This post by Tricia Hersey of the Nap Ministry is with me this week. Alongside photographs of Hebron, she writes: “I visited Palestine to study Palestinian Liberation Theology for 2 weeks while in seminary in 2014. I was tear gassed at a camp. Pulled over constantly because I was traveling with Palestinians. It is apartheid there. Terror. I stand with Palestine always. Everywhere I went to study while in Palestine citizens came up to me and said, ‘We are following the example of Black Americans struggle for civil rights.’ They showed me books by DuBois and MLK, Jr. they were reading for inspiration. I will never forget the trip.”
I want to say I don’t have an adequate theology to think and talk in an informed way about the Middle East, but Hersey’s post pointed me to Palestinian Liberation theology, and I know at least a little bit about other branches of liberation theology (notably, one of the earliest expressions of Liberation theology in the late 1960’s, after the Second Vatican Council, took place in Medellín, Colombia, which is also seeing an eruption of violence this week).
Liberation theology interprets Christian faith from the position of the oppressed, and it critiques societies, systems and institutions (very much including churches and religious tradition) that allow/ perpetuate/ enshrine/ normalize oppression. This goes directly against, for example, interpretations of Christian scripture used to justify slavery and the submission of women to men (these anti-materialist interpretations argue that material conditions are of no importance, that only the state of one’s soul matters). There’s a lot more to say about this, and I am now of the mind that if a theology isn’t rooted in “(____)’s preferential option for the poor” (the phrase used in theology to describe a pattern in scripture where justice, love, mercy and other favorable attributes are measured by actions taken in aid of the poor and the oppressed), then I am not sure what it is doing that has anything to do with (____).
Prose fails me this week. So let’s read some poems. Any one or all of these. What is in sharp relief for you? What burns you? What words would you like to hear out loud?
Poetry is not difficult. Building peace is difficult. Poetry is only difficult if we insist on understanding it using the logics of ordinary speaking and thinking. But then this is also true about building peace. So maybe poetry can train the parts of our psyches we need to build peace, beginning with peace within ourselves, our closest relationships, our families, our communities — and out in “widening circles,” as Rilke writes.
“Let’s be the same wound if we must bleed.
Let’s fight side by side, even if the enemy
is ourselves: I am yours, you are mine.”
—Tommy Olofsson, Sweden
I’m not interested in
who suffered the most.
I’m interested in
people getting over it.
Once when my father was a boy
a stone hit him on the head.
Hair would never grow there.
Our fingers found the tender spot
and its riddle: the boy who has fallen
stands up. A bucket of pears
in his mother’s doorway welcomes him home.
The pears are not crying.
Later his friend who threw the stone
says he was aiming at a bird.
And my father starts growing wings.
Each carries a tender spot:
something our lives forgot to give us.
A man builds a house and says,
“I am native now.”
A woman speaks to a tree in place
of her son. And olives come.
A child’s poem says,
“I don’t like wars,
they end up with monuments.”
He’s painting a bird with wings
wide enough to cover two roofs at once.
Why are we so monumentally slow?
Soldiers stalk a pharmacy:
big guns, little pills.
If you tilt your head just slightly
There’s a place in my brain
where hate won’t grow.
I touch its riddle: wind, and seeds.
Something pokes us as we sleep.
It’s late but everything comes next.
Jews in the Land of Israel
We forget where we came from. Our Jewish
names from the Exile give us away,
bring back the memory of flower and fruit, medieval cities,
metals, knights who turned to stone, roses,
spices whose scent drifted away, precious stones, lots of red,
handicrafts long gone from the world
(the hands are gone too).
Circumcision does it to us,
as in the Bible story of Shechem and the sons of Jacob,
so that we go on hurting all our lives.
What are we doing, coming back here with this pain?
Our longings were drained together with the swamps,
the desert blooms for us, and our children are beautiful.
Even the wrecks of ships that sank on the way
reached this shore,
even winds did. Not all the sails.
What are we doing
in this dark land with its
yellow shadows that pierce the eyes?
(Every now and then someone says, even after forty
or fifty years: “The sun is killing me.”)
What are we doing with these souls of mist, with these names,
with our eyes of forests, with our beautiful children,
with our quick blood?
Spilled blood is not the roots of trees
but it’s the closest thing to roots
By Mahmoud Darwish
Translated by Fady Joudah
In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,
I walk from one epoch to another without a memory
to guide me. The prophets over there are sharing
the history of the holy … ascending to heaven
and returning less discouraged and melancholy, because love
and peace are holy and are coming to town.
I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: How
do the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?
Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?
I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I see
no one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.
All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I fly
then I become another. Transfigured. Words
sprout like grass from Isaiah’s messenger
mouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”
I walk as if I were another. And my wound a white
biblical rose. And my hands like two doves
on the cross hovering and carrying the earth.
I don’t walk, I fly, I become another,
transfigured. No place and no time. So who am I?
I am no I in ascension’s presence. But I
think to myself: Alone, the prophet Muhammad
spoke classical Arabic. “And then what?”
Then what? A woman soldier shouted:
Is that you again? Didn’t I kill you?
I said: You killed me… and I forgot, like you, to die.
Lecture on the History of the House
Before the alphabet, there was the house.
A proto-Semitic hieroglyphic symbol
depicting a house becomes the letter b.
beyt, beit. beit lechem. no house : no bread,
no book, no baby, no babble.
b b b b b b b b b b
When the temple was written, the destruction
of the temple was written.
The house scripts its defense.
(The house writes the fence.)
In the beginning, there was:
A) night A) tent
B) day B) house
A: The letter, scoring the darkness.
Q: In the beginning, what was?
A: The beginning.
Q: What answered the question silence asked?
the alphabet : ruin of silence
The only way back: through language, language
destroying the silence. The shadow language casts
is silence. No language, no shadow. No know, no
no no no no no no.
To ruin your knowing in your mouth
and dress the ruins with your best tongue.
First the temple, then the book
leading back to the temple.
So the interior is measured, apportioned.
walled square footage : living space
It is settled then.
A house is a home
and other embroidered facts.
It becomes you, your craft.
Birdhouses, henhouses, doghouses.
Like us, like us, we chirp.
(Who’s the bird now?)
The problem with liking is
the conflation of desire with similarity.
We form our mouths to fence we in.
We fence our forms to mouth we in.
babble : b b b b b b b b b b
Inside the house, the family.
Inside the family, the house.
Inside the tower, the princess
does not dream
of the tower.
Theory is a scream slowed by vintage technology.
“Touch me,” Amira says. “Touch me.”
The model of the house is the size of a house.
You confuse the conditions
that make something possible
with the conditions that make
You don’t see thinking as an emergency.
You own to prove you cannot be owned.
In owning, you sign a contract of possession.
The ghost tells the story of the house,
but none of the other tenants know how to listen.
You lock yourself out: morning.
You lock yourself in: night.
Ownership is a chronic condition.
Install a camera to conjugate the strangeness.
The house draws your speech like a bath: sink,
yard, repair, astroturf, neighbor, clean, handyman.
That good good light.
The first bedroom makes you sad.
The second bedroom makes a baby.
In the corner of the living room, the whole globe
spun by children.
It’s more than the Accountant told you it would be.
Which came first, the fence or the yard?
Ink on a black page
A poem wrestles the ghost with its limited mouth.
A poem touches the hip of a ghost.
In the dark, a thousand names bloom.
No country comes of that night.
Because you needed a fence to limit your loneliness.
Because haunting needed a form.
What is wild? That which cannot be measured.
Or: to produce a thought of the outside
from the inside and use it as a tunnel.
But you didn’t know you were inside.
Someone laid the new bricks
around you while you slept.
You skinned animals and adorned your captivity.
Modern architects called the surfaces of their buildings skins.
Your skin was light.
Your skin was feathers.
You dreamed of another.
You lit a match.
Your child named it sun.
Inside the house, a man hits you.
Then you understand:
your body is the window.
Inside, you are already outside.
Next door, the Soloist domesticates a tune.
Poetry is a door without a house.
Theory is productive of the known.
Poetry is productive of the unknown.
How, then, do you know
what is true? These walls, this foundation,
in the pages of glossy magazines.
The newspapers scratch their heads.
Again, the hunters, budgeting.
At the end of the day, you return to what is not common.
Put on your best sweater
The magic’s fled, the milk’s gone bad
There’s nothing left but weather
What is desire fulfilled?
The man reaches through his woman.
The sound of a thousand plates shattering.
A butterfly impaled by a human name
tumbles through the light like an angel.
Your dreams become modest, smooth their skirts, stand up.
The house is without simile.
Inside, everything is alike.
A deed is bad magic, ownership the spell.
Your yard, polluted with growth.
The head in your oven,
your most faithful tenant.
Amira sits under a tree, unpinning the names from things.
She releases the names to the wind.
The wind churns the names to pigment,
carries the colors off like
Oh, I know what a house is.
A house is my knowing.
Knowing is faith absent doubt.
When doubt is cleaved from faith,
where does it go?
(A caucus of ghosts, cackling.)
Knowing casts no shadow.
Let me turn my face toward my life.
Let me live inside it forever.
The Dictator’s name,
scrawled in the Dictator’s hand
on the I-beams of your house.
That is the law.
Coffee Hour is a lightly facilitated, gently theological online space where you are welcome, no religious commitment assumed or expected. It happens every week at 1-2pm Irish time. The password changes (today it is: Palestine); the video conference link is: https://meet.jit.si/CoffeeHourWithFriends2021