Close to the Gardens of Broken Shadows
Hope on the slopes of hills, facing the dusk and the cannon of time
close to the gardens of broken shadows
we do what the prisoners do
and what the jobless do
we cultivate hope.
In God’s garden of broken shadows, facing night and cannons of time, we are commanded to “cultivate hope.” How? How do we dare speak of hope when all around us are signs of dispossession, destruction, and continued catastrophes? God’s creation is groaning under the weight of settler colonialism and a belligerent military occupation in the land between the sea and the river that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all call holy.
How do we speak of hope when each day records new human rights violations—a new family made homeless, a school demolished, a nonviolent activist imprisoned, a village disappeared. On earth as it is in heaven, not yet. Is it still possible? Was it ever?
Saint Augustine said, “Hope has two daughters—anger and courage. Anger at the way things are and courage to make sure they do not stay that way.”
He saw Hope as a mother who gives life and mourns when that life is threatened or violated. Her daughters are righteous rage and the courage to stand where God stands or where Jesus leads.
To cultivate hope, then, we must adopt Hope’s daughters as our own.
South African theologian and prophet Allan Boesak says, “Hope makes herself known in encounter with suffering and struggle. She emerges from within the struggle against the presence of evil and from within our engagement with the powers of domination and devastation. Hope teaches us that it is not our struggle, but that we join in God’s struggle for all of God’s creation, not because we believe in a perfect world, but as Rubem Alves of Brazil has told us, because we believe this imperfect order should not continue to exist.”
This imperfect order of an ongoing assault on human dignity and life is what Palestinian Christians called the world to recognize in their Kairos Palestine document issued in 2009. This important cry for justice and peace recognized that the time was now for action from Christians across the world to stand up for Palestine and for Palestinian Christians in particular. The document named Israel’s occupation as a sin against humanity and called for support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) global movement as a tool of nonviolent resistance. It was bold and audacious and perfectly reasonable coming from a people who see themselves as followers of the Risen One.
This document has been studied by churches across the world. It has led to Christians writing their own Kairos documents in solidarity, based on their own countries’ complicity and support of the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people through support of settler expansion and arms deals, through not upholding UN resolutions, or turning a blind eye to war crimes.
In June of 2017, in preparation for a planned consultation with the World Council of Churches, The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) issued an update to the Kairos Palestine document in the form of an Open Letter to the World Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Movement. The letter seizes upon this year of horrible commemorations100 years since the Balfour Declaration, 50 years of a military occupation, and 10 years of the Gaza Siege to call for a new kairos moment for what they call “costly solidarity.”
The NCCOP letter begins with lament and anger at what is still happening, in the long aftermath of the Balfour Declaration’s green light for future dispossession. It calls on Christians to “unequivocally condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust” and, like the Palestinian National Authority, supports the demand that the United Kingdom ask for forgiveness from the Palestinian people and compensate them for their loses. Furthermore, it sees this infamous declaration as the basis for the concept of an ethno-religious state from which the region is still suffering from today.
Another demand from the Palestinian Christians worth highlighting is the demand that churches revisit and challenge their religious dialogue partners, and be willing to “withdraw from the partnership if needed—if the occupation and injustices in Palestine and Israel are not challenged.” It will take courage for churches to challenge what liberation theologian Dr. Marc Ellis has called the “ecumenical deal” among Christians to talk about all kinds of social justice issues except Palestine.
But perhaps the most daring demand, for those willing to stand with the Palestinian Christians in “costly solidarity,” is to defend the right of Palestinians to resist the occupation “creatively and nonviolently.” This means supporting economic, cultural, and academic measures to put pressure Israel to stop the occupation and comply with international law and UN resolutions, including the Right of Return for refugees.
Hope challenges the powers and principalities. Anger leads to the courage to make demands.
The NCCOP letter ends with these prophetic words:
Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status-quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land. Our only hope as Christians comes from the fact that in Jerusalem, the city of God, and our city, there is an empty tomb, and Jesus Christ who triumphed over death and sin, brought to us and to all humanity, new life.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Cor. 4:8-9)
So this is how we cultivate Hope. We go to the places of suffering and struggle, to the garden of broken shadows. We stand where God stands and we join God’s mission for another world. We become gardeners in that garden of abundant life and broken shadows.
We adopt Hope’s children too—anger and courage. Anger at the way things are, and then courage to take action to make sure they don’t stay that way. The people of Palestine are crying out for justice. The Palestinian Christians have asked us to join them in “costly solidarity.”