and we became friends. We have kept in touch and have grown to know and to respect one another. She is teaching me Arabic phrases. I am not a good student so we both laugh at my efforts. Or, we used to until the recent outbreak of violence.
She was born in 1948 when Palestine was a French protectorate. French is her first language, one of four. Yet she is voiceless. Who will hear her?
As a young school girl she pledged allegiance to the French flag and sang La Marseillaise when her home was a French protectorate. When Transjordan was created, as a teenager she sang the Jordanian anthem as she struggled to learn Arabic. At age 40 she became a Palestinian with the creation of the Israeli and Palestine states. She still lives in the West Bank. She has not moved, but politics again have upended her life.
She loves children. Before the Covid-19 pandemic she volunteered at a school for deaf children. At Christmas she runs a charity to give poor Christian children a gift card and food so that their families can celebrate the feast with the traditional chicken dinner, a luxury they cannot afford. During the previous intifada she used to gather Palestinian children into her home and give them chocolates and tell them stories so they would not throw stones at Israeli soldiers.
She is a woman of peace who has seen too much war. She is haunted by the memory of looking out her window to see a man standing outside her house disappear in a phosphorescent flash. This morning she told me of watching TV and seeing men desperately digging, some with their bare hands, in the rubble of a Palestinian home where the cries of an infant girl could be heard. The men did not have heavy equipment so I do not know if they were able to save her.
Now she asks: “Who am I? The Israelis do not want us here. They want me to leave the home of my birth, but I am a devout Christian who loves this land, a sacred land, the Holy Land, the land of Jesus’ birth. I do not want to leave, and where would I go? Who wants Palestinians? No one wants us. I want only to live in peace and to see people of all faiths be able to come to Jerusalem without fear. I live in fear, especially for my son who can be taken from me at any time by Israeli police. I pray, but I am afraid to hope again.”
Music: Desert – Rasha Nahas is a Palestinian artist. Below is her song “Desert” which I find both profound and disturbing. It can be interpreted as a personification poem describing the experience of the Palestinian people in the story of a single individual.
Please just take it all away
I am nobody I could name
I float upon
Pearls some songs
They’ve been buried for years
I’m a desert torn
I was born on the mountain by the sea
The west rapes east
My west disease
I’m a little beast
Hiding up the street
In a little room
With a little bed
On the dusty floor
Lies human flesh
Time melts out my eyes
As my heart is bleeding quarter tones
and I sail on this song
The dead sea
used to be alive
She had a woman and a child
And she couldn’t live at home she said
She wandered lost
and she wandered west
to the place where the bible spoke of gods
All their temples and their floods
They hung her on a cross
She is a language no one dares to talk
Sweet bleeding palms and the breeze of death
They buried her
She’s a roaring breath
Time melts out her eyes
As her heart is bleeding
Quarter tones and she sails on this song
Sweet bleeding palms
And the cheering men
They buried me
I am a roaring breath