Jeremiah 58:11 The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.
There is something very human about having ash smeared upon one’s skin. The charred remnants of a once green, living thing—when it comes into contact with our flesh—are intended to encourage us to inhabit a posture of repentance and remind us of the fragility of our short existence on this earth.
earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
And yet, this brush with death and decay ought also to remind us of life and its persistence. Though ash is a product of fire, which has the potential to cause immense destruction, it contains some of the most vital nutrients for soil—calcium, magnesium, potassium. Ash is akin to compost in that way—both are composed of the decay of living things, which in turn, fosters fertile conditions for new life to spring forth.
Death, agriculturally speaking, is certainly a necessary precursor for new growth. Yet we must be careful in our desire to draw parallels and find hope amid desperation, not to erase the grave reality facing our siblings in the Middle East, whose freedom and right to life are under constant threat today. In the wake of an ongoing global pandemic that disproportionately affected those in the Middle East, the presence of death is all too familiar for those in the region. Amid the pandemic, an economic crisis rages in Lebanon, making everyday needs inaccessible to a majority of the population. In Jerusalem, dozens of families continue to face the threat of home demolitions and displacement at the hands of the city municipality and military. And the people of Gaza continue to face airstrikes and other attacks on the heels of one of the most brutal years of Israeli military attacks on Gaza in recent history.
So many lives have been lost, and so many more have been maimed, imprisoned, and deteriorated. For these injustices and so many more, we cry out to the God whose waters never fail.
And yet, in a season where we might be easily discouraged when it comes to the ongoing cultivation of peace and justice in the Middle East, might we instead learn about hope from ash and soil? In times full of mourning, though a faithful and healthy practice, might we find comfort in the mystery of the earth that brings forth life from death? And in seasons of loss and lament, might we draw hope from a God who tends to creation like a garden, seeking to water us well?
While mourning the immense loss of life and opportunities for peace, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) is also celebrating the small victories and glimmers of hope that sprout up simultaneously. We celebrate alongside our dear friends and allies who are laboring for peace and justice in the Middle East, and we join in the work of hope together. Hope, not an empty platitude, but the work of cultivation itself. The Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb offers that hope is envisioning a future beyond destruction, as the prophet Jeremiah did. He suggests that “hope is faith in action in the face of the empire. Hope is what we do today.” (Raheb 2014, 130).
Let us find encouragement in the God of Life, who tends to seeds planted, even in the midst of winter, even during the darkest of days. And let us be emboldened by our siblings in the Middle East, who have never given up hope, and join them in sowing faithful seeds. May we live into the tension between death and life, and nurture the conditions upon which hope can grow.
Living God, remind us, in this season, of the viability of prayerful tending to the seeds of peace and justice. As we contemplate the fragility of life and its interconnectedness with death and decay, let us be invigorated to tend to life amid the ashes. Oh God of soil and seed and compost, strengthen us to continue laboring for the life and flourishing of all our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, and for our collective liberation.
Jennifer Maidrand is the Outreach Manager for CMEP. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Bible and Cultures at Drew University, where she also earned her M.A. Her research focuses on how biblical interpretation and archeology have shaped the contemporary land of Palestine-Israel and its geo-politics. She is a member of the UCC Church and is committed to fostering interfaith and intercultural community education and dialogue around sacred texts, the earth, and politics. Jennifer is grateful to have the opportunity to utilize and grow these passions, previously as a fellow and now as a staff member with CMEP. When she isn’t working, you can find Jennifer trail running, rock climbing, gardening, or playing with her cats, Peanut and Fig.
Raheb, Mitri. Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014.