Yes, the Church of Nativity was fascinating and beautiful. Yes, the preparations for the pope’s arrival were interesting. But what sticks with me? Today, though I surely was a pilgrim among pilgrims, it’s something other than the holy sites that captures me.
At Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, they sell ornaments made from the glass from broken by army shelling. They don’t call it non-violent resistance, though they acknowledge that it is non-violent. They call it “Creative Resistance” because it transforms both the material and the maker. It takes the brokenness that comes from a violent act, and molds angels and saints and doves. The make beauty from something battered.
The Wall is harder. It zig-zags through Bethlehem, blocking the old highway to Jerusalem, separating workers from their work, farmers from their fields, fragmenting families and disrupting life. The map shows that just opposite from us, on the Jewish side but on Palestinian land, Rachel’s Tomb sits in a gerrymandered thumb of The Wall. A downturned thumb.
Ibrihim, our guide, is a local Palestinian Christian who has traced his family’s history as Christians in this place back at least 750 years. He says he would understand a security wall to help Israelis feel safe. But this wall is about more than security. It is about disruption.
There is art on The Wall. Some of it is frankly belligerent–scarved youths with guns proclaiming “We will win!” Some is, I guess, ironic: “I love tourists.” Some of it despairs – in the Aida Refugee Camp, a mural on The Wall reads: “We can’t live. We are waiting for death.” But one message’s challenge is personal: “So, what do you make of this?” So, what do I make of this? Creative resistance, indeed…
Though famous around the world, the Church of the Nativity has one of those tiny doors I’ve seen elsewhere. There are many explanations: the door keeps out peddler’s carts, or attacking soldier’s horses. It requires those who enter honor the master of the house by bowing low. Or it invites prayerful humility before God. I acknowledge the realism of the first three, but I prefer the last.