And Now We Go Home

Mosaic of Peace Reflection – the Final Day

Written by Carl Horton

Inspired by Isaiah 55: 6-13


A long, complete time

I don’t know about you, but it feels like we’ve been together a very long time.  Not in a bad way necessarily, but in a full and complete way.  Granted, it hasn’t been 40 days, which would be the biblical equivalent of a really long time, but it has been 12 days, which is another biblically significant number.  We made it through 12 full and packed days together, doing things that were planned and unplanned, seeing the ancient stones and meeting the living stones, imagining the Roman occupation of Jesus’ time and experiencing the Israeli occupation of our time, visiting the exact locations where biblical events immediately happened, and running where Jesus walked.  We are tired, and we have reason to be tired.  We have done and seen and experienced and considered a lot.


Short-term Christian community

Rodney Aist, with whom we first met on Zoom and then in-person 12 long days ago in Jerusalem, refers to groups like ours as “short term Christian communities.”  I have been pondering that terminology while we’ve been together.  When I read it in his book, it was words.  Now it is a lived experience.  Alongside one another, we have been a short-term Christian community, miraculous and wondrously thrown together by the grace of God. Some among us were early adopters, waiting since 2019 through multiple delays to embark on this journey.  Others were last-minute joiners merging into our community just weeks ago.  In the end there were 38 of us who became this short-term Christian community which, along with a remarkable guide and gifted driver, navigated the landscape of this complicated, troubled, crowded and congested, beautiful and broken, flavorful and fragmented landscape of a place we call ‘holy.’  Here in this place we heeded the words of Isaiah to “Seek the Lord while the Lord may be found, call upon the Holy One while the Holy One is near.”  Together, we drew near to the places where Jesus was born and grew up, worked and walked, lived and died, rose and returned. We listened to, learned from, dined with and were guests of those who remain in this land as his followers or as our siblings in adjacent faith traditions.  We drew near to this place, its people and to one another in what I have come to recognize as an “irrepeatable” moment.  This has happened, this gift of time and place and short-term Christian community, constrained by time and circumstance, never to be repeated again.


A disruption to our community

And I will admit, the gift of this particular short term Christian community wasn’t always the gift any of us wanted to receive.  We had barely arrived to Jerusalem when a 39th participant, an uninvited and disruptive one, joined our community, wreaking havoc among us.  This occupying force overtook our group, dividing us one from another, imposing rules, limiting our movement, taking away our freedoms, confining those whom it selected to limited borders, checkpoints and testing.  Our daily life together became more difficult, cumbersome, uncertain and even fearful.  Members of our community were cut off from us.  We worried for their welfare, and for our own.  And I suspect that in this unfortunate metaphorical experience of ours there are a few teachable moments: about what the sickness and disease of occupation can do to a community; and about a community’s resilience, patience and steadfast hope as it waits for liberation from the clutches of confinement and division.


Thoughts and ways

Isaiah reminds us that God’s thoughts and ways are not our thoughts and ways.  They are both thankfully higher than ours, as high as the heavens are from the earth we are told.  And that distance between the ways and thoughts of heaven and of earth is somehow comforting when faced with the challenges of contexts like Shuhada Street in Hebron or the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, for instance.  The realities we’ve have seen on the ground seem as far removed from the heavenly realm as is possible.  The ways and thoughts of religious conflict and military occupation couldn’t be farther removed from the ways and thoughts of God.

But notice in the text that Isaiah bridges the gap between the two, with rain and snow that come down from heaven and water the earth, causing it to sprout and grow.  Just like that, Isaiah tells us, God’s word comes out of God’s mouth and won’t return empty, it will accomplish its purpose.  It will succeed in the thing for which it was sent.


Sent to listen and lead

And I wonder, what was the thing for which you were sent here?  Because you and I didn’t just chose to be here.  We were sent here to be a part of this “short term Christian community.”  We were sent here by a heavenly word spoken that will not return empty.   I told Diane Moffett we would revisit her charge to us while we were here, and so I invite you, as we reach the end of our time together and are commissioned to return home, to hear again these words:

I charge you to listen! 

Listen with open hearts and minds. 

Listen with open eyes and ears. 

Listen with open arms and hands. 

Listen and receive what you are hearing….

Listen to the people’s pain and problems. 

Listen to their promises and possibilities. 

Listen to your own voice sifting through the tales being told and allow them to transform you. 


Listen for God’s hand shaping and forming stories

from Jews, Muslims, Christians

and partners in the land to which you are going. 

For in listening to the stories of others

you may discover more about your own.


I charge you to listen!

Listen to the ancient ruins, the historic monuments,

the regions and landscapes that hold the history and speak of days gone by,

times past that give birth to the present. 

Meant to aid you in seeing what God requires of you now.

Listen to your surroundings – the soil and terrain,

the dirt and dust of the rocky roads and stony paths you will travel –

paths that testify to God’s presence and power,

causing the human and the holy, dust and divinity,

spirit and flesh to wrestle until we find rest in God


I charge you to listen!

Listen with sensitivity, empathy, grace and gratitude.

Listen with love, compassion, patience and gentleness.

I charge you to listen!  


And having listened, I charge you to lead!

Lead in telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Lead in educating, stimulating and indicating

the tangible actions and deeds that can be taken by those who will listen

and lead – as you are leading.


Lead in calling forth Presbyterians –

Churches, Presbyteries, Synods, women and men, siblings in Christ,

from this denomination and beyond,

to take up the cross and follow Jesus,

being willing to suffer the rejection of those who may not want to hear the truth,

or do the things that make for peace.


I charge you to lead!

Centering the voices of those on the margins –

the least of these to whom Jesus holds us all accountable.

Lead courageously and confidently in Christ, mining out the gifts deposited within you, from this experience and until the present moment.


I charge you to lead!

Until the saying of Jesus resonates within your being and body,

and you know, up front and personal

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.”

Yesterday Nadia Giol of Sindyanna, confirmed what Diane charged us to do.  Nadia told us that more leaders are needed, leaders who seek not to control, divide or perpetuate systems and structures of injustice, but leaders who unite, promote equity and creatively work for solutions that are just for all.

Isaiah sends us on our way, as I believe the Palestinian people have themselves sent us home, not with despair, futility and lament, but with words and images of hope, resilience and promise in a new future, words from God that will not return empty.  The pilgrim compass now points us home, guiding us from our encounters and struggles, our wrestlings and wanderings into something new – a new name for ourselves, a new word for this place, a new understanding of the intersection of our lives with this place.  Whatever your new name or word may be, let the words of Isaiah carry you home:

12 For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13 Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

In the words of Faraj al Lati, our beloved guide and hope-filled living stone, “now we go” home.


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