10 Days in Jerusalem
In the midst of a highly patriarchal society, the organizers of 'Women Wage Peace', Palistinians and Israelis, Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists, are standing up with courage, dignity and strength, speaking truth to power exemplifying true “warrior of the heart” spirit.
These women are not only demanding an end to the insanity of violence and destruction, but they are also breaking through centuries of stereotypical mind-sets that demonize the ‘other’, to forge new pathways through walls of fear, hate and hardened boundaries of blindness and denial.
These committed peace activists are determined to create new partnerships and construct a renewed peace building process from the grass-roots, through direct person to person, family to family, Muslim to Jew contact– and leave the failed policies of status-quo political leadership behind. Women’s role in this historic movement toward human dignity is gaining momentum and is just beginning to make an impact.
In October of 2016, 'Women Wage Peace' (WWP) organized the “Women's March for Hope”, which traveled nearly 150 miles from Northern Israel near the Lebanese border, to Jerusalem over the course of 14 days. Starting out with a small group, as the march progressed, it gained in numbers and in spirit, culminating with tens of thousands gathering in front of the Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem for a massive rally demanding peace. The march galvanized the call for a restart to Palestinian/Israeli peace negotiations and established ‘Women Wage Peace’ as a significant player in the movement, insisting their collective voices for reconciliation be heard.
We visited and interviewed the extraordinary woman who initiated the ‘Women’s March for Hope’, Huda Abuarquob, who is also the Regional Director of the ‘Alliance for Middle East Peace’. We also visited with group of four Israeli women who are active in WWP in Jerusalem, and who shared their music and perspectives on peace between Israelis and Palestinians and their strategy for building a movement.
10 Days in Jerusalem
On February 15th, producing partner Stephen Fiske and myself traveled to Jerusalem to begin field production work for the ‘Jerusalem Prayer Project’. For Stephen it was his fourth time there as his son and grandchildren live the Gilo settlement just outside of Bethelem. For myself, it was my first time. What is clear to me now three weeks later, is that no one travels Jerusalem and returns home spiritually unaffected.
While the experience remains fresh in our minds, we will be posting video and textual reflections on the rich tapestry of people we encountered all of whom form the basis of an emerging, grassroots peace movement in the Holy Land that is grounded in the ‘idea’ of interfaith reconciliation.
Some may consider the basis of our endeavors as naïve. That the immense challenges and depth of hatred between Jews , Arabs and Christians is beyond any rational resolution. But what is apparent is that the exact opposite is true – that it’s the ‘conflict’ that is irrational, and not the prospect for reconciliation. And the Jerusalem Prayer Project will demonstrate this point, even to the deepest of cynics.
Jerusalem is for all visitors a magnificent view into human history and offers richness of this present time. The heart of the diversity of Middle Eastern culture, in spirit and religion surrounds you and the impression of seeing and being in a very ‘special’ place is undeniable. But it doesn’t take long to see and understand that there is a deep current of tension that runs through the Old City. And one does not have to travel far to witness the direct manifestations of this tension in the form of massive, concrete security perimeters that ring the Palestinian suburbs of Jerusalem. It is a bleak ‘Architecture of Separation’ both physically and psychologically that grips everyone who lives here.
Following a brief survey of the Old City – I had an opportunity to cross the security checkpoint into Bethlehem. The 10 meter tall, winding structures are impressive. They are like roads on their sides. Clean, pristine, horizontal ribbons of concrete divide people from their lands and each other as Jews and Palestinians are forced to maintain these stark divisions. Guard towers every quarter mile also give the impression of an ever-present surveillance state.
Once through the check-point – the art of resistance on the Palestinian side, is loud and clear. The wall grabs you by the throat. It's presence is deeply troubling to the newcomer and strangely normal to those who live with it every day.
The “Cardo” Roman ruins of the main commercial street in the Old City of Jerusalem
Hurva Synagogue, Old Jerusalem
Old Jerusalem Church of Holy Sepulchre
Warriors of the Heart – Women Waging Peace
In our recent trip to Israel/Palestine, Robert and Stephen had the opportunity to meet and interview many extraordinary individuals working on a grass roots, person to person level, to achieve reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis. What became crystal clear was the role women have been playing in building a new movement to end the conflict in the midst of a highly patriarchal society.
Women are standing up with courage, dignity and strength, acting from their hearts, speaking truth to power, walking their talk, exemplifying the spirit of “Warriors of the Heart” across the holy land. Huda Abuarquob, a Palestinian peace activist, is Regional Director of the Alliance For Middle East Peace and a leader of the Womans March for Hope, which brought tens of thousands of women together from Northern Israel to Jerusalem over the course of 14 days and 150 miles last October, 2016. The march culminated in a massive demonstration in front of the Prime Minister’s residence, calling for a restart of Palestinian/Israeli peace negotiations.
Jerusalem represents the shining hope of humanity, the sacred citadel, the holy sanctum of beloved community, the longed-for city of peace. It is the shining hope of humanity, the sacred citadel, the holy sanctum of beloved community, the longed-for city of peace. It is symbolic of the longing in the heart of humanity to live harmoniously in the grace of creation. Jerusalem is at the heart of the global quest and challenge of how to live in peaceful co-existence.
Jerusalem has been conquered and reconquered throughout the centuries in the quest to own its sacred atmosphere and to control the strategic land-bridge between Northern Africa and the Middle East, where the Jerusalem hills hold high ground.
While the land can be bordered and walled, the sacred can never be owned, conquered or exclusively possessed.
It can be possessed in the heart of charity, compassion, justice, peace and love, but that possession is not exclusive to any one religion, or any one nation. It is all of ours. The sacredness of Jerusalem is all of ours, just as the eco-system of the Earth is all of ours.
The dilemma of humanity is that we have yet to learn how to share what is really all of ours to share.
Jerusalem is symbolic of the grand dilemma of humanity, where our desire for power and control, to conquer, own and dominate overwhelms and precludes our quest for charity, justice, love, and peace, and we wind up in a continuing spiral of enmity, violence, retaliation, and war.
How do you find your Jerusalem? How does the challenge of Jerusalem call to you for a response that helps move us all a little closer to that day when our prayers and expressions for peace, in the city of peace, that place of peace within us, is realized?
This is the challenge of humanity, reflected in the challenge of JPP.
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An Interfaith Look at Prayer
Prayer is active communion with the Divine presence. It is a conversation and interaction with God; however one may perceive God to be, called by any name or no name. Our prayers are vehicles of connecting with that spiritual presence and mystery beyond name and form, yet is here in every breath and heartbeat, throughout all creation, and which calls us to deeper understandings, inspiration, faith and the up liftment of our lives. Our prayers begin as a feeling or longing in the heart, and become articulated and expressed through our verbal ability outwardly or inwardly. Although we may mostly think of prayer as a spoken communication, we can also hold prayer in the silence and stillness of the sacredness in our heart and soul. Our prayers are a reaching out beyond ourselves to a source much greater than ourselves.
That source has been called the various names and forms of God. If you don’t see or believe in a specific God by name or form, but believe there is goodness and kindness in the world, then pray to the goodness and kindness, or hold that goodness and kindness in your heart. If you believe there is a grand design in the natural order of things, then pray to that grand design, to nature.If you believe in justice, pray for justice. If you believe in love, then pray for more love in the world. To pray you don’t need to be religious, you don’t need to be eloquent, it doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. Prayer is a practice which offers an equal opportunity for anyone to partake and receive its blessings and benefits.
Many religions offer specific guidelines, rituals, cleansings, and texts to follow in preparation for prayer, and recitation of prayer. Muslims have an obligation to their faith to pray five times daily, at specific times and through specific formats. Buddhists may offer prayers 24/7on spinning prayer wheels. Some pray through use of a rosary or mala beads. Some prayers may follow liturgical formulations for sacred occasions or specific holy times or seasonal changes. Some prayers may be read and recited collectively, while others may be deeply private, personal and intimate. Some may choose to pray through fasting or other austerities. Some may choose to pray only in a house of worship. Some may choose to pray in private seclusion. Others may choose to pray in any place and at any time that the need or call for prayer may arise. Prayer may follow a formal ritual or be a spontaneous, personal outpouring to the universe, or to a God or saintly figure of choice.
Many of us may feel more comfortable to perceive God through a specific name and form. So we may pray through Jesus, or Allah, or Krishna or the Divine Mother, or Guru, or a mountain, or whatever divine name and form we feel the most called to. In our prayer, we may invoke that name or form and ask that presence to guide and protect us. We may pray through the constant repeating of holy names or readings. Or we may pray to the light, or through a teaching, or a more abstract symbol or sacred motif or design. We may conduct our prayer through speaking it out, writing it out, or singing it out through a song, chant or hymn, or through silent inward communion. It can be expressed through music, poetry, art, dance, acts of healing, kindness and compassion, being of service to others, through our chosen work, and through ordinary, every-day activities. However the prayer is expressed, it is best when it comes from the heart, with sincerity, honesty, and openness, not for material gain, but to be held in the blessed hands of the intangible touch of grace.
We live in a world where much emphasis is placed on scientific methodology and empirical proof. But prayer is not measured in material ways. Prayer is not quantifiable by scientific methodology. Prayer is an invisible force. Prayer reaches beyond the boundaries of our measurements, technologies, mind and senses. Prayer is a longing for a transcendent connectivity. It brings us to reach out beyond the physical plane and the turmoil of existence. In the realm of prayer we move beyond physical limits and the edges of thought, into the realm of the open heart, the open mind, the open soul, and we offer ourselves as a receptive vessel - open to receive spiritual guidance and blessings beyond our own perceptions.
However we pray, it is our intention that matters most. Our prayer must come from the heart and seek to be aligned with the good. The experience of God is love, and love is in the heart. Good and God are one and the same. All the various narratives of creation in multiple languages, cultures and religions, extoll this love and goodness in one form or another. In Genesis it says: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.. and brought forth the light.. and it was good. Good meaning that the job of creation was complete, and within that completion was the wholeness of everything, light and dark, man and woman, all living things, all the great and small, from the tiniest particle of matter through the immenseness of the infinite universe, that everything is interconnected and created to interplay in the process of life and the sustainability of existence. Every cell in our body, every organ, every breath and heartbeat, every element in nature, every season and tidal turn, is designed to be an essential thread in the grand tapestry of creation. Nothing is separate, nothing is outside. All is one, a unity encompassing a rich diversity. Within this oneness is God’s presence, God’s love, a goodness, a peace, a transcendent wholeness, a mystical union, that awaits our communion and responds to the longing of our prayers.
To truly experience prayer, it cannot be superficial, callous, motivated by selfishness, greed, lust, hate, anger or jealousy. A prayer is not a devise to advance a self interest agenda. To use prayer as a weapon of vengeance, retaliation, violence or war, is to impugn the very sanctity we seek to connect with, and is a grotesque travesty of the purpose of prayer - not prayer at all, but a visualization and perpetration of the lowest depths we can sink to. The tragedy of the human condition is our failure to know who we are. The intention and motivation of prayer must come from a place within us that seeks release from the ignorance, fear, failings, misunderstandings, misguidance and misdirection of our frailty, of the weaknesses and blindness of our human condition. Our truthfulness and humility can carry us deep into the healing heart of prayer, deep into the understanding of our true divine nature.
Prayer is not about what we think we want, but really about what God wants for us. Our job is to pray and get out of the way. We can allow God then, as St. Francis so beautifully prayed, to “make me an instrument of thy peace.” Prayer will not provide the spiritual sustenance we seek in the arrogance or self-entitlement of the human ego.
Prayer is placing the individual soul in open receptivity of Divine guidance. In prayer, we admit and understand that our own efforts in handling life’s challenges are not enough; that we need the support and wisdom that comes from a source much greater than ourselves. In prayer, we allow ourselves to be humble, vulnerable and open to God’s presence, solace, guidance, strength and wisdom. In prayer, “we let go, and let God.”
Prayer involves a longing; a longing to be whole, to be healed, to make complete what is incomplete, to have justice where there is injustice, to see a clear path through confusion, fear and doubt, to make things right, and to be receptive of the greatest gift and blessing that life can offer – to be loved and to give love. Prayer is a longing to know who we are, a longing for connectivity to God, to be one with the source and wellspring of existence.
Through prayer, we call forth that source and open our human heart, mind and soul in allowing that spiritual force to flow through us. When our prayer is heartfelt and sincere, accompanied by awe and respect before the magnitude and magnificence of creation, it is an appeal that the universe responds to, even if that response does not appear in an immediate and outwardly observable or tangible way. When we pray, we feel better for our expression, better that that expression has been released and received in the universe.
Human beings are expressive creatures and this need to speak our truth, admit our failings and weaknesses, stand in the righteous authenticity of our reality and ask for help, guidance and forgiveness, is an essential ingredient in the spiritual journey. Without asking, we may not receive the help we seek. Prayer brings us to that help. Prayer provides a moment of sincerity and purity of expression which connects the human condition to the divine presence. In prayer, through this sense of connectedness, we can feel purified, fortified, empowered and renewed, finding support in knowing that we are not alone.
Every prayer is a missive to the heart of the Divine.
Every prayer is a bridge to God.
Every prayer is an emptying of what we think we know, allowing in, Divine knowingness.
Every prayer is an intimate bonding with the force of faith.
Prayer brings solace and understanding. Prayer helps to invoke grace, mercy and forgiveness. Prayer builds a relationship with the Divine that establishes and fortifies the spiritual strength needed to move through the snares and toils of life. We cannot always explain or find a rationale for why disturbing things happen, why such suffering occurs in the world, but in prayer we can find a sense of consolation, reconciliation, rejuvenation and healing for much of life’s ills. Prayer brings us to be receptive of Divine blessings whereby we gain in compassion, forgiveness and gratitude. Prayer helps move us past our pain, to faith. Through faith we can find our way through any challenge that life brings us. Prayer provides a prescription and remedy from the Divine doctor.
Prayer by its nature is a request for change. In a way, it is subversive because it reflects a desire to uproot and correct what is not working, what needs help, is not healthy or right, and make it whole. This may involve a questioning of an existing status quo. It may be about a personal struggle one is having where an answer is not clear, where the confusion seeks to be straightened out. Prayer can lead us to a new vision, a fresh vitality, a more elevated and broad based outcome. We may pray for the soothing or healing of another, or pray for the relief of troubling events or danger. And we may seek clarity and understanding for our own blindness, confusion, or mishandling of a situation. We may pray for guidance in preparation for a difficult decision. Prayer may involve a confessing of where we have done wrong, or have been hurtful, thoughtless or cruel to someone, or have gone astray, in order to set ourselves in the right direction.
Prayer can be a call for mercy and forgiveness of the victims or the perpetrator(s) of an injustice. It can be a plea for a healthy recovery and rehabilitation from illness, injury, or recovery from addiction and traumatic stress. It can be a request for forgiveness of ourselves. This call for forgiveness may release a psychological and emotional hold that may encumber and inhibit a healthy progression of one’s life. It may help heal and dissolve blame, hate, enmity, jealousy, shame and fear. Through prayer we acknowledge and admit our own transgressions, confusion, and mistakes, seek clarity and forgiveness and ask for divine solace and empowerment. In this way, prayer can be a vehicle of turning over the soil, starting a new way, and finding reconciliation and renewal. We can make our lives an every-day prayerful journey.
We can make our prayers a call for peace and understanding in the world. We may pray for the end of violence and destruction, the end of war, and a new time of harmony and prosperity for all people and all of creation. We may pray for the end of all suffering, that no one goes without, that no one is hungry, homeless, degraded, oppressed or enslaved. We may pray for the awakening and enlightenment of the human species; that we may put aside our hatred and fears, our blindness and inhumanity. Through our prayers we may find that deep in the core of every prayer of every prophet of every religion, of every soul throughout the lineage of humankind – there is a common heart - the heart of hearts – that place of absolute knowingness of our oneness and togetherness as a human family, as Divine Children, of brothers and sisters sharing the resources and abundance of the Earth through God’s grace. Our prayers can lead us in becoming caretakers and stewards of that which we have been blessed, serving each other in the building of a sustainable culture of peace.
These prayers for peace are most needed now in this time of fast moving global change, as we face numerous existential challenges and threats to our future. Our prayers can help build a collective consciousness that embraces a new paradigm, where the old form no longer serves our evolving needs. Our collective prayers can overcome walls of hate and the boundaries of entrenched divisiveness, and become a powerful force for creating the paradigm shift for peace - more powerful than bombs, militarism, global warming, and disastrous policies built around the old addictive patterns of enmity, exploitation, conquest and fear that have permeated our history and dominate the current paradigm.
In prayer we do not fight, retaliate, seek revenge, hate, kill or destroy.
In prayer we cannot dominate, demand, abuse, oppress, rape, plunder or exploit.
Through prayer we can reconnect with our Divine Self, the I Am.
Through prayer, we learn humbleness, to accept what we cannot control and allow spirit to handle what troubles us. In this way, prayer brings us to surrender.
Through prayer we can let go of our burden, release it to God and let God show us the way.
Through prayer, we can feel a solace and understanding that the rational mind alone cannot grasp.
Through prayer, we surrender our grip on reactivity, misunderstandings, fear, mistakes, shame, inadequacy and ignorance, and place it in God’s hands. God then empowers us to do ourselves what is the most wise, loving, and beneficial way to handle the challenges life brings us.
Through prayer comes healing.
Through prayer we can open the doors of possibility that we thought closed in impossibility.
Through prayer we can reach beyond our perceived limitations to the Divine expanse of the unlimited.
Through prayer we find Divine Love.
Through prayer comes cleansing and purification.
Through prayer comes miracles.
Through prayer we find an immeasurably powerful and positive force for healing, for good, and for peace in the world.