Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Wall, Part 2: Convers(at)ion

Sunday morning...2:30 AM...

I can't sleep. One reason may be because I'm not in my own bed. The other, I think, is because today I came to Bethlehem and saw part of the security wall. I've seen it before, and every time I see it, I am sickened. Tomorrow I will see more. As I lie here awake many thoughts have wandered through my mind...images, too. The images include the grove of olive trees, or rather olive tree stumps, that I passed on the trip from Nablus to Bethlehem and the numerous Israeli settlements I saw during that same journey. Destruction. Displacement. Death. The art that has been painted or affixed to the security wall also flashes through my mind. The words, "It's really beautiful," popped into my head and the next thought was, "NO! The wall is not beautiful, the ART is beautiful!" It is not the monstrosity that is beautiful; the wall is and will remain a monstrosity. What is beautiful is the spirit of resistance, of creativity, of defiance that makes looking at the wall, at least along certain stretches, more bearable. I doubt the art makes living with it and seeing it on a daily basis any easier...

Another thought wandered through...   "Maybe this is the wall where I need to bring prayers, not the Western Wall." I had invited people at home to send me prayers to bring to the Western Wall in Jerusalem and many people did. I have brought some there already, on tiny pieces of paper which I shoved into cracks and crevices in that wall; others I will bring when I go there again.

The inner dialogue continued. My next thought was, "But is this security wall a holy place or an evil one? Would I want to bring prayers here?"

It is holy, just as surely as places like the Church of the Holy Sepulchre or the Western Wall are holy.  It is not holy because it separates or "protects" people. That makes it evil. For me a holy place is one that commands our attention, that draws us to it, that moves our spirit, sometimes in a way that calms us, other times shaking us to the core. The wall does those things, especially the shaking up.  The message the Israelis want it to give is, "Go away. Keep out!" If you only glance at it, it conveys those messages clearly and it is very effective at separating people. But if you keep listening and keep looking, I think there is another message. It's not the one the Israelis want us to hear. Creation, once out of the hands of the creator, human or otherwise, doesn't always do what the creator originally intended.

The security wall says to me, not "Go away," but rather "Come here. Come look. Bring your prayers here, because this is holy ground. I am crying out for you to see me. I need your prayers. I need all the love, all the justice, all the mercy, all the creativity you and everyone you know can bring to me, because I, like you, need transformation."

The wall keeps talking: "Right now the best you can do is draw on me, paint on me, write stories and messages on me. I want to be beautiful and full of colors, not this awful gray, so please keep making me pretty. The more you do this, the more people will come to see me."

The wall has a lot to say and, because I've been reading a book by Derrick Jensen about listening to the world around us, even when people may call us crazy for saying we communicate with something that is non-human, or like the wall, seemingly inanimate, I am primed to listen. And I don't mind if, while you're reading this, you think I'm crazy.

The wall says, "I need people to see me because, though I was created this way, I want to be more, to be better, and in order to be better than I am now, I need your help, just like you need your friends and family to help you be better than you are now and better than you even think you can be."

I  am surprised that the wall acts like I'm its...? his...? her...? friend, because I don't have particularly warm feelings towards it/him/her. But I keep listening, curious as to what's coming next.

"To be honest, I'm not too keen on being a wall. I feel ugly, even with the beautiful decorations people have given me. Many people hate me, resent me, are angry at me, and, I have to admit, I can see why. I separate them from their loved ones. But please hear me and believe me when I say this: I don't want to be this way. Just in case you didn't hear me before, let me repeat myself: I want to be transformed."

I look at the wall, not really knowing what it/he/she means. How can a big ugly wall be made into something beautiful?

As if hearing my unspoken question, it/he/she says, "Caterpillars."


"You know, caterpillars. Caterpillars become butterflies. I want to be a butterfly."

"Um, you're a big wall made of concrete and all sorts of non-living stuff. I don't think you'll ever be a butterfly."

Undaunted by my lack of faith, the wall says, "I don't mean I literally want to be a butterfly. I just want to be beautiful, not just because people adorn me with beautiful things, but because, I, myself, am beautiful."

"I hate to say it, but for you to be beautiful, I think you'll have to be torn down, broken up, and made into something that doesn't separate people. You probably wouldn't even recognize yourself."

"Duh. Haven't I been talking about transformation? I know it'll take time and I know it may hurt me at first and I know I may not even recognize myself when it's all finished.  I might even be scattered about in whatever new form I may take. I know that. I'm OK with that. I want that. I CRAVE that. I want to be not just a place on which art is created. I want to BE art. Can you make me art?"

I am reminded of a story Mitri Raheb told in Bethlehem Besieged about window glass broken during the second intifada, which was used to makes glass Christmas ornaments. Tragedy turned into hope. Death and destruction turned into something beautiful. Hmmm... "Well, they keep making you bigger and don't seem to have plans to stop. So I think it'll be awhile before you're transformed the way you want to be. Can you wait?"

Without a yes or a no, it/he/she answered, "Bring your friends, your family, your acquaintances, and people you don't even know to me. If you can't bring them, show them pictures, the ones where I'm beautiful and the ones where I'm ugly. We're all beautiful and ugly at once, right? Bring your prayers for peace and for love and for justice and mercy and for anything else.  Bring people to me. I want to be seen, not because I'm vain- if I were, I wouldn't want you to show my ugly side. I want to be seen, so you, all of you, can help me be better than I am. I am a caterpillar, a big, poisonous caterpillar that keeps growing and I want to be a small, beautiful, life-giving butterfly. I want to be better than this thing I am now."

"I'll do what I can." I admit I don't know what I can do except share this story, share my pictures,  and bring my prayers to another wall in the Holy Land, one beckoning for death and resurrection. Maybe if I share stories and pictures and maybe if I pray, maybe someday the wall will become a butterfly. Maybe. Someday.

"Thank you for listening. It's nice to get some of that out if my system. Will you come again?"

"I hope so."

""Thank you. Now rest. You must be tired."

I am. Good night.

Note: this was written in the wee hours this morning and when I finished, I did sleep peacefully for the next few hours. Then I went to the wall, walked along it/him/her, took pictures, said prayers, let my hand wander over its/his/her surface, noticing the cracks where prayer could be placed like they are in the Western Wall. I hope to go back armed with prayers to put in the cracks. After my hand's journey over the wall, it held residue from its/his/her surface.  I rubbed it into my other hand, over my face, near my heart. The wall is now a part of me. I didn't go to church this morning, but I did experience communion. As I write this now in broad daylight rather than the dark of night, I know it sounds crazy, but I feel calmer, more certain, and saner than I did yesterday. I know that by writing this, I am doing what the wall asked me to do. Thank you for reading.


  1. This was beautiful.
    I appreciate your honest struggle with the reality of the wall and your willingness to share it. I felt many of the same conflicting emotions about the wall and the ways you speak with it, not about it, but to it - resonate with my heart.
    Hugging you,

  2. Thank you, Carrie, for reading, understanding, and hugging. I feel the love from across the miles! Hugs back to you.