Like others, I was sorrowful as news broke of the tense situation between several hundred Palestinians inside and Israeli forces outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.
As I listened on my car radio, images of the site believed to be the birthplace of Jesus came to me as remembrances of photographs taken by my father on one of his many trips shipping US grain to Israel in the 1970s. I thought, too, of my grandmother's tale of being an evacuee from Imman, Jordan, in the late 1950s and spending Christmas in Bethlehem. My grandfather, a civil engineer for the US Navy, was able to join her for midnight mass at the Church of the Nativity.
For these family members this church was a place of wonder, beauty, refuge, reunion. On this day, however, it seemed a place of conflict, dissent, despair, danger.
How can this be, many of us around the world have thought, in the place where the Christ child, the Prince of Peace, is believed to have been born?
My heart went out to both sides. Can the love and life associated with this place prevail in saving and protecting these people inside and outside the church building?
A representative of the Israeli military assured a reporter that everything was being done to protect the church edifice as an important historic site. How grateful I was to later hear a Georgetown University professor say on television that she hoped the "living stones," the Palestinians inside, were regarded as highly as the stones of the structure. And this concern can be extended to those outside the church as well. Mary Baker Eddy, in her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," describes "temple" as "body" and "the superstructure of Truth; the shrine of Love" (pg. 595).
Jews, Muslims, and Christians are united in honoring one God, each heart worshiping at the "temple" of the idea of one supreme creator. One might say that everyone, every "body" is a "living stone" of this place of worship. And from the recognition of one God naturally comes the desire for peace.
At its core, peace is a deeply spiritual desire. This peace is not the freedom to act willfully, selfishly, or greedily. This higher sense of peace can be gained only by recognizing and cherishing the lives of all. Each "stone," each one of us, is valuable to a true peace process.
But can God's love and life prevail when you're faced with aggression, resentment, and hate when your religion, birthright, and inheritance are questioned and even denounced? A resounding yes was the answer that came to me when I was asking silently in my heart these same questions during a time of conflict in my family. The situation seemed irreparable, hopeless. Things were said and done that could never be righted. As in many families in the Middle East, sorrowful past family history surfaced and plagued the present generations.
It took great effort guided by prayer over a period of time for me to give up the need to explain my perspective, the need to receive an apology, the need to have things done in the way I saw as right. And as I gave up what I now see as self-centered views, a turning point came with the thought that I could pay no one's debts but my own.
And what did I owe? I owed my family love: to love them rightly by acting from the basis of my prayers for healing and peace. In return for these debts that continue to be paid, I have gained a new loving and truly gratifying relationship with all my family.
Mrs. Eddy referred to God as "the divine Arbiter." An arbiter is one who has absolute power to judge or decide. Those in positions to govern and to facilitate, as well as all of us, can turn to the omnipotent divine Arbiter for guidance as we listen for solutions of peace in the Middle East. Perhaps each of us hears a part of a grand design. Perhaps it takes every "living stone" to build this structure of peace not made with hands but with listening hearts.
A favorite hymn begins: "Joy to the world, the Lord is come ... Let every heart prepare Him room." As the words of this hymn ask, let us recognize the birth of the Christ idea, not at a material or physical site, but as the light of Truth and Love in our hearts and in others'. This is the substance worth fighting for, the structure worth saving, the idea for which the Church of the Nativity stands.