24 October 2019

Hebron shorts

I spend most Saturday evenings holed up in a guest room in Ramallah, decompressing from the week. (On the next day I'm able to worship with Ramallah Friends before heading back to Hebron.) Last Saturday, I finally watched the documentary film about Fred Rogers, Won't You Be My Neighbor?

Earlier that evening I watched a YouTube video of Brennan Manning preaching on his favorite theme, God's love for each of us as we are, not as we should be. One of Manning's lines has taken on a life of its own in my head. God loves you so much that God would rather die than be without you. So many of us either think this is wildly improbable or haven't even had a chance to take it in. Maybe that explains a lot of the bondages that abound in our world.

I heard Manning speak at George Fox University a couple of times. He had a rare ability to combine intellectual and emotional content to form a powerful appeal to take God's love utterly seriously. In the service of this appeal he spoke with such urgency that his style sometimes verged on confrontational.

Both Manning and Rogers were evangelists for God's unconditional love, but Fred Rogers shaped his message to fit his special audience and his channel of connection with it -- daily visits with children, whose growth, anxieties, feelings, and capacities provided the specific themes for his programs. Manning, on the other hand, mostly addressed adults, including (I'm sure) many who had never absorbed the reality of unconditional love that was the heartbeat of the Rogers neighborhood. Manning's urgency was fueled in part by the institutional church's failure to prioritize the message of God's "relentless tenderness."

I have no idea how much each knew about the other, but I think Rogers and Manning had a wonderful partnership.

When I signed up to spend three months in Hebron as a human rights observer, my number one hope and priority was to learn more about praying without ceasing. Along with countless other believers, I've been fascinated by this instruction ever since I first heard about it. I love these lines from Thomas Kelly's A Testament of Devotion:
There is a way of ordering our mental life on more than one level at once. On one level we may be thinking, discussing, seeing, calculating, meeting all the demands of external affairs. But deep within, behind the scenes, at a profounder level, we may also be in prayer and adoration, song and worship and a gentle receptiveness to divine breathings.
At times I've experienced this way of ordering my mental life, but sometimes it's hard to meet even some of the demands of external affairs, at the ordinary walking-and-chewing-gum-at-the-same-time level, never mind staying inwardly attentive.

The following is observation, not advice. The all-pervading context of occupation, and its inevitable consequences -- tension, stress, clashes, hidden and open violence -- has given me a new prayer word: WHY? On some days, my most constant form of prayer consists of keeping my eyes open and praying that question.

The shopkeepers in the Old City's souq had a deal for us: free kittens! We looked into the cardboard box next to one of the shops we pass several times a day, and, sure enough, two tiny kittens lay curled up against each other.

Of course it wasn't as simple as that. They were young -- too young, we thought, to be without a mother. Each was just the size of my hand. They had been found near the Ibrahimi mosque, no parent anywhere in sight, so one of the shopkeepers had brought them with him to his work.

The first time we saw the kitties, we were on our way somewhere, so we didn't make any promises. But the second time we passed by, the shopkeepers said to us, "We're going to be closing soon. We don't know what to do with these kittens." We agreed to take them.

Both kittens were shivering and lethargic. We said to ourselves, "Maybe we're just providing a hospice, but even so, we could make their last hours more comfortable."

We got the kittens into the Christian Peacemaker Teams office, and began assessing the situation. Some of us held the little ones, while others searched online for advice. Both kittens were still shivering, so our first task was to warm them up gently, lightly swaddling them and letting our body heat do the job. We improvised a bed from the box that they came in, and found a small electric heater to put near them. For several reasons they couldn't stay in the main room or office, so I offered my bedroom as their temporary home, with the thought that eventually (we hoped) they could live in the patio/garden just outside our door. But first things first -- would they even survive the night? We were especially concerned for the black and white kitten, who was smaller, scrawnier, and lethargic. Not having any suitable food, we mixed up a concoction of milk, egg yolks, and salad oil. The bigger kitten lapped from a dish, the smaller licked the stuff from a fingertip. And now we think we might have a line on some goats' milk.

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It's now the evening of their second day in our place. Both kitties are still with us. For the first 36 hours, the black and white kitten stayed within a very short distance of its bed, while the larger one began gaining weight right away, and was soon roaming my bedroom. It also seemed to assume a sort of mentorship for its younger partner, grooming its unkempt hair (it worked! -- soon they were both busy grooming) and poking it as if to say, "You gotta make an effort!" This morning, I heard the smaller cat's voice for the first time, and sometime this afternoon I saw a sight that made me so happy -- it started a wrestling match with its sibling!! This evening both kitties succeeded in clawing their way up one of my legs and up to my shoulders.

On the kitties' first evening with us, someone suggested not naming them until we were reasonably sure they had a chance. I have hopes that we're soon going to be giving them names.

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