Sunday, June 15, 2014

All the World's Sorrows

Icon at Orthodox Church in Nazareth
Icon at Orthodox Church in Nazareth
I'm feeling immense gratitude this afternoon for the Manasra family, my hosts here in Nazareth.  They've opened not only their home to me this week, but their enormous hearts and loving family.  Fifteen Manasras (of three generations) live together in this three-story apartment building in the north of town.  They cook together, eat together, wash dishes together, watch soccer together, pray together.  The generosity and joy run deep--infectious and nourishing in the most profound ways.  I feel at home here, and they've done so much (already) to convince me that I am.  (Tonight, I believe, I'm invited to hear the family 'band' play, all together here in the house.  One plays oud, another violin and a third, something like mandolin.  This will remind me of the Grishaws in California, I know!  What a gift!)

Last night, my first in the house, most of the family gathered in one living room to watch World Cup soccer action.  Before the Costa Rica-Uruguay game, we caught up on the evening news.  Generously, they watched Al Jazeera English--so I could follow along.

Here I was, in Arab Nazareth, surrounded by a loving, joyous family...watching news that saddened us all, worried us all, even terrified us.  Hostilities all around, north and south, east and west.  I have to admit I was bewildered by the experience: wanting to cry for all the bad news and shriek (again) for my own country's mindless militarism, but feeling the remarkably resilient bonds of love that tie this family together.  Across the large screen: horrible images of continuing violence in Syria, renewed hostilities in Iraq, attacks in Ukraine.  Violence and bloodshed, chaos and invective, on and on and on.  And the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues, deepens, obviously.  Three Israeli teens are still missing in the West Bank.  Hamas and Fatah are governing together, frightening Jerusalem.  Right-wingers in the Israeli government blame Netanyahu for everything, Netanyahu blames Hamas, everybody hurls threats at everybody.

If I'd been anywhere else tonight--any other hotel, any other town, any other home--I might have come unglued.  Such was the mayhem, the cruelty running wildly across the TV screen.  But somehow this Manasra family--three generations, fifteen souls, devoutly Muslim all--somehow their love for one another (and sweet hospitality) is its own kind of strength.  They're so clear--all of them--that love is the reason for all of this: for family, for religion, for life.  And with that love, they endure all kinds of news, and all kinds of threats, even violence here in their hometown.
Poster found at Catholic Church in Nazareth
I learned yesterday that the Manasras moved to this new building in a predominantly Christian part of Nazareth, because they feared for their safety in their old neighborhood in the central part of town.  Their brave work in building networks of peace makes them a target, it seems, among hardline Muslims who resent and deplore any kind of collaboration or peace.  So they moved, not long ago, to this neighborhood: to be safe, to continue the work, to protect their delightful and loving children from harm.

At breakfast this morning, Abed el Salaam, the grandfather and Sufi patriarch, reminded me that his name means "Servant of Peace."  "That is what I am and that is what I shall be," he said to me across the table.  There is, as there has always been, such light in his eyes, such sweet love in his face.  All the world's sorrows, all the world's rage can't touch it.  And I'm ever so grateful for that today.
2008: With Abed el Salaam in Nazareth
Today's Father's Day in the U.S., and I remember that six years ago I returned to the States with pictures from my first sabbatical journey.  One picture was a special one to me, Sheikh Abed el Salaam and I standing in the family living room in their old home in central Nazareth.  My dad loved that picture: his grown son standing arm and arm with the Muslim sheikh in Arab Nazareth.  In the years before Dad died, he returned to that picture in conversation over and over again.  He almost reveled in it.  And I was glad for that.  For the bond it created, for the respect it affirmed.  Tonight, among these fathers and their sons, and these mothers and their daughters, I give thanks.  For the privilege.  For this life.  Even amidst so many sorrows.
Bob and his boys, 1986