Sunday, October 23, 2011

Inside Walls

Last spring I spotted a woven mesh of twigs affixed to a spot on the exterior of our dense juniper tree. I marveled at how a mother bird wedged the twigs across the opening to her interior nest as protection against invaders. I shared my discovery with my husband one morning over breakfast, “What a clever and good mother bird to weave that wall of twigs for protection.”

Hmm,” my husband said, “I thought that the twig in her beak must have been too wide for the opening. As she tried to enter the opening into the branches toward her new nest each twig jammed into the needles and created that pattern. That’s a lot of twigs. I wonder if she ever figured it out, that those twigs were just too long.”

What I viewed as a wonderfully wise barrier was actually the work of a birdbrain doing the same ineffective activity over and over again…inadvertently creating a wall. And her nest failed to expand and thrive.

Like the mother bird, I also found myself in a new season…a frustrating season where twigs did not seem to just fall into place. And protective walls were engaged to hold onto the familiar: like rescue parenting, coaching and spousing. (That needs to be a verb.) But somehow doubt was always able to seep in through the cracks. And I retreated into my tree, into my nest.

Perhaps that was the moment, in my familiar robe and slippers, when I recalled my word for the year, willing. Have I been willing to face my defensive barriers? Have I really been willing to challenge doubt? Have I been willing to wholeheartedly receive and pass on God’s love?

On that note, my husband and I committed to a tour of Israel with a group of 150 other people at the last minute, before I could back out. That seemed to me everything unfamiliar: spontaneity, adventure just for adventure’s sake, a foreign country and language, and hanging out with strangers…touring by bus in the heat of June. I was, however, drawn to experiencing the history of my faith…something that is familiar and without doubt. Surely a visit to Israel could expand a mother bird’s brain and would reveal my willingness.

Wherever I went, I noticed walls…ancient walls in Israel and long-lasting walls that had, apparently, traveled to Israel with me. As I saw more of Israel, I saw more of me.

Walls that get buried, I learned in Israel, would eventually become a mountain. Tel is a term for a city mound; think of Tel Aviv. History told of conquering invaders leveling a city then building on top of the rubble of fallen walls. Over time the level on which the city was built rose. The buried walls undergirding the tels affected me the same way that the bird twigs punctured my perspective.

Conflict and resistance accompanied many of the walls I confronted. Four conflicting cultures divided historical Jerusalem into separate quadrants. While touring inside the walls of Jerusalem, a Palestinian passerby mumbled obscenities to our Israeli tour guide. A hawk-like vendor followed us to the steps of the tour bus, “The more you buy, the more we love you; the less you buy, the more we hate you.” Sometimes it was more comfortable to be inside the walls of the bus looking out.

The Western Wall of the Temple Mount—the Wailing Wall—being one of the most sacred sites for practicing Jews intimidated me. So divisive, as Jews—having access to the Western Wall again in 1967—oppose the Muslims, who have control of the upper Temple Mount. And more division as men separated from women into their respective prayer areas at the wall. So many unfamiliar practices to respect while advancing and retreating from the Wall itself. So many women bobbing and repeating Hebrew all around me. So much emotion through notes and prayers plugged into its crevices. Sights, sounds, smells, touch and emotions overwhelmed me at The Wailing Wall. I did not know if my small prayer for peace—facing this façade in Jerusalem, and other façades within me—could even make a difference.

One of the activities in our tour included a quarter-mile trek through Hezekiah’s tunnel, a narrow passage hand-chiseled through walls of hard rock. A quarter mile of inching forward along with the stream of people ahead and people behind. This was the first time I could actually touch walls that triggered panic in me. Having pressed through the passageway of panic, I emerged from the darkness into the light. And then I felt it…movement. It was by no means an earthquake but more like some walls had shifted ever so slightly. Warming in the sunlight, one of our tour mates confessed her own terror in the tunnel. “My feet turn red and ache when I get anxious,” she offered. I brushed some twigs from between us on the bench outside the tunnel as I scooted near her. Beyond the moment of hesitation, I reached down and lifted her red foot into my lap…and began massaging. Touching the feet of a stranger; how utterly unlike me. Could this possibly be God’s love at work…for her, for me?