It’s a challenging time here in this little corner of the Middle East. Tensions throughout Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories continue to be high, no one is sure what the new Israeli government will bring (except a further jolt to the right), no one is even sure if a government will be formed, or if it is, how long it will last. Yet still life goes on, still new things come to life and lights shine in the darkness.
The past couple of weeks have been filled with light and anticipation. From the Christmas Tree lighting in Manger Square, Bethlehem where thousands of people came together for an evening of music and light regardless of religion or ethnicity, to the multitude of concerts and events, to the Christmas markets run by many churches and organisations, and the Advent services of various denominational and ecumenical colours.
This sense of hope can also be found in the unlikeliest of places and at the most unexpected times. A couple of days ago I was walking into Bethlehem after a bus ride from Jerusalem. I followed the path along the Israeli wall and passed an Olive Wood factory which has been there for many years. As I walked by I noticed something had moved into the building next door which has been empty for many years. I stopped for a better look to find a young man blowing the most beautiful and fragile glass vases, jugs, and glasses from pieces of clear and coloured glass tubing. It was a simple little workshop made up of a workbench, with a gas torch mounted on it, and a chair (now that I am writing this I wish I’d taken a photograph!). A spent a while mesmerised by the process of gently coaxing the glass into the desired form, a process which appeared to be 50% dance and 50% burnt fingers, but with 100% understanding of the material and how to work it.
We chatted about where he had learnt the skill, and about his hopes that both locals and internationals would want to buy his items. Just as I was about to leave he said ‘hold on, I have to get something.’ He went to the back of the space and came back with a plastic rose head. He sat back down and started to work a piece of glass tubing, pushed the rose head onto the end, and handed it to me (warning me that the glass was hot) saying “everything can be beautiful, even some plastic and sand.”
There are also the more unusual celebrations bringing light into the darkness, the celebration of Saint Lucia held by the Swedish Theological Institute among them. A Swedish celebration of an Italian saint, in the centre of Jerusalem where the light is brought in by a young lady wearing a crown of candles to the hymn ‘Santa Lucia’. Around her waist she wears a red ribbon to represent Lucia’s martyrdom, but overall this is a celebration of light in darkness, It is also a celebration shared across religious divides with Christians, Muslims, and Jews enjoying the evening together. It was an evening of the light shining in that small part of Jerusalem and coming into a place where people of all political and religious colours saw the light and welcomed it together.
At this time when darkness affects the whole world, we need to keep our eyes open and look for the places where the light is shining in the dark streets. Whether it is at a gathering of people from various backgrounds, with family and friends, or simply on a walk – the light is there shining, we just have to seek it out.
In the next few days as we see the light of that star above Bethlehem shining into our world, may we all have peace and every blessing for the year to come.
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Excellent, thoughtful and poignant.