Build Bridges, not Walls

SamiTwo years ago in August I met a most extraordinary man.  He had made the rather circuitous journey from Bethlehem through Jordan to the UK and then to Cheltenham of all places.  He then had the mis-fortune of being driven around by my colleagues and I.  He had come to speak about his work of non-violence and to help to publicise the launch of a document called “Time for Action.”  His name is Sami Awad, he is a Palestinian Christian and the founder and director of the Holy Land Trust.  I say he is extraordinary because his vision for the peace of the Holy Lands rests not on one army defeating another, or one nation being moved out of the way to create space for the other.  His vision rests on a peaceful future that is possible.  It is a future which is based, not on fear, but on Love.  Fear often builds walls.  Love always builds bridges.  His is a vision of restoration and reconciliation for a land which has been deeply divided and has travelled through a great deal of pain and hardship over many years.  I reflect on this for the feast of St. Luke, partly because the daily tensions in the Holy Lands are once again making our news.  Partly because of a Cymdeithas y Cymod gathering this Friday at Plas Tan-y-Bwlch, Maentwrog with Palestinian Architect Naseer Arafat.  Also because Sami Awad’s vision is one of healing – not just the healing of broken lives, but the healing of a whole nation and the healing of broken relationships between neighbours.  Sami, and the Holy Land Trust which he directs, works for peace through non-violence.  This does not only mean not taking up arms, but it means having no violence in one’s heart.  For if we stand in protest, but have violent thoughts in our hearts towards those we appose, then there is little difference to that than taking up a sword.  Violence of the heart is still dehumanising and demonising towards the other.  The first step in healing therefore is personal transformation.  If we are to do the work of healing and reconciliation, first we must deal with all the baggage we carry and acknowledge it.  When we can acknowledge our own thoughts and feelings for what they are, we will be able to begin to have an empathy for the other.  There are many that make pilgrimage to Iona and those who go there seeking a retreat are often disappointed.  It is a small island.  Before long, all the baggage that one might have retreated from begins to turn up, washed ashore with the tide if you like.  For when we remove distractions, then we leave ourselves free to do the internal, personal work of healing and reconciliation, not that it is an easy task, as there are always things that we would rather forget or not deal with – baggage.  However, focusing on a future we would like to see can help us to move on.  We all seek to be successful in what we do – to get the results we want to see – whatever they might be.  In terms of healing and reconciliation, the result would be that there is resolution.  In terms of Israel / Palestine a result would be a nation living in peace within and outwith its borders.  Rather than basing our actions on what has gone on in the past, if we base our actions on the future we would like to see, then we have a chance at achieving it.  Our past cannot be changed, but our future is still to be written.  The call to reconciliation is a call to look forwards and work with the vision of hope.  And so there is a contrast in the readings set for this day.  We reflect on the old order in Isaiah, “the vengeance of God coming with terrible recompense.”  This is contrasted in the Gospel as Jesus sends out his followers with very little, not even a pair of sandals!  As he suggests, Lambs amidst the wolves.  The first thing they are instructed to do on arriving at a house is to offer peace.  The vision that Jesus has is echoed in the Islamic greeting ‘As-salamu alaykum’  to which one responds ‘Wa-Alaikumus-Salaam’.  Our first thought on greeting a neighbour ought to be in Love.  We must not allow the past to tell us what the future might be.
bridges-not-wallsIf the future I want is to live in peace with a brother or sister with whom I once fought, I can protect myself so that I am not attacked again by building a wall perhaps because I am afraid.  Or I can arm myself so that no one comes close.  Alternatively, I can do the work of inner transformation and realise in love that this is my brother, he and I are the same.  Then the peaceful future I have imagined becomes possible and can become a catalyst for my actions in the present, by showing love instead of fear.  Fear will hold you prisoner.  Love will set you free.

This uses material from Sami Awad’s talk on non-violence from the 2013 Greenbelt Festival.

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