I have been reading stories all day long about what is happening in Israel and Palestine, what so many of us refer to as “The Holy Land.” It’s awful. Horrendous. Unspeakable. Tragic. There are so many words to describe what is happening to actual flesh-and-blood human beings in an exchange of bombs and missiles between people whose family histories can be traced back to the same beginnings. They are brothers and sisters, just as we are with them.
I pray, I weep, I mourn. Some days I can’t do anything else. “How long, oh Lord?” is a constant thought.
There are wars going on in lands where I have walked with my brothers and sisters in Christ and they are holy lands to me. Syria. Iraq. Lebanon. The same bone-shattering weapons are flung back and forth between people who have shared the land for centuries. Homes lost. Churches and mosques blown to bits. Cities flattened. A generation of children who, if they haven’t already been killed, will spend their early years in shattered shells of buildings and minds. It’s all so fragile and tonight all I can think of is the broken pieces.
I wrote this poem after a visit to Lebanon when the only way I could visit the pastor I had met in Aleppo, Syria, in 2010 was to hear his voice on a phone. In that long ago summer – only four years ago! – we walked the streets of his city. We worshiped in his church. We saw the reconstruction of a high school for boys. We shopped for treasures in a souk whose aisles stretched into the eternity of the maze it was. I was looking for a set of the small cups and saucers that we were served coffee in everywhere we went. My shopping excursion paid off and I brought home a set of blue and gold china cups and saucers, which sit in my cupboard. Such fragile things, but they are a constant reminder of what has been lost. The church building has been destroyed. The school was bombed and ransacked. The ancient souk is no more. So many have died and the war continues.
They sit ensconced upon my shelf
In glorious gold and blue
Perfectly matched for twelve of us
For tea and coffee too
We searched for them inside the souq
We went from stall to stall
‘twas in Aleppo, Syria
Me and Kate and all
We had been served so many times
In every place we went
Dark coffee with such sumptuous sweets
Hospitably, time well spent.
When I look upon the pictures now
Of Aleppo in the news
I see the shattered buildings
Broken homes and scattered shoes
People running for their lives
Their idea of normal is lost
Children crying, people dying
This is what war has cost.
The cups are gone, the saucers too,
The souq is history
All are now but faded scenes
Inside my memory.
But there is another memory
Of another cup and plate
A reminder of a sacrifice
Made on an earlier date
Of one who spilled his blood and life
That we might know forgiveness
The gifts upon these precious plates
Would remind us of the richness
Of life poured out for you and me
In sacrifice divine
Redeeming love for all on earth
For each of us for all time.
Each night as I raise prayers for peace
I ask this Lord of life
That he would send his spirit to earth
To end the days of strife
That he would show us how to serve
With fragile cup and plate
The kind of love he modeled
The love that conquers hate.