Liliana Sanchez -MSPS Latino Study Abroad Spring 2015 Scholarship Recipient
“They said, ‘Teacher, where do you live?’ Jesus said, ‘Come and see’”: A Reflection upon my Semester in Jerusalem
As I reflect back upon my time in Jerusalem, I become poignantly conscious of how intrigued I am by the Holy Land but at the same time how challenged I am by it, in regards to my faith but also my political views. While this is not
necessarily the response I anticipated, it is certainly a response organic to the context itself.
In Christian theology, the meaning of Jerusalem for Jesus Christ is death. And death is overcome, by means of the Resurrection, in spite of and not because of Jerusalem. Jerusalem is at once condemned and baptized by the spilling of Divine Blood. And in this way, Jerusalem is truly a city like no other for the Christian faithful.
I don’t know what I expected when I decided to live in the Holy Land for four and a half months. I certainly never imagined it would be difficult. Difficult in the sense that I never anticipated that a city that is as sacred as it is to three religions, would be so haunted by violence and suffering.
Fortunately, or rather unfortunately, this sense of disillusion is not particular to me. Mosheh Amirav describes ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’ as a well-documented pathological phenomenon exclusively afflicting visitors of Jerusalem “who come to the city in the grip of religious or historic delusions only to collide head-on with Jerusalem’s harsh reality… [t]he untenable contradiction between ‘heavenly Jerusalem’ and ‘earthly Jerusalem’ appears to disturb their mental balance”. Not to this pathological extent, but I admit that I crashed into the rocks of a reality of Jerusalem that neither my news media, nor my government, nor my religion, nor my theological studies prepared me for.
Our Academic Director for the Notre Dame Jerusalem program, Dr. Robert Smith, often repeated the statement, “Where you sit, determines how you stand”. I always failed to understand the gravity of this statement until now. I know now that he meant for us to confront our complacency, that is our willingness to fight justice but only when it’s within arm’s length and within the parameters of convenience. I know now how content I was to live in ignorance and I am so grateful by the opportunity to be humbled by the realization of how small my world was and how much bigger the world really is.
Living in Jerusalem for four and a half months, provided us with the opportunity to sit elsewhere. And as a result of this experience, I have begun to learn what it really means to stand for and with a people. My four months and half months in Jerusalem produced a need to become more politically aware of my own country’s role in foreign affairs and ignited a passion for international human rights.
I refuse to censor myself and my experience in order to comfort anyone’s ignorance. I have an obligation to share the narratives of those people whose voices would otherwise go unheard. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”.
Although I’m disillusioned and disturbed by the plight of the Palestinian people in the Holy Land, I am a person of Christian faith. This brings to mind one of my favorite quotes by C.S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”. Even in the throes of this bitter conflict, it is because I am a person of Christian faith that I have hope:
Despite the lack of even a glimmer of positive expectation, our hope remains strong. The present situation does not promise any quick solution or the end of the occupation... despite this, our hope remains strong, because it is from God… Hope is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble and be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us. From this vision derives the strength to be steadfast, remain firm and work to change the reality in which we find ourselves.
With the grace of God, I am unapologetically hopeful for that one day when the three faiths and two peoples in the Holy Land will find the courage to accept the other and their right to exist. And perhaps one day perceive the other’s existence, as something different from themselves, but understanding that this doesn’t detract from but rather reflects the glory of God.