A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. — Ezekiel 36.26
Earlier this week, I visited House of Grace, the prisoner rehabilitation centre in Haifa, with a friend from Scotland.
Towards the end of the conversation, I made a reference to the ‘living stones’ of this land. It’s a term which is often used — overused I think — to describe the Christian community here. It sits counter to the ‘ancient stones’ of the land, the stones so many pilgrims come to see, the holy sites, the places where Jesus ministered, where the faithful have gathered for centuries to celebrate the Good News of Christ. The call is for visiting Christians to engage with the ‘living stones’, not just the ancient ones, to hear the stories and witness the experiences of those who keep the faith alive in the land of the Holy One.
I’ve never really warmed to the phrase; however it’s part of the vernacular of ministry here, so I use it nonetheless.
I was surprised when Jamal, son of founders Kamil and Agnes Shehade and director of the House, stated his own reluctance to use it.
‘What do you think of when you think of stones?’ he asked. ‘They’re cold. They’re hard. They don’t move.’
I nodded. A stone’s existence (or not) doesn’t make much difference to my life. (Unless maybe it’s a stone in my house, in which case, I want it to be solid and unmoving, but that’s not part of the analogy as we use it.)
‘But what’s a image that’s been used since the earliest days of Christianity?’ Jamal continued. ‘The image of the body, the Body of Christ. A body is diminished if one part is missing, or if one part is in pain, or one part is injured. Even if it’s just the pinky, a finger you don’t often think about, you become much more aware of it when it starts hurting. You want to fix it, heal it.’
Pain is exhausting. It prevents the body from functioning. A body longs for wholeness and health in order to do Christ’s work in the world. That is God’s deep desire for humanity — wholeness.
‘We are not stones,’ Jamal said, adding emphatically, ‘We are a part of the same body as you. We are the Body of Christ together. When we are injured, you are injured. That’s what it means to share Christ’s Body.’
People still ask me why I’m here, why an international Christian presence is needed.
And I think that this short, almost incidental, accidental exchange sums it up. I don’t know anything about stones. I don’t care much about them. But I do know about my body, and when it is in pain, I care very very much indeed, and there is nothing I want more than to make the pain go away. Getting well consumes my every thought.
And I know a little bit about the Body of Christ. I know that when I sit with someone who is hurting, I hurt. When they weep, I weep. When they laugh, I laugh.
I’m very aware here that my work is easy. My life is easy. At least when it is compared to what so many people endure. I could leave if things get too difficult. I have so many choices. Others can’t. Others don’t.
I spoke with a visiting group a couple of weeks ago (a group, I might add, which was very much engaging with the local community, not just seeing the sites), and they asked how they could support me in my work.
‘Pray,’ I said. ‘Pray for me and the people of this land. But don’t just pray. The best emails I receive are those which are one line and simply say, “My church remembered you and the people of Israel-Palestine in our intercessions on Sunday”. Because those emails always seem to come at my darkest, loneliest moments. They remind me that I am not alone, that we are not alone. That we are part of a much, much bigger Body.’
Of course, that sounds so simple, too simple to make much difference. But what it says is, ‘I remember that you’re still hurting and that our Body cannot be whole until the pain is healed.’
And, of course, this desire for healing leads to action, far more than any talk of stones might. Stones can be preserved or restored or forgotten once they have been visited. Bodies need much more complex treatment. Assessment. Advocacy. Accompaniment. Once one has seen a profoundly wounded body, once one has experienced excruciating pain, it’s impossible to erase the memory.
So why I am here?
Because part of the Body I belong to is hurting. And I cannot find peace while the pain is there.