Like readers of Tikkun I am passionate about peace in Israel-Palestine as well as in the wider Middle East. Being a theologian/writer with a background in Jewish-Christian dialogue, I have mainly sought to speak  to peaceseeking Christians—and others—who are willing to look beyond the polarity of being either pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli towards envisioning a solution for both communities and building on the prophetic traditions of each other.

I believe—like Gandhi—that you have to look truth in the face, and take the courage to tell it.

One way to draw discussions of reconciliation deeper into Christian communities is to draw links between current injustices and the stories behind the important feasts that characterise the Christian liturgical year: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. In my book The Advent of Peace: a Gospel Journey to Christmas, I follow the former biblical story of the birth, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus in his own context, in the days of the Roman Occupation of Palestine, and linked with contemporary times, making parallels with what is now happening to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel itself.

The Advent of Peace—with a cover picture of Mary and Joseph, prevented from entering Bethlehem by the obstacle of the Wall—is firstly a biblical journey and an exploration of the meaning of Nativity in Bethlehem. But the crux of the book is to relate this biblical narrative to a series of descriptions, or parallels, within our twenty-first century contexts—in areas that cry out for peace, justice and basic human rights. The main focus here is the situation of Palestinians in and around Bethlehem within the West Bank—a place I have visited many times. If we link the realities of Bethlehem today with the Bethlehem of the Nativity, we challenge Jews, Christians, and Muslims to rediscover Christmas as a time for peace-making.

Over the last hundred years a range of Jewish thinkers have encouraged their fellow Jews to look at Jesus in a new way. Even if Jews cannot accept the doctrine of Jesus’ Messiahship, nor the doctrine of the Incarnation, it is still possible, that Jews can stand before the crib alongside their Christian brothers and sisters and wonder at Jesus’ prophetic ministry.

The whole of the Christmas story and events that led up to it, especially the foretelling, birth and mission of John the Baptist, are permeated with the inspiration of Isaiah, a Jewish prophet. The Midnight Mass of Christmas is redolent with the imagery of darkness to light – “the people who walk in darkness will see a great light” at the birth of this Prince of Peace, the wonder counsellor (Is 9:2, 6). In the liturgical Christian season, the Advent journey looks forward to a vision of redeemed creation, creation reconciled and made whole, and this is the shared hope of Jews and Christians, namely, the peaceable Kingdom.

Once we have recast Christmas as an urgent time for peace-making, what then? We must grapple with the question of what reconciliation entails. This is the question I wrestle with in The Resurrection of Peace, with its inspirational cover “Jerusalem of the Heart” by Sliman Mansour. Here I focus the discussion in Galilee and approach the doctrine of reconciliation from the perspective of justice. I revisit the journey of Jesus from the shores of Lake Galilee, (looking at its contemporary context and the situation of Arabs in Israel) through re-visiting sacred sites, to death in Jerusalem. I see Jesus as “setting his face to Jerusalem”, (Luke 9.51), not as his inevitable resignation to a violent death, but as an opportunity to confront one kind of power—institutionalised violence—with a non-violent alternative. Nor do I offer this in an anti-Judaistic way, but as a reform movement within contemporary Judaism itself—recalling Israel to its justice—oriented tradition and to its prophetic soul.

In all this I’m influenced by the Guatemalan Liberation theologian, Julia Esquivel, who, in her poem, “Threatened with Resurrection”, envisaged Resurrection more as a metaphor, or ethic by which we, Jews, Christians and Muslims, people seeking reconciliation, can live:

I live each day to kill death;

I die each day to give birth to life,

And in this death of death,

I die a thousand times,

Through that love

From my people,

Which nourishes hope.

Pentecost not only appeared to be a crucial Christian feast but one that is important for all three biblical faiths. Not only is the Spirit the power through which the Gospel spread to other lands, but is also the shared understanding of the creative and prophetic power of God in the three faiths. I am now at work on a third book, The Spirit of Peace, in which I’m building on The Acts of the Apostles: the key Lukan text where St Paul is empowered and sent by the Spirit across the Mediterranean world (to the ends of the earth, according to Lukan understanding). I have been following the disciples to Gaza, Syria, and then Egypt, in all the changing violent circumstances. I’m now sadder but wiser, but I struggle on. Recent events have led me to develop a theology I hadn’t dreamt of before—the theology of the Holy Spirit in affliction. I had believed in the Spirit as breath, as energy of creation; as prophecy and inspiration. But where is the Spirit in situations of entrenched conflict? When peace seems unattainable and people need strength to go on hoping? This is where the Spirit is discovered even in grief and near despair, as resilience, as resistance, as courage to persist with non-violent strategies. Circumstances in Middle East turmoil have led me—rather than vice versa. Hopefully, I can explain more of this when this book’s travail is finally over!

 

Mary Grey works for Sabeel in the UK and is a Trustee of Living Stones of the Holy Land and Chair of its Theology Group.


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