Muriel Pearson 22 Dec 2021
‘How can we determine the hour when the night ends and the day begins?’ asked the teacher.
‘When from a distance you can distinguish between a dog and a sheep?’ suggested one of the students.
‘No,’ was the answer.
‘Was it when one can distinguish between a fig tree and a grapevine?’ asked a second student
‘Please tell us the answer then.’
‘It is,’ said the wise teacher, ‘when you can look in the face of a human being and you have enough light to recognise in him or her your brother or sister. Up till then it is night and darkness is still with us.’
This simple but profound Hasidic tale is quoted by Peter Miller in his book of daily reflections Our Hearts Still Sing(Wild Goose Publications, 2004). Thinking about the global issues and indeed the local inequalities and injustices piling up at the moment, it seems that human beings very often fail to recognise the inter-connectedness of all, and the family connection we all share. It feels very dark.
Whenever there is intractable conflict and deep hurt our brother or sister goes unrecognised. And of course, some of the most bitter conflicts happen at home when familial bonds are broken and trampled underfoot.
As I prepare to go to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories as Associate Minister to the Church of Scotland congregation of St Andrew’s Tiberias and Jerusalem I am asked, and I ask myself, ‘What is it you hope to do?’ My answer is as yet rather vague. I don’t know what I will do. But I know what I’d like to be: a sister, a friend, a writer, a prayer, a holder of space where people can come together and not only tell their story (for everyone has a story) but also hear the stories of brothers and sisters who have grown up estranged. Most profoundly of all, if you know you have been heard then you can hold both your story and the story of the one who is ‘other’.
Daoud Nassar’s hilltop farm not far from Bethlehem has been in the family since Ottoman times. They have papers from 1916 to prove it. Yet their vineyards and olives are constantly under threat as the Israeli State seeks to expand settlements in the West Bank. At the gateway to the farm is a painted stone which says, ‘We refuse to be enemies.’ This is his family’s Christian witness. I am in awe of the Nassars’ steadfastness. I have glimpsed how costly it is. There are others, on both sides of the Separation Barrier; Jews, Muslims, Christians and people of good will who are longing for dawn when the faces of those who have been shadowy enemies can be seen and recognised as sisters and brothers. Peace with justice seems a long way off, but there are people of peace working selflessly for it. And I hope, by just being there, to support this work.
Muriel Pearson was minister of Cranhill Parish Church from December 2004 – August 2021. She is about to go to Tiberias as Associate Minister of St Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias. She has been chair of the board of Place for Hope (2020-21), and will continue to serve on the board from Israel.
“Muriel Pearson was minister of Cranhill Parish Church from December 2004 – August 2021. She is about to go to Tiberias as Associate Minister of St Andrews Jerusalem and Tiberias. She has been chair of the board of Place for Hope (2020-21), and will continue to serve on the board from Israel.” —