In the midst of the hubbub about Israel and Palestine, there is a melody – a melody of hope, peace, and purpose. Bethlehem was called by name as a city of promise in Micah 5. Bethlehem is now in the Palestinian Territories, a place I love wholeheartedly – a people beautiful and important. In Isaiah 9 it says the Lord’s government will be ever-increasing. I believe there is a plan for peace in the Middle East. In heaven in a file cabinet, there is a plan. And it is so full of love it would dumbfound even the most compassionate human being. Two years ago I was thinking about all this me-lee, this confusion and unrest. I was living in Bethlehem, surrounded by a thirty-foot concrete wall and checkpoints. And I was declaring Bethlehem’s true identity to be re-established. From those thoughts came the following song, sung on a balcony in the Bethlehem area. He WILL be their peace.
I wrote this essay on a “familiar location” for my writing class. How ironic it is that it was shepherds who saw the angels over Bethlehem, it was the watchers, the stewards of life who suddenly were invited to be kept safe eternally – by knowing Jesus. < What a pivot! GOD! I love you! I want to know you through and through! I want to be perfectly attended to by You, and perfectly attending to others through You. A Shepherded Shepherd. A Loved Lover.>
The dust is a familiar friend: a hugger, a listener, an assurance of life’s forward movement. I never had a friendship with dust until I moved to Israel where the forecast was often “sand.” The sand and dust blew in from the desert via the hamsin (fifty) winds. In time its familiarity, and the stories from history it carried, brought me comfort and camaraderie. This is part of the reason I cherished Shepherds’ Fields just outside Bethlehem.
Shepherds Fields is the historic location of the place where the shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth saw the angels in the sky proclaiming his arrival. There are two chapels on site, but the main view, the encompassing sea of possibility, is the expanse of fields. There on the rim of the property, I spent many hours, often lying on my back drinking the same sky those famous shepherds drank.
Limestone rock chunks play untrained chiropractor to my resting back. Olive trees stand in a watchful semi-circle, surgeons leaning over my body on heaven’s operating table. Their leaves are fascinating: a grandfatherly grey-green, at their most flourishing they look surprisingly tired. Similarly, the trunk itself, wooden dreadlocks bound by roots into the soil, looks ancient. The intentionality an elderly man uses tying his shoes, must be the focus the tree used to weave his tree bark together. The bark is rich. It’s the shade of a medium roast of coffee beans from Antigua, Guatemala (believe me; I used to work in a very coffee connoisseur’s café of sorts). The trees are so beautiful I suspect a mythical young prince might stride into the field and fall madly in love with one of them. I feel the earth become foggy as I take in one single tree.
The birds witness my adoration. I wonder if they are jealous or simply happy someone else has seen the trees’ hearts of hope. The birds slide by on an invisible track in the sky – there must be a sky train depot not far from my attentive head: every twenty minutes or so a similar cluster choo-choos past me. I can’t tell if they are the very same birds or not. They aren’t wearing clothes or hats or anything. When I look to trail the birds, I notice the low rock wall to my left. It’s made of Cenomanian Limestone like most of the walls in Israel – it is light chalky beige, the color of the front of my calves after some time in the sun (well except during my three year stint in Israel when cultural protocol kept me very covered. Then my legs were much more like the pale wooden rolling pin my mom had when I was a kid.)
I cherished that place, that nook in heaven. I would never close its shutters, even when my eyes closed; my spirit seemed fully aware that I was the little girl on her Papa’s lap, and His lap was Shepherds’ Fields. That little girl was a sheep being watched by night while also a shepherd instructed by angels. Shepherd and sheep, watcher and watched. This is what happened that fateful night, those trained to look out for their flocks were yanked from provider to provided for. They could keep the sheep alive to the best of their ability, and their Ultimate Shepherd was introducing a way to keep them alive as well – a son who was salvation.
last night on a rooftop in Beit Sahour, some friends and I prayed for the city and the bits of this song swept together. (The words “Beit Sahour” basically mean “those who stay and see the dawn, or those who stay up all night”)
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