Spirited Reflection: Mary of Palestine
A Cry for Justice – Theological Reflection from the KAIROS Palestine-Israel Delegation
A year ago, I was travelling the roads and cobblestone paths of Palestine on the KAIROS Israel-Palestine delegation. When you’re a Christian in Bethlehem, in the days leading up to Christmas, the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth resound in your heart. In Manger Square and at the Church of the Nativity, I was turning the ancient words over and over in my mind.
In particular, it was Mary’s story and song that ultimately convicted me. We were in Palestine and Israel with a focus on grassroots women peacebuilders, and it was the women we met, even more than the biblical geography and sacred sites, that kept bringing Mary, mother of Jesus, to mind.
The narrative of Mary is of a poor young woman, living under occupation, struggling with the potential stigma of an unexplained pregnancy. It is of a woman who lacks shelter at the most crucial moment in her life, giving birth to a baby in all kinds of precarity. It is ultimately the story of a woman whose family must flee from terror, a woman made refugee with her husband and young child.
Whether it was in Thabra in a women’s group or in Gaza in vocational programming for teen girls or in the Jordan Valley around a dinner table, the lives of the girls and women I met resonated with just those kinds of vulnerabilities and injustices. But there was another similarity too. Because of the wonderful work of our partners Wi’am and the Near East Council of Churches, these women were finding their strength and their voice. Just as Mary claims blessing, summoning her confidence and courage in the “turn the world upside down” anthem of the Magnificat (Luke 1: 26-55), so too these women, once silenced, but now accompanied, interrupt, dream, and propose. Knowing their rights and coming together with other women and girls, they banish fear, and find voice, action, and leadership. They are pure hope.
I was so profoundly moved by the respectful support our partners offer women made marginal by gender, religion, culture, and conflict, and how it continues to make a difference, every day. Women are changing their lives and their communities, and the transformation is profound. And yet, I was also struck by the limits, not by women and girls themselves—limitless in their potential—but by the cruelties of the ongoing occupation.
Today, there is also the inequities of pandemic, lockdowns within “permanent” lock down that increase domestic violence and economic insecurity. To keep faith with the Mary of my faith, to keep faith with the women of Palestine, means not only supporting them through our accompaniment—moral and financial—but it means supporting them through non-violent political action that impacts systemic oppression. It means advocating to tear down the walls, literal ones, or to sing from Mary’s hymn book– bringing down power structures so the lowly might be uplifted (Luke 1:52). There is no true equity, no real peace for these women or their families, no just peace in the Holy land, without an end to the illegal occupation. The Good News of Jesus Christ was and is an indictment of empire.
On the 1st of July 2020, Kairos Palestine and the Global Kairos for Justice issued A Cry for Hope: A Call to Decisive Action. To be honest, and in humility, Canadian churches and ecumenical bodies cannot yet endorse or enact institutionally everything that is sought. But we can listen, we can learn, we can amplify the call in A Cry for Hope, and we can respond in ways “bold,” “faithful,” and “resolute” to the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people with our advocacy and with our voice. Inspired by the women and girls in Palestine, individuals in churches and ecumenical bodies can banish fear, find voice, take action, and offer leadership to their churches that can be transformative. This Advent, and this Christmas, drawn into the birth story of the Saviour who embodies love and justice, let us remember the people of present day Bethlehem and their Cry for Hope. May Mary’s confidence in radical transformation touch the women of Palestine whose courage and persistence is real hope in our time.
Written by Jennifer Henry, Executive Director, KAIROS and participant of the 2019 KAIROS Israel-Palestine delegation.