We walked the Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa, amidst the ordinary life of Jerusalemites – the sound of a school playground, the woman struggling up the steps with a trolley of shopping, the person who helped her, the sellers of toothpaste and apples as well as of religious trinkets and olive oil. And we thought of the condemned man, Jesus, walking to his death amidst life. I wonder if his heart swelled with love when he heard the voices of children or when he saw a person helping another, when he saw each individual human face.
I’ve long puzzled about holiness. There is something in the word ‘holy’, in Hebrew (kadosh), Greek (hagios), and in English which is about being set apart, reserved, differentiated. But, I’ve thought, when singing this word with dusty feet, dirty clothes, and a mistake-strewn life, I sing it because the story can’t - doesn’t – end there. I thought it again walking this way, which ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Church of the Set-Apart Sepulchre, the Way of the Set-Apart Cross is very much, emphatically, in the midst. Expressions of spirituality at this site of acknowledged holiness varied from wiping a stone with multiple cloths, then carefully setting them aside in ziplock plastic bags, to quiet kneeling, to selfies outside. Genuflection through the click of a shutter.
This holy place is cluttered with humanity. Glorious, varied, beautiful, confusing, confused humanity.
It was the choice of a Holy God to come into the midst. To give us, the dusty confused ones, an invitation into an expansive holiness, a holiness which – somehow, one day – will be cosmos-wide.
Which makes high walls and barbed wire and separation jar even more.
We spent a morning at Cremisan convent, where wry, witty, outraged lawyers told us about their decade of advocacy to prevent the separation wall from being extended around the walls of the convent, separating them from the poor community they served with a nursery school, separating them from the brothers they prayed with at the nearby monastery, separating the people of this suburb of Bethlehem from their vital agricultural land. They told us of a (rare) victory. (Sadly since overturned.)
But the presence of the wall, 9 metres high, across the hills and through olive groves, gathering an overcrowded poor Little Town on one side and spaciousness on the other, felt like an assault on the land itself, let alone its people.
It’s not just here that separation intrudes. I saw barbed wire on the top of a wall around a church. We separate ourselves, close church doors, shut down difficult conversations.
And then, around the corner from the Not-So-Separate Church, a teenager with a calippo in one hand and a gun in the other. A café full of teenagers looking like every youth weekend away I’ve seen, but with the guns. Slung over the backs of seats or shoulders.
Maybe there are some things which should be kept separate. Guns and calippos.
Webster’s Dictionary gives a second definition. Holiness as wholeness. Being made holy as being made whole.