Revd David Adamson reflects:
Just before I moved to Southwark to start my curacy, the Dean, Andrew, came to visit me at Mirfield where I was finishing my training. His clearest memory from that trip is not how beautiful the college was, or how ready I was for my ordination. No, his clearest memory is that I had covered my bedroom walls with about 40 different paint samples in an effort to get the right look when I decorated the walls of my new flat in Borough.
For me, that was the most amount of thought I’d given to walls in my life; it was the first time I was going to have my own walls, and I was terribly excited that I could paint them however I wanted), and it made me feel like such an adult. But, when I had moved in, and hung my pictures, I soon stopped thinking about the walls of my flat – I mean walls are just walls right? They don’t really do anything!
Over the last few days of our pilgrimage through the Holy Land, I have been knocked sideways by just how much walls can in fact do. The glee and possessiveness I felt over my new walls and their colour is the tame side of a beast that at its worst can have life altering consequences if walls are allowed to get out of control.
On Thursday we concluded the day with a visit to the Western, or Wailing, wall. Now I had always thought that the wall was a ruin of the outer courtyard of the temple, but I learned that it is in fact part of the retaining wall that continues to hold up the Temple Mount. It is referred to as the ‘remnant’ of the Temple, which is a word loaded with scriptural meaning as the identity of the Israelites who were faithful to God’s covenant. Today the Western Wall plays a hugh part in Israel’s self-understanding and self-identity; for many Jews it is the holiest place to pray, but it has only been accessible to Jews for the last 50 years or so. It amazed me that in such a short time a wall could take on such cultural importance and symbolism. The Israeli government say they will never again relinquish it.
The next day, we visited the Comboni Missionary Sisters, who run a series of missionary projects with the local Palestinian population, as well as with the Beduins living in the desert. Over the last decade their work with these people, particularly the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, has been severely hampered by the building of the Israeli security barrier, which as it currently stands runs through the grounds of the convent; today the sisters find themselves living on the Israeli side, their people find themselves living on the Palestinian side. Many of those in greatest need are prevented from accessing the services the sisters provide, and I found myself bewildered that a country who places so much importance on the power of a wall to save it’s people could, with their other hand use a wall to cut the life from another people.
Does that same possessiveness, that same sense of bounding of what is mine at the expense of the other exist in me? Seeing the different way such a symbolic thing as a wall can be used sapped me around the face, forcing me to think about who I think I am, and how I use what has been given to me. The Comboni sisters have made the decision to live either side of the security barrier in an attempt to overcome the division that that wall creates; they do this, as one sister said, because they know that everyone is a child of God. Their desire to live across divides, just as children do, is a lesson to me, and one I’ll bear in mind the next time I have to chose paint colours, and load walls with importance. The psalmist often talks about walls, and perhaps leaves us with the best advice – May there be no breach in the walls, no exile, and no cry of distress in our streets. (Ps. 144.14) Each of us need our own walls, but may they exist for peace and hospitality.