paradox

PHOTOS & POETRY: A Unique Look at Gaza

When most people think of Gaza, surfing is not the first thing that comes to mind. But photo journalist Ryan Rodrick Beiler has an eye for capturing the resilience and richness of life in this occupied land.

A former web editor for Sojourners, Beiler now serves on staff with the Mennonite Central Committee in Palestine and Israel. To learn more about Beiler’s extraordinary work, check out his photo essay “Gaza: The Persistent Paradox” (September-October 2013, Sojourners magazine) and the slideshow below.

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While these pictures provide a unique look into life in this war-torn region, the words used in Beiler’s article are just as powerful. Referencing “Silence for Gaza”—a prose poem by Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish—Beiler paints a more complete picture of Gaza as a land of both ugliness and beauty.

Sinaan Antoon, an Iraqi poet and associate professor at New York University’s Gallatin School, offers this excerpted translation of Darwish’s “Silence for Gaza”:

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Gaza: The Persistent Paradox

IN "SILENCE FOR GAZA,” Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish captures the contradictions of the coastal enclave, describing it alternately as “ugly, impoverished, miserable,” and “the most beautiful, the purest and richest among us.” Darwish’s antonyms evoke Gaza’s crushing conditions and resilient residents, exemplars of sumud, an Arabic word roughly translated as “steadfast perseverance”—a fundamental form of Palestinian resistance. Darwish’s poem also states that Gaza “did not believe that it was material for media. It did not prepare for cameras and did not put smiling paste on its face.” And yet every person, every story, every image of Gaza illustrates this persistent paradox of a land at once ugly and beautiful.

“I DON’T KNOW why they targeted us. No rockets were fired from our neighborhood,” says citrus farmer Yusuf Jilal Arafat, whose 5-year-old daughter Runan was killed when Israeli warplanes bombed their home. Arafat’s wife, four months pregnant, and their 8-year-old son were found alive in the rubble. His surviving children now suffer from frequent panic attacks at night. Many of Arafat’s trees were destroyed by the bombs, and the ground is covered with oranges now in various stages of decay. Rumors of contamination by Israeli weapons may hurt the sales of his crop, but he will still harvest. The family is living with Arafat’s father-in-law until they can rebuild.

Rebuilding under Israeli import restrictions is no simple task, so salvaging existing materials remains a vital practice—albeit risky, according to structural engineers. But ingenuity-by-necessity is constantly on display in Gaza, whether it’s recovering crushed stone from beneath ruined highways, straightening steel rebar from bombed-out buildings, or pulverizing concrete for reuse in new (but weaker) blocks.

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Fifty Days of Grace

HOW SHALL WE engage with scripture through all 50 days of Easter? There are clues in the haunting story of Jesus' appearance beside the sea of Tiberius. After Easter Day many of us are ready to let things quickly revert to normal. It is, strangely, both reassuring and uncomfortable to hear that those disciples, whose business had been fishing, wanted to get back to their boats so promptly after the horrors and wonders they had witnessed in Jerusalem.

Jesus is waiting for them by the shore with breakfast already cooking. All is ready, yet he wants them to bring some of what they haul up in their nets, so he can include samples of their own catch in the menu. And what a catch it was!

Easter is our time to experience the grace that is always ahead of our game and is underway for us before we are ready. Yet grace does not exclude what we bring to the table. Grace expects and includes the work of our hands, the weavings of our imaginations, and the gifts of our unique experiences. In one sense, Eastertide is more truly a season of repentance than is Lent. One thing we might need to repent of is our passivity—those times when we expect God to hand us on a plate the meaning we are hungry for. We need to bring our own bits to the cooking fire if we are to really eat with Jesus. It is part of the mix of grace that we must participate, not just receive.

Martin L. Smith, an Episcopal priest, is an author, preacher, and retreat leader. His newest book is Go in Peace: The Art of Hearing Confessions, with Julia Gatta.

[ April 7 ]
Trust But Verify
Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31

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Can You Hear My Song?

IF YOU ARE not overly familiar with the repertoire of a Leonard Cohen concert, it's hard to tell the new songs from the old. Songs from a different age sound neither anachronistic nor nostalgic, while the new echo as though they have been around forever. It's the same show night after night, with songs from the latest album, Old Ideas (released in 2012), woven into the familiar canon. Cohen tells audiences that his revivalist tour might end in two years, so that he can start smoking again by the time he turns 80.

It is a joke you know Cohen has cracked a hundred times, the kind that makes my brother call him the Jewish Dean Martin. The humor is one part of a precise choreography, whose arrangements shift from blues to waltzes to New Orleans jazz, Celtic, gospel, country, and disco, all set in the mode of Hebrew Minor and conspiring to create a vivid world that does not exist, except in paradox. Honey is the texture that comes to mind. Viscous and turbid, neither solid nor liquid. Sensual relief from the coarse, metallic world. And sweet. Sweet in the meaning of the verse from the Persian song "Navaee"—"High sweet melody, and sadness of love, dwelling in the bottom of the heart, where nobody sees"—the mixing of sorrow and transcendence into sublime paradox.

He is and has been many things to his devotees: poet, singer, writer, band leader, lover, satirist, artist, and novelist. But one thing Leonard Cohen is not is a preacher.

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Malick's Metaphysics: Creation, Being, and The Tree of Life

When evangelical politicians pronounce on topics like the origins of the universe, the results are almost always awful -- embarrassing, infuriating, unwatchable. When a reclusive, visionary filmmaker like Terrence Malick treats the same subject matter, as he does in his new movie The Tree of Life, one is transported. Which is a useful reminder that the mysteries of creation are best grappled with through art. The book of Genesis, after all, begins not with scientific description or theological argument, but with a poem.

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