Pray for the peace of Jerusalem, pray for the planet!
By our co-chaplain, Andrew Norman
Just over three years ago I was part of a parish group on pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I had never been before and the experience had a huge impact on me. It was only February and we left the UK in thick snow. But in Israel warm Spring weather had come early. We stayed first in Bethlehem. Each morning before breakfast I went for a quiet walk. Almond trees were in blossom and often I stopped to take a long, slow look.
Beginning our pilgrimage in the West Bank rather than closer to the popular sites in Jerusalem meant that we quickly became aware of the political and social realities all around us. Ever since I have remained very concerned about the plight of Palestinians and the limited options that must seem open to Israelis with all the tensions and conflicts into which both are locked. Sometimes on my early walks in Bethlehem I would visit the Church of the Nativity. The entry is small and the pilgrim has to stoop low. That physically reminded me of how hard it can be for us to make ourselves small enough to enter God’s kingdom of justice and peace. The events of these last few days with violent clashes in Jerusalem, then rockets appearing again with further military action, demonstrates how hard it is for Israelis and Palestinians to find that small way.
The almond tree and its fruit are highly valued in the Holy Land both as a cultural symbol and in beautifying the physical landscape as an annual sign that Spring has come. It is found in early literary sources, for example when referred to as one of the “choice fruits of the land” in the Book of Genesis (43:11). Today farmers are learning to be watchful for infestation by almond wasps. I would imagine that immediate action needs to be taken once detected. Interestingly, for the prophet Jeremiah the almond symbolized moving forward and getting things done speedily: “The word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘Jeremiah, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘I see an almond branch’. Then the Lord said to me, ‘You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it’” (1:11) There are so many crises in the world today that brook no delay. Most especially is this true of the climate and ecological crisis. And today literally we must “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”. (Psalm 122)
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