Pain & Hope
Over the summer, I went on a life-changing ten day trip to Israel & Palestine with a program called Passages, which allows Christian college students to visit the Holy Land. While I do not agree with much of what this program believes, I am grateful for the opportunity it gave me visit a place that I otherwise would not have been able to visit, and I wouldn't trade that week and a half for the world.
I wrote this essay as a part of the post-trip requirements and recently re-read it. It still rings so true in my heart today.
I think the most shocking thing for me, upon returning home from Israel, is the pain I felt. I expected to land in the States filled with joy and the Holy Spirit, which I did, but there was also a massive weight on my chest. It was a feeling I couldn’t shake, even as my mom wrapped her arms around me for the first time in a week and a half at baggage claim, and even as I stepped into my childhood home and was welcomed enthusiastically by my dog. Through all these things that should’ve brought me happiness and relief, the weight remained.
I felt pain for the people of Palestine, who experience oppression from the State of Israel. I remember looking at the wall on the border of the West Bank and Palestine and seeing such intense hurt in the form of beautiful artwork. I remember seeing other travelers taking selfies with the graffiti as if they were posing with their favorite band, completely disregarding the emotion being poured out onto this monument of anger and frustration.
I felt pain for the Jewish people persecuted while Hitler was in power. I walked the halls of the Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, in a haze of white Christian guilt. Even though I wasn’t alive during the Holocaust, I still felt the weight of responsibility for the horrors endured by the Jewish population during this time. That haze turned to anger when I saw another tour group taking selfies at the last stop of the museum, smiling and laughing as though they didn’t just go through the most harrowing experience of their lives. I have no right to judge them, I know. Everyone processes things differently. But when we got to the cafeteria for lunch, I broke down crying and ran into the bathroom, unable to stop the storm about to break loose inside of me. Hot tears of anger and sadness and shame clung to my face as I gripped the sink and stared into the mirror, trying to calm myself. I was furious. Furious with the people in my group making nonchalant conversation about anything other than what they had just witnessed. Furious with the Christians of the 1940’s who turned a blind eye to the ungodly acts happening right outside their front doors. Furious that any human being could even imagine treating one of their fellow brothers and sisters the way the Nazis treated the Jewish people. Furious that love was not all anyone felt in their hearts.
But I felt a tremendous amount of hope as well. Something I have always struggled with in my Christian faith is a simple yet complex question: How can God be present in such a broken world? In a world filled with so much hate and misfortune, where is Jesus? Father Peter, the Catholic life chaplain at Elon as well as our spiritual leader on the trip, gave me the answer I had been waiting for my whole life. We discussed the story of Jesus feeding the multitude, and how while Jesus is the one who technically performed the miracle, He had His disciples do the actual groundwork. Father Peter went on to explain that God is still doing this today, in a less obvious way. He gives us talents and passions to make the world a better place, a place filled with love, and we use our talents and passions to do the groundwork. This is Him passing His miracles onto us, and this is how He is present in a world filled with pain and suffering. He is giving us the tools to lessen that pain and suffering, but it is up to us to use them, to make those miracles really happen. Something clicked in my head and my heart when I heard this, and I was overflowing with hope. I felt as though I had been holding my breath for nineteen years and I could finally exhale, the release of air filling my soul with a sense of peace I hadn’t quite experienced before.
The word “motivated” is not a strong enough word to describe the way I feel now. I have learned to take the pain and hope I experienced on my trip and translate it into a productive feeling, perhaps a passion. I was already chosen to be an interfaith intern for The Truitt Center before I left for the trip, but I wasn’t exactly excited about it. Upon returning from Israel, my heart is filled with a love and passion for interfaith exploration and dialogue like it never was before. I am planning on picking up a minor in interreligious studies to feed the academic side of my curiosity as well as throwing myself fully into my internship to satisfy the hands-on side. I am fascinated by the interfaith encounters I now notice nearly every day, especially the positive ones where people of different faiths find common ground and holy envies in the faith lives of each other. I find hope in tolerance and respect and love between religions.
My trip to Israel and Palestine was, for lack of better words, life changing. I was immersed in a culture that I had never encountered and I experienced a faith that I had never considered being so crucial to my understanding of Christianity. I had never, even once, thought about learning more about the Jewish faith and culture even though now it seems obvious- Jesus was Jewish! Shouldn’t I be interested in the faith and culture of the person who is the reason for my religion? I wish I could extend this curiosity to every Christian I know, but I am weighed down with the realization that some Christians are too wrapped up in themselves and their own faith traditions to care. I think the potential relationship between Jews and Christians could be so powerful and beautiful, but I’m afraid it won’t ever be realized.
I heard once that where your greatest talents & passions and the greatest needs of the world cross is your vocation. I feel that my experience in Israel and Palestine has given me some insight into all three, and I am forever grateful.