Jerusalem is a city I am familiar with, having lived here for half a year. Returning to Jerusalem has surprised me. I have experienced a sadness I did not anticipate, a sadness caused by the overwhelming sense of separation the city engenders. Palestinians are separated from Jews by the separation barrier. Jews are separated from their most holy site, the Temple Mount. Muslims call this same holy site the al Haram al Sharif. Today Muslims control this site, and yet many Palestinian Muslims living in the West Bank and Gaza are seperated from this site because Israel denies them permission to enter its territory.
Dome of the Rock on the al Haram al Sharif
With a classmate I discussed the sense of sadness I feel at the sense of separation here. I was not able to articulate at all well what I was feeling. My time here now is different to my time here last year. Then it struck me. Life has not changed here so much since I left, but I have. I am separated from my mother, who died earlier this year. I am separated from those I love most dearly. I have become more sensitive to the pain of separation.
I am reminded of a story from India my meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran taught me. It has been years since I read it, but if anything its profundity has only increased since I first saw it. Once there was a man walking through a field with God. They were talking. God was thirsty and asked the man to get him a cup of water. The man walked to a village and in the first house he came across, he was greeted by a magnificently beautiful woman. The man fell in love. He forgot about the cup of water. He had a family with the woman. Life was good. The family prospered in the happy life of the village. One day there was a flood. Everyone in the village died except the man, who was devastated at the loss of his wife and his family. God appeared before the man and asked him if he had his cup of water.
This religious tale resonates deeply with me because it reminds me of one the central dilemmas of humanity, separation. One is tempted to think the ultimate form of separation is death. Yet according to the mystics what we are really separated from is the divine Self within us all. Until we are in union with God within, we will always be searching for ways to overcome that separation.
Learning to pray at the Western Wall
In life we seek connection with others, through community, family, our work and of course most especially through those we love. This story tells us in dramatic terms that no matter how deep and beautiful a connection with we have with others, we should always strive for the divine Self within.
You might be asking yourself, this is all very well and good, but what does this have to do with something like the separation barrier? Is not this barrier an expression of Israeli power imposing its will upon the Palestinian people? Is not one of the goals of the barrier--in some places an 8m high wall, in other places a fence--to reduce violence? Here you are talking of divine love, while in Jerusalem, this holy city, it is power that carries the day.
I ask you in return, is the separation of Palestinian and Israeli peoples the best way to reduce hatred and fear between them? Or will it merely increase hatred among those it affects most negatively? But most of all, is the vision it is based on all that humanity is capable of? Is it the best we can expect from the Holy Land for now?
Intimacy and power side-by-side
Naturally different people will have different answers to these questions, as well as questions of their own. I am left wondering, however, how to connect love with power, and human bonds with human separation. I am wondering how intimacy is confronted by the ordinary facets of everyday life. And I want to write about them in this blog.